La Cima Charter School
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Nice mix of arts and academics; focus on social justice
No Pre-K as of now
Founded in 2008, La Cima Charter is a small school that offers a respectful approach to discipline, a social justice focus, and a healthy mix of academics and the arts, including African drumming, music and visual art. La Cima means “summit” in Spanish. Select students also get a chance to travel.
La Cima strives to connect children with their neighborhood, city and heritage. They study the contributions of churches in the African American community, and celebrate West Indian Day. Black History Month features a different celebration every week, such as jazz and a “live” African American Museum, in which students dress up and present the stories of historic figures. One teacher shared what it was like to meet Malcolm X during the Civil Rights Movement in Harlem during a week of celebration.
Classrooms are named after “change-makers”—Ruby Bridges, Barack Obama, Malala Yousafzai— “Real people students can research,” said executive director Guerschmide Saint-Ange. Kindergartners make posters about their change-makers, while 5th-graders conduct research, write essays and present to their class.
Kindergartners apply for a library card, giving them a “ticket into reading and travel in the mind through books,” Saint-Ange said, and in 5th grade they apply for a passport. “The purpose is always to deepen their understanding of the world around them, give them a foundation in history.”
In previous years the school sent select students to Paris but future plans include trips to Canada, a less expensive trip, Saint-Ange said. Tie-ins to the school’s social justice theme will include visits to Canadian Underground Railroad sites and a bee hive center to examine environmental racism.
Saint-Ange took the helm in 2018. She has experience as a classroom teacher in middle and high schools. She worked in community engagement at the Achievement First Charter School network, and has managed oversight and renewals for 40 charter schools. At La Cima, she saw a need for academic rigor. She placed a focus on reading intervention and it helped in other areas too; test scores went up in her first year. Plans are to adopt Teachers College Reading and Writing, which can help promote a love of literacy, and the rigorous Math in Focus program, in addition to a mix of other approaches.
La Cima follows a restorative justice approach for discipline. “What we try to help students understand is that when you make a misstep there is a consequence and a harm you need to make amends for—reconciliation and consequences,” Saint-Ange said. As part of this approach there will be no more out of school suspensions going forward, she said.
Attendance is a challenge; roughly one-third of the students miss at least a month of school. “We don’t shy away from serving the most vulnerable students,” Saint-Ange said. “Seventeen percent are homeless,” she added. The school has an attendance task force.
La Cima shares a building with Bedford Stuyvesant Collegiate Charter School and MS 267. Children go outside for recess every day on a playground shared by the three schools. At the end of the school year the schools host a block party with carnival games.
ADMISSIONS: By lottery. La Cima takes students at any point in the year. Only 40-50 kids in the school are from District 16, the principal said. “We’ll take a 5th grader even late in the year,” she said. (Lydie Raschka, interviews, July 2020)