Bedford Stuyvesant Collegiate Uncommon Charter School
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High test scores
Long, highly structured day may not be right for some students
Bedford Stuyvesant Collegiate, which serves grades 5 through 8, is part of Uncommon Schools, a large charter network that aims to get its largely low-income black and Latino students into college and give them the skills to succeed there.
To accomplish this, the school, like others in the network, provides middle school students with two periods of math and two of English—one focused on reading and one on writing—every day. Classes start in late August and students attend school from 7:40 a.m. to 4 p.m. Struggling students are encouraged to attend classes on Saturday.
The school traditionally outperforms other schools in the area by a substantial margin, and scores on the state English language arts exam have increased dramatically in recent years. All classes include students at a range of academic levels, and every 8th-grader takes the algebra and living environment Regents exams. About 90 percent pass.
The classroom style is traditional, with many students sitting in rows and some classroom time devoted to completing assignments. When students agree with an answer another student has given, they snap their fingers, a technique aimed at giving all children a chance to participate. School leaders say they promote hands-on learning and activities that children will enjoy. Living environment students seemed engaged—and even amused—by a lesson that used Cocoa Puffs cereal to illustrate aspects of natural selection.
The school is clean and quiet. Students wear uniforms. To minimize disruption and wasted time between classes, each grade has its own suite of classrooms where students spend much of their day.
While teachers agree the school is orderly, more than one-third of the students say discipline is unfair, according to school surveys. The network says it sets high expectations for students and, though it suspends children in some cases, tries to reinforce positive behavior and encourage students to reflect on any misbehavior. “Kids have to be safe and happy in a school in order to learn,” says network spokesperson Barbara Martinez.
Bedford Stuyvesant Collegiate offers some activities, such as a Pi Day celebration which ends with one student throwing a pie at a selected teacher, to lighten the mood. In addition to academic subjects, children all take performing arts, coding and physical education for part of the year. The school competes in a sports league with other Uncommon schools.
Students take several trips, with 8th-graders going to San Francisco for a week. Some are chosen by lottery to spend two weeks with children from other Uncommon schools at Camp Uncommon at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. The network hopes the experience will ease the “culture shock” that some black and Latino students experience when they go on to predominantly white colleges and universities.
Uncommon started with middle schools and has expanded to include elementary and high schools. The goal is for students to be in the network for grades k through 12. Eighth-graders from Bedford Stuyvesant Collegiate can go on to Uncommon Collegiate Charter High School.
Bedford Stuyvesant Collegiate has a growing, though still small, number of English language learners and has been doing outreach in the Spanish-speaking community. Students not yet proficient in English use Rosetta Stone and receive tutoring.
The school shares its slightly drab building on a residential street with two other middle schools: MS 267 Math, Science & Technology and La Cima, a charter elementary school. According to principal Justin Pigeon, the city Department of Education has chosen the building as a model for other co-locations throughout the city.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: Although it has fewer students with special needs than the surrounding community school district, Bedford Stuyvesant Collegiate offers one team teaching classes with a mix of general education and special education students at every grade level, as well as provides special education services to students in other classes.
ADMISSIONS: Lottery for grade 5 with preference to District 16. The school fills any vacancies in grades 6 through 8 from its waiting list. Applications are available from the school's website. (Gail Robinson, March 2018)