Black History, Black Culture

Aminata Gueye, founder and president of Inwood Academy’s Black Student Union, shares her thoughts on our country’s black history and black culture. Aminata is senior at Inwood Academy and has been president of our Black Student Union since 2016. Currently, there are 13 members in the group.

Interview by Cindy Burgos

Can you tell me about the history of Black History Month?
While February celebrates Black History Month, black history is more than just a month and is simply not enough time to reflect on or to highlight all the contributions black people have made in our country. However, Black History Month is important nonetheless. It grew out of a weekly celebration in February that was established by Carter Woodson in 1929 and the impact was immediate. Black history clubs sprang up and teachers began to demand materials to instruct their students. Woodson chose the second week of February because it coincided with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The celebration was expanded to a month in 1976, the year of our bicentennial and every president since has dedicated a theme to celebrate black history in February.

What does the celebration of Black History Month mean to you?
It’s a set time to highlight the successes of our people, acknowledge our struggles and really show our admiration for what black people have been through and achieved as leaders, and the way they’ve prospered. In a way, it’s making sure that Americans don’t  go off and say “we’re in a post-racial world” or “racism doesn’t exist anymore.”

Name someone you admire that exemplified(s) leadership in black history.
Angela Davis is someone I have always admired. Angela, she is the textbook definition of strength. It’s that attitude she has towards tackling social injustice issues that I wish to exude.

Lupita Nyong’o, I will never stop saying how much she inspires me. I deeply feel that Lupita is driving forth conversations on colorism. She is a model for anyone when it comes to self-love, not just dark skin girls or African girls, but really anybody; everyone is supposed to be represented and feel free to love themselves.

Considering the social and cultural issues we struggle with, what ways can we display leadership?
There’s a quote that I love by Huey Newton that says “The revolution has always been in the hands of the young. The young always inherit the revolution.” I really believe this. When it comes to leadership you’re supposed to focus on acknowledging the ways you can guide and teach others. From generation to generation things will get better,  but only if we pass down information and wisdom. We now know more about ourselves and our history because of those before us. We must continue to pass on knowledge and guide younger people so they can make better and more informed decisions.

Aminata will be leading a workshop for her peers in partnership with teacher Takiyah Ariyibi about black culture. This workshop will be part of the Inwood Academy High School’s Student Advocacy Day on March 14th.

Charter Advocacy Day

On Tuesday, February 6th, Inwood Academy for Leadership joined hundreds of families in Albany to advocate for our school and celebrate 20 years of positive changes in public education. The New York City Charter School Center and the Northeast Charter Schools Network co-sponsors this annual event and  Inwood Academy has participated for 3 consecutive years.

This year we joined families from TEP Charter School in the morning to travel to Albany together. Every politician in Albany works for us and this was the perfect opportunity to exercise our civic duty and fight for all charter schools. Ms. Nilma (Thay) Baez, parent of a student at Inwood Academy said, “There are 47,800 students on charter school waitlists and families in our community should be given the privilege to choose what school they want to send their children to.” Other parents from our group outlined Governor Cuomo’s executive budget proposals and shared the personal impact their child’s school has had in their lives with our local elected officials –  Senator Marisol Alcantara and Assemblywoman Carmen N. De La Rosa. We all agreed that the cap should be eliminated because charter schools work for the students we serve in Washington Heights and Inwood, and they work for about 114,000 students in New York City.


Equity for all schools means that if charters are providing a great education for its students and their families then they should receive the same amount of funding as any traditional public school.

Charter schools are public schools and equal funding could help with family programming, books, school trips, extracurricular activities, and more. Charter schools like Inwood Academy who do not share space with a DOE school, receive even less funding, as we are not reimbursed for all of our building expenses.

After-school at Inwood Academy

This article was originally written by and published on DOE Charter Schools Weekly.

Inwood Academy for Leadership Charter School is a middle school and high school located in Inwood, Manhattan. Since opening, Inwood Academy for Leadership has continued to offer students a wide range of after-school programming. Inwood Academy for Leadership views after-school enrichment as an opportunity for experiential learning, character building and overall academic improvement. More than 250 students are currently registered for after school programming, and over the years, Inwood Academy has offered an impressive list of classes including Photography, Drum Corps, Choir, Theater, Wrestling, Girls Who Code and Debate. Thanks to community partners such as Play Study Win, Inwood Academy for Leadership can offer a breadth of recreational activities.


