Achievement First Bushwick Charter Middle School
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Warm environment; strong achievement; students get lots of support
Highly structured approach may not appeal to some
Achievement First Bushwick (AF Bushwick) is a small middle school offering students in grades 5 to 8 solid academics and a supportive environment. Part of the Achievement First network of charter schools that spans across several states, AF Bushwick does a good job of keeping students on track and elevating those still struggling. Attendance is strong, test scores are high and, with only three classes per grade, teachers and staff get to know students very well.
There’s a laser focus on achievement, both academic and character. Teachers congratulate students who earn perfect scores on exams; students earn points for displaying grit, perfect attendance and uniform compliance that they can exchange for prizes such as an ice cream party, a “fun lunch” or a “dress down” day.
On the day we visited, Principal Riley Bauling hosted a celebratory breakfast for students who made the “Principal’s List” for high achievement in the first trimester. During the breakfast, students shared their motivation for doing well. “I’m tired of playing around. I know how important a good GPA (grade point average) is,” shared a first-timer on list. “My family is going through a rough time, and I want to do my best," offered another student.
In classes, there’s lots of attention to structure and process, such as the proper way to organize notes in a binder. Instruction leans towards traditional, with children sitting in rows and the teacher leading the lesson; there are a lot of rules to follow.
Students take two English classes each day: one that focuses on literature and the other on writing. Lessons are coordinated, so, for instance, while students are reading Lord of the Flies in one class, they’re researching and writing about bullying in the other.
One challenge that teachers are working on, according to Riley, is finding ways to ease students off some of the structure by 8th grade so that they are better prepared to work independently and tackle more sophisticated work by high school. There are no high school–level courses such as algebra offered.
The school is an orderly place, but the overall tone is nurturing. In the hallways and in class, teachers address students in a conversational tone; students seem at ease speaking to staff. In one class, soft music played as students were writing quietly at their desks. In another, students seemed relaxed as they snacked on some fruit during a lesson.
The school has adopted a “restorative justice” approach to discipline that minimizes suspensions and promotes positive behavior through conversation, reflection and corrective action. “You can get kids to comply by being very strict, but you can’t get them invested in their learning that way,” says Bauling.
Rules must be followed and misbehavior is addressed, but discipline is gentle. Students meet in small groups called “circles” twice weekly to discuss issues and engage in planned activities that focus on character development and conflict resolution. Individual students who struggle with their behavior may be pulled out for a conversation with a staffer and given a writing task to help them reflect on their behavior, but then they go back to class.
Most students attended AF Bushwick Elementary and arrive familiar with the level of structure and expectations. Students new to AF Bushwick are paired with a counselor to help them adjust to the school’s culture and, if needed, catch up in academics.
All students take art, dance and gym classes. An on-site after-school program offers sports, recreational activities and academic help.
The school is tucked away on the top floor of a large building it shares with another middle school, IS 383 Philippa Schuyler.
Most graduates attend an Achievement First high school. Some leave the network to attend well-regarded public schools such as Bedford Academy, Brooklyn Latin, Manhattan/Hunter Science and Manhattan Center for Science and Mathemetics.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: Students get support services and ICT classes are offered on each grade. Overall, students with special needs perform above the citywide average on state exams.
ADMISSIONS: By lottery with preference to District 32 residents. There are some spaces available to students who did not attend AF Bushwick Elementary. The school accepts new students in all grades, space permitting. (Laura Zingmond, December 2017)