Community Roots Charter Middle School
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Two teachers in every classroom, emphasis on social justice
Located far from the subway, no music instruction
Community Roots Middle School continues the lower school's traditions and core values: It prizes the diversity of its student body including those with special needs, and the curriculum's focus on social justice.
"It's a really good, accepting place to be," an 8th-grader told us.
Housed on the third floor of PS 287, the school is far from the nearest subway and a five-minute walk from Community Roots Elementary School, which shares a building with PS 67. Class size is 26 and there are two teachers, one trained in special education, in most classrooms.
Students meet daily for "crew," small advisory sessions for community building games, social-emotional support and academic conferences. They also go on six day "intensives," when all classes are dropped for expeditions led by teacher experts. They might explore green spaces in New York City, do an animals intensive visiting zoos and the aquarium and dissecting pig hearts, or do a fitness intensive with a different physical activity every day.
"It's a huge undertaking and my favorite week of the year," said Sara Weeks, the middle school co-director from 2012 until 2016.
Many social studies and humanities projects revolve around fairness and social justice.After reading an article in Forbes magazine about "protecting profit-margins," 8th-graders took three minutes to go over their notes and prepare for a Socratic seminar. They gathered in a circle to discuss workers' rights, exploring the question of what the impact would be if the minimum wage were raised to a "living rage." People might lose their jobs, one student said; another said it would have a negative impact on small companies.
We saw a range of sophistication in student work. Sixth-graders read historical fiction about how the Great Depression affected people and, in groups of four, created projects which they presented to the rest of the class. Some presentations were much more polished than others. "There is a large range of students," said Weeks.
Kids are split into different classrooms for math, depending on ability. About 30 percent of them accelerate and jump a year ahead, taking algebra Regents and receiving more preparation to take the specialized high school entrance exam.
Each grade goes on a yearly overnight trip to cities such as Boston or Washington, DC. Seventh-graders backpack around New York City for a week. Sixth-graders begin the year with a trip to the Ashokan Reservoir in Ulster County which ties in with their water conservation study.
Science class is held in a well-appointed lab. On the day of our visit, three teachers led 7th-graders in an animated discussion of the difference between chemical changes and physical changes in such things as Kool-Aid or milk that has been left out on a counter.
The school day begins at 9 amin deference to a later adolescent time clockwhich allows middle-schoolers to drop off younger siblings at school. Students study visual art and performance but there is no music instruction during the school day. Students may take part in after-school music programs. The after-school program runs from 4:10 to 6 pm.
High school choices include: Stuyvesant, Bard, LaGuardia, Art and Design, Frank Sinatra and Talent Unlimited. In Brooklyn, popular choices are Brooklyn Latin,Brooklyn Tech,Murrow, Millennium Brooklyn, Bedford Academy and several Urban Assembly schools.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: Kids with special needs are educated alongside all other students and incorporated fully into school life, according to parents and teacher answers on the annual survey. In virtually every classroom, one of the two teachers is trained in special education and students get lots of personal support.
ADMISSIONS: Most of the 150 middle school students come from the Community Roots elementary school. There were about seven open seats for other District 13 6th-graders in 2016. (Pamela Wheaton, May 2016)