On December 2nd, Inwood Academy for Leadership’s after-school debate team hosted the New York City Urban Debate League. The New York City Urban Debate League is the largest debate league in the nation, comprised of students from all five boroughs. Over 250 debaters were present for the competition. Leading up the to event, Inwood Academy for Leadership students prepared for the debate by meeting twice a week during after school programming. Students prepared arguments for both positions of a given debate question. For example, students came prepared to debate, “Should juveniles be charged as adults in the criminal justice system?”

Middle School Director of Afterschool, Denise Hykes, proudly watched the Inwood Academy for Leadership after-school debate team battle it out with evidence. When asked about her favorite part of coordinating Inwood Academy for Leadership’s after-school programming, Hykes shared, “I love it when the kids are empowered to organize and lead, whether it’s MCing an awards ceremony, taking leftover snacks to the nearby NYC Love Kitchen or watching the older students teach the younger students.”


In Solidarity

On Monday, October 9th, Inwood Academy for Leadership held an IAL Stands with Dreamers event. This was our third Family Day of Service and this year we chose to show our support of immigrants granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status and their families.

Despite the rain, more than 300 of us marched throughout the Inwood community to protest the decision to rescind DACA. Staff, students, and families took to the streets and a contagious euphoria emerged. As we passed by pedestrians they joined us in the chanting and drivers, including an FDNY fire truck, honked to show their support. This made us all feel a closer connection to the wonderful community of Inwood.


We started the day at the middle school where we created posters to take with us on the march and staff took the opportunity to have conversations with families about the importance of DACA. Students on the debate team presented a pro and a con side of the DACA policy, dance classes performed, and one of our high school freshman students sang “Rise Up.” We ended the day back at the school with a performance by our Drum Corps.

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Serving a community with a high population of immigrant families, Inwood Academy wants all our students and their families to feel welcomed and supported. We will continue to provide support to all our families regardless of their status.

As educators, we aspire to have all our students feel safe to pursue a quality education that will prepare them for college, career and a better life for their families.

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The DACA policy, which protects around 800,000 Dreamers, could soon come to an end. The only permanent solution for our immigrant students is the DREAM Act of 2017, a bill introduced in the Senate in July that has bipartisan support. Passing this legislation would give Dreamers the security of permanent resident status and a path to citizenship so they can continue to go to school, work and participate in the country they have called home for most, if not all, of their lives.

Regardless of whether the DREAM Act of 2017 becomes law, we must continue to protect DACA. Protecting all immigrants from deportation is a priority for our immigrant community. Here is something you can do to help protect DACA:

Unity in Progress

“Unity is something that not only the Inwood community should have, but the whole world” said Inwood Academy senior Meliza Cepeda. Over the summer, community artist Reynaldo Garcia Pantaleón worked with students from Inwood Academy, Inwood Community Services, Inc. summer campers at IS 52, and students from Gregorio Luperon High School for Math and Science to create the Unity in Progress mural on IS 52’s exterior wall. On August 23rd our community celebrated the mural’s unveiling.


The idea for the mural was conceived, designed, and named earlier in the summer by Meliza herself; she was inspired by wanting a more just and united world. The project beautified the exterior of IS 52, engaged students from three schools in societal transformation, and gave expression to perspectives that are needed in our public dialogue.

The students who worked on the project are leaders in their community. It was great to see how everyone worked together, built relationships, and created memories. Our students can walk past the mural with friends and family and say, “I helped make that mural.”


The Unity in Progress mural project was made possible in part thanks to a partnership with Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance (NoMAA) and the Neighborhood 360˚ Program, which was created by the NYC Department of Small Business Services. NoMAA was awarded a grant to work on three murals in the Inwood community and this first mural was coordinated by Inwood Academy and Inwood Community Services, Inc.

Representing Our Community

Inwood Academy for Leadership has joined forces with our community of partners and families to provide a quality educational choice in Washington Heights and Inwood since we opened our doors seven years ago.

We are a community of first- and second-generation immigrants, mainly hailing from Latino countries, mostly from the Dominican Republic. It is vital for our students and families to connect with staff who look like them. Research has shown that students who share racial characteristics with their teachers tend to report higher levels of personal effort, student-teacher communication, post-secondary motivation, and academic engagement.

