Brooklyn LAB Charter School
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Students get two hours of tutoring a day; expands to high school
Brooklyn Lab Charter School is a serious, nurturing place where children become articulate and confident young adults. It offers an unusual level of personal attention and a curriculum that combines traditional academics with afterschool enrichment classes such as dance, basketball, art, video editing and robotics. Unlike some charter schools, Brooklyn Lab does a good job with children with special needs, who make up one-quarter of the student body. It also admits children mid-year.
Founded as a middle school in 2014, the school won a $10 million grant in a nationwide contest sponsored by the Emerson Collective, the philanthropic organization attached to Apple Inc., to open a high school in 2017.
Most classrooms have two teachers. Recent college graduates, called fellows, offer small group instruction to every child for two hours a day. Children, called scholars, are frequently pulled out of the classroom for one-on-one help. Because everyone, not just struggling students, gets extra help, it reduces the stigma children might feel, said Dr. Eric Tucker, Brooklyn Lab Charter co-founder and director.
"If you're struggling, the teacher is allowed to help you," a 7th grader explained. "If you've been prominent in a subject, theyll give you more challenging work."
Scholars seem fond of the teachers and of Tucker, who greets his fellow staff members and students with a fist bump. Middle school director Jonathan McIntosh, who came to the school after years at the KIPP Academy charter network, brings expertise in special education.
On our visit, we were impressed by the scholars, neatly dressed in gray uniforms, who greeted visitors professionally and were able to clearly articulate what they were learning. Carpeted classrooms were quiet, but not oppressively so, and students were intent on their lessons. Every child gets a laptop to use at school and the school helps families purchase a Chromebook for use at home.
Most 8th graders take high school-level Regents exams for Living Environment and American History, and some take algebra. This is quite an accomplishment for students, many of whom come from very low-performing elementary schools from throughout Brooklyn.
The school has a thoughtful approach to training teachers. Some fellows become teachers in residence, and the school pays for their graduate education. Erin Mote, co-founder of the school (and Tucker's wife), organizes the steady flow of teachers-in-training through the foundation called InnovateEDU.
"What I love about being a fellow is that students get more attention and it's more personalized," said one woman. "I'm getting the chance to find out whether I want to be in a full class and I get coaching."
The academic school day ends at 3:35 pm (earlier on Wednesdays when teachers meet for professional development) and enrichment activities begin.
Brooklyn Lab Charter has two locations tucked away in a corner of downtown Brooklyn, close by the Manhattan Bridge entrance ramp. The Flatbush Avenue Extension building, shared with City Tech, houses most of the classrooms; a site, a block away on Jay Street, has most of the after school activities. Part of the middle school and the high school is at 77 Sand Street.
Kids are allowed to be boisterous at lunch. "We like a noisy lunchroom. It's developmentally appropriate that they get to talk," said Mote. "It's the sound of a school."
There is no gymnasium or auditorium but each location has a large multi-purpose space.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: There are at least two ICT classes on every grade and there is one self-contained classroom. The school welcomes students with special needs and looks to move them to the next level We are always moving toward inclusion, said McIntosh. Whats beautiful is the notion of small groups is de-stigmatized. Everybody gets it. In addition to the usual special education services, art and movement therapy are offered.
ADMISSIONS: Lottery, preference to District 13. In its early years there has been space for students from outside the district and even the borough. Unlike many charters, Brooklyn Lab accepts students at every grade level, even after the school year has started. "Back-filling keeps us honest," says Tucker. (Pamela Wheaton, February 2017)Read more