Academy of the City Charter Elementary School
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Diverse, progressive community
Long waitlist to get in, some parents difficult to reach
The Academy of the City Charter School (AoC) is small school that espouses a more progressive approach than is typical of charter schools and is supportive of its racially and economically diverse_ District 30 community.
"It's a progressive, hands-on experiential model," says founding principal Richard Lee "We know the children very well, their needs and wants."
It's a "noisy, bustling place,"_ but it's healthy noise, he says, because it shows that children are learning actively and collaboratively.
The art teacher works with classroom teachers to tie projects into what students are learning in academic subjects. In social studies, for example, 5th-graders studying prehistoric man created cave drawings and posted them on a hallway ceiling.
AoC focuses its curriculum on reading and writing, adhering to the Teachers College Reading and Writing program. Students read everywhere--sprawled out on the floor, listening and reading along to a story on an iPad, reading aloud to one another, or in a small group led by the teacher. But, because the school's annual state reading scores lag below the city average, AoC is broadening its approach. In addition to independently reading lots of fiction and nonfiction books, students also read shorter book excerpts in an anthology, and learn to answer questions based on the text, similar to what they are expected to do on the state exams.
There are two teachers in all the kindergarten and 1st-grade classrooms, which allows them to work with students at different levels. The principal, formerly an elementary school teacher at Bank Street, also teaches, leading a book club of 1st-graders. Sometimes the books chosen follow student interest and lead to experiments. After reading a book about icicles, students did an experiment to demonstrate how water expands when ice melts.
In one classroom, in addition to writing opinion pieces, children enjoyed playing a game, which reinforced the differences between fact and opinion, getting an opportunity to stand up and read aloud.
The school is orderly and teachers have a nice way with the students. AoC has developed a Peace Curriculum to teach its students to accept and embrace their differences, resolve conflicts, and work together. When two girls in one classroom had a little tussle about sharing materials, their classmates were quick to respond to a gentle reminder from the teacher about how to cooperate. The Peace Curriculum is integrated into all subjects and is reinforced by small group work with the school guidance counselor.
The many immigrant students come from Spanish-speaking regions such as Mexico and Central America as well as Nepal and Tibet. They get extra support in small groups from ESL teachers. Students are encouraged to express themselves in weekly assembly performances. The Spanish-speaking parent coordinator makes home visits to encourage parent participation as some families can be hard to reach. Parents volunteer in the library and in the cafeteria.
Like many charter schools, AoC offers a longer school day than district schools, running from 8 am to 4 pm. The long day is broken up by an active recess time, and a rest period for kindergartners. It also has a longer school year, opening eight days before the Department of Education schools. There is no busing before DOE schools open so this means some students miss school, contributing to the higher-than-city-average absenteeism rate.
Students participate in clubs one afternoon a week, such as yoga, music, gardening, LEGO, dance and cooking. Instrumental and choral music lessons are offered twice a week; Spanish is taught to 3rd- through 5th-graders.
The school offers its own after-school program from 4 to 6 pm with a sliding scale fee; busing is also provided to the more centrally located Boys and Girls Club in Astoria.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: Academy of the City offers SETSS (special education teachers support services) both in and out of the classroom in small groups.
ADMISSIONS: Lottery. Preference given to siblings of current students and District 30. In 2015 there were 1,100 applications for 100 seats and the school has a long waitlist. (Pamela Wheaton, December 2015)Read more