The diversity of our staff and resulting student-staff connections at Inwood Academy are a reflection of those findings. Our relationships with students create positive classroom environments that in turn help them throughout the learning process. In addition, a diverse population allows students to see adult relationships that model inclusion of this diversity.

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To recruit staff who represent our community of immigrants has meant we work with several local organizations to find qualified faculty who live within our community. In addition to hiring classroom teachers, we hire college students who are on a pathway to becoming teachers to work as Aspiring Teachers, Teaching Assistants and After School Tutors. We also provide aspiring educators hands-on work experience and help them pay for their college tuition through a reimbursement program. Now, with a degree in hand, many have become members of our staff and faculty. This is one of the ways we have modeled leadership for our students; they see how we are developing leaders from within Inwood Academy. We have also seen first-hand that if an educator believes in the potential of all their students and receives the right training and coaching from us, he or she can become a great teacher.

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Alina Ramirez, our Fiscal Manager, joined Inwood Academy as an afterschool tutor in 2010. Over the last seven years, we have watched Alina grow from a shy High School student to a confident City College of New York graduate contributing to our school community. Alina lives within walking distance of the school and has the ability to interact, influence and support our students and families on a daily basis.

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The many staff members who have connections in our community help us to serve our families in a personalized way and this, in turn, builds trust. While speaking Spanish is not a prerequisite for a job at Inwood Academy, it is a helpful skill that goes far when working with our families—many of whom speak little English.

Hard conversations are easier when trust is present. In a time when our nation is facing crises, being able to model unity within our school and community is a powerful message that creates stability.

As we look to graduate our first cohort of students in June 2018, we are hopeful that our high school graduates will return to serve the community as they have seen modeled at Inwood Academy!


Growth Takes Time

The first two years of Inwood Academy for Leadership, our students experienced tremendous academic growth despite serving a large number of children with disabilities and English Language Learners. In 2013, the Common Core rolled out in New York state. The shifts in math and English Language Arts instruction left us with a much harder, but important task.

The task is to ensure that students are not only able to read and write and do math on grade level, but to approach a tough problem from multiple angles and have multiple strategies to solve the problem. Teaching students who are learning English for the first time is challenging, but as soon as they enter Inwood Academy they begin making tremendous strides. This growth is evident in their classroom reading scores and on our internal NWEA MAP test scores.

State tests can be useful in comparing our students’ growth with peers in their school district, city, and state. Our students’ growth has been incremental in New York state test scores, until now. The state just released the results and our consistent work paid off; it’s evidenced by our 12% proficiency increase in English Language Arts (ELA) test scores! This is compared to statewide ELA growth of 1.9% and city-wide growth of 2.6%.

What made this growth possible? It was through the collaboration between the school’s leadership team and teachers, the hard work of our students, and new program elements.

Big changes that created big growth: 

  • Expansion on writing using ThinkCERCA personalized literacy software and ensuring that students use CER in writing responses (claim, evidence, reasoning)
  • Increased focus on Sustained Silent Reading that allowed students to read on their level for longer periods of time;
  • Additional hour a week of instruction (then the previous year)
  • Launch of school-wide and systematic vocabulary program

In addition to this growth in English Language Arts, we also saw these huge wins;

  • 12 of our 6th graders earned a 4 on their ELA exam which is 11% of the entire district; there were only 111 students who earned this highest score in our school district
  • 20 of our 8th-grade students took the High School Algebra Regents one year early and all passed with a 72 or higher
  • We beat our school district in 5, 6, and 8th-grade math and in 6, 7, and 8 grade ELA
  • We matched the city-wide Latino ELA and math scores and the city-wide African American math scores
  • Both our students with disabilities and ELLs grew overall in ELA and ELLs increased in math while students with disabilities maintained their proficiency in math
  • 11% of our 8th-grade students with disabilities were proficient in math which beat our school district and the city by 6%
  • 14% of our 6th grade ELLs were proficient in math which beat our school district and the city

We’re so excited to share these results with you! Our growth benefits our entire community. As we know, it’s not enough to just give our kids a great education. Let’s continue to work together to prepare all 900 of our students to become leaders in their community.

Lastly, a huge thank you to our incredible students and families. Thank you for your commitment and trust.


It’s hard to turn on the television and watch events like the ones that recently took place in Charlottesville, Virginia. It’s even harder to explain to our children why the events are happening.

While we are outraged by the overt racism of the white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the KKK, this is not the only reason to be upset. The leaders of the Civil Rights Movement lessened the overt racism in our society. Unfortunately, as we know, the covert (under the surface) racism continued – the racial slurs, hiring based on last name, mass incarceration, and the countless other struggles that people of color face every day. To be upset about the KKK and other hate groups is easy. To stand up to systemic racism is much harder and demands strong leadership.

Therefore, we need our young leaders to build on the work and stand on the shoulders of the great individuals before them. We need our leaders to rise up against violence and injustice and say “That’s not right and I’m here to do something about it!”

In 1947, at the age of 18, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote an essay for his Morehouse College campus newspaper. In the article, “The Purpose of Education,” King stated:

“To save man from the morass of propaganda, in my opinion, is one of the chief aims of education. Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.”

As educators, we will do our part to support the development of the assets of our young leaders. Together we will partner with our parents and community to stand against racism and the continued struggles of inequality faced by the underserved.


Fostering Tech Talent at Inwood Academy

Preparing students for both college and careers is a priority for Inwood Academy. When we engage our students in thinking about a career opportunity, it builds a sense of hope and optimism about their future.

To foster this preparation, we bring in partners who volunteer their time to educate and inspire our students in the field of science, medicine, and technology—from the New York Restoration Project, Columbia University, Google, and Microsoft.

One of our newer partners is TEALS (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools). The TEALS program is part of Microsoft’s YouthSpark initiative. They recruit, mentor, and place passionate high tech professionals in schools with two goals: help teach computer science, and inspire the students to pursue science and technology careers.

We are just one of 22 schools in NYC that is a TEALS partner school and are pleased to be entering our second school-year with the program. We are taking advantage of this amazing opportunity to bring computer science courses to our high school students.

The tech industry is challenged in finding and hiring qualified, talented employees. There simply aren’t enough candidates to meet the needs of the industry. With the TEALS program, they are providing rigorous computer science to high schools while tackling the shortage of computer science graduates.


As the computer science teacher last school-year, I worked with software engineers from Facebook and Shutterstock to teach the Introduction to Computer Science course based off of UC Berkeley’s award-winning Beauty and Joy of Computing curriculum. This coming school year, we will continue to expand the program, bringing in a new partner teacher, a team of volunteers, and students.

Helping our students to identify where their passions lie is key to preparing them for future jobs and correlates to success in school. With the engineers in the class, our students were pushed beyond what I would have been capable of as a teacher, creating complex, multi-step projects, and using original algorithmic thinking to solve difficult problems. Even those students who decided by the end of the year that computer science was not for them benefitted immensely, as they were challenged to think computationally, developing problem-solving and critical thinking skills that will transfer across disciplines.

Perhaps most importantly, while talk of career pathways and critical thinking is crucial, the class was also fun! There was constant laughter in the classroom as students created a classic side-scrolling Mario game, animated the movements of their favorite professional wrestlers, developed humorous telemarketer programs, and coded games of Hangman. For fifty minutes each school day, we all got to engage in a fun, challenging, and truly unique educational experience. I am so pleased that we are continuing with the TEALS program for the 2017-2018 school year, and am excited to see how computer science can continue to grow at Inwood Academy.


Collaborating with Community and Across Curriculum

As I reflect on my students’ efforts, I see their commitment to learning and serving our community as a reflection of their pursuit to succeed in postsecondary education and career. While I am proud of the work we do at Inwood Academy, we could not do it without our extended community.

With support from Lowes Toolbox for Education, my Studio Art students collaborated with the high school Woodshop to make garden benches and hand painted wood signs for the Ulysses S. Grant Houses’ Community Garden.

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We installed these gifts—made from upcycled wood—in the Grant Community Garden in Harlem garden on a sunny Saturday last month with the generous gift of food and refreshment from our local eatery, G’s Coffee Shop.

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Paintings by the Studio Art students are also on display in our local Inwood Gourmet, Inwood Bagel, and Pick N Eat. These works are on sale and 100% of proceeds go directly to the student-artists.

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This upcoming school year, we will continue to collaborate across the curriculum. For one project, the students will learn studio art, woodworking, and computer science skills. If you want to help, please visit our page, where we are raising money to support this “Artcade” Collaboration: Raspberry Pi Inspired project.