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.

Charlottesville

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.

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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 DonorsChoose.org page, where we are raising money to support this “Artcade” Collaboration: Raspberry Pi Inspired project.

Awards and Honors

Since our school opened its doors to our first class of fifth-grade students seven years ago, award ceremonies have placed an important role in how we recognize students’ hard work and achievements.

On June 7, our Academic Ceremony for grades nine to eleven recognized individual students’ achievements in academics, arts, athletics, community service, character, and leadership.

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Outstanding Woodworker Award Recipient

Students were selected from each grade to receive Character Trait awards for Integrity, Honesty, Responsibility, Caring, and Restraint and Perfect Attendance Certificates went to six scholars.

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Responsibility and Integrity Character Award Recipients

Our Honor Roll students were awarded certificates in different categories of academic achievement and one High Honor went to junior Sokeyra Francisco.

The evening ended with the induction of twenty-one juniors into the National Honor Society. NHS faculty advisors Dan Gaffney and Loweye Diedro led the selection process, which recognizes students who have demonstrated excellence in the areas of scholarship, service, leadership, and character. Membership into the society is one of the highest honors our faculty can bestow on a student.

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Inductees of the National Honor Society Recite the NHS Pledge

It’s wonderful to see how big an impact awards have on students. It gives them a sense of accomplishment and motivates them to continue to work hard.

View all photos from the event here:

2017 HS Awards and Honors

Reflecting on my internship at Inwood Academy

In between the stairway steps at the high school you see the letters V A L U E S as you enter the building. The word is a part of a sentence “Our values can change the world.” It’s meant to inspire the students as they bustle up the stairway. It’s likely that over time the students overlook the words that appear between the steps, however, for me, I am heartened in what Inwood Academy stands for—honesty, integrity, responsibility, caring, and restraint can change the world. These are the values of Inwood Academy.

It seems idealistic to want to serve students who face a huge number of obstacles toward achieving academic success and expect them all to truly change the world. Perhaps it is, and perhaps we are all dreamers. But that is exactly what makes me feel this dream is worth it. It’s a dream that sees the underdogs rise to the top. It’s the stuff that we pay to see at the movies—the dreams that seem so ordinary yet are extraordinary. I’ve been working with ELL students (English Language Learners) at Inwood Academy as a Social Worker Intern. These are students who are enrolled in this school because their parents are also dreamers. These are immigrant families who dream of a better life than what they’ve experienced and have taken action to make it happen.

It wasn’t until this year while completing my social work degree at Lehman College that I realized I am “privileged.” I thought the privileged were the “one-percenters,” right? But as I listen to my students’ stories and learn about their aspirations I just keep thinking, “That’s great! What’s stopping you?” But it’s now clear to me that what’s holding them back are their language skills. Students who don’t yet have a great grasp on English simply cannot do well on their Regents tests. They simply cannot complete their schoolwork unless they get extra help.

I also realize that I had the advantage of learning English when I was a young child and because of that, I am accomplishing some of my dreams. These students did not have the privilege or advantage of learning English at a younger age, yet their stories remind me so much of my own. They told me about their sweet homes back in the Caribbean, the festive dishes they’d eat, the baseball games they played, and their loud vecinos (neighbors) who were very much like their family. I couldn’t help but feel “pero nosotros somos primos!” “we must be cousins!”

Yet, they are facing an immense challenge of adapting to a new culture and that includes the language. I often talk to them about their classes and what they are comprehending. They often feel helpless, like the language barrier is too big to climb, too large to tear down. Sometimes they are relieved when they pass their classes and make new friends. Other times they are frustrated, feeling like the last kid to get picked for kickball, always last, always a step behind. It’s times like these where I think about the words on the staircase—Our values can change the world.

If we value every student, despite their obstacles, and see their dignity as a young scholar we will see, despite their supposed “disadvantage,” that they have the same desires and potential that we all do. The truth is, my students need the extra support, support that we will at times struggle to provide. But what if we stop? What if we stop caring and begin to compromise our values because it is too hard, too difficult? Well, if that happens I guess we won’t hear the stories we all pay to see. I guess we will settle for ordinary and not seek the extraordinary. And that is why I admire Inwood Academy and how they stand next to the student with the immense obstacle. They stand next to the ELL student and say “Your values can change the world!” do not let up and let’s push through this together. It is true, some students just weren’t dealt the same cards and aren’t as privileged. However, that doesn’t mean those students dreams, ambitions, and lives aren’t as dignified and precious. For that, I am grateful, because here at Inwood Academy, that is a value.

Congratulations to this year’s National Junior Honor Society Students!

This week, we held our 2017 National Junior Honor Society (NJHS) Induction Ceremony. The NJHS is the leading organization that recognizes exceptional middle school students who have successfully demonstrated excellence in the areas of scholarship, leadership, service, citizenship, and character.

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Our seventh and eighth-grade students must have a cumulative 3.0 GPA average to be accepted for membership in the NJHS. Our faculty then selects the scholars with the strongest overall character, leadership, and service. Throughout the year, students participate in events that benefit both their immediate school community and the community at large.

Here I join the inductees to stand and recite the NJHS pledge:

View all photos in our Flickr slideshow:

2017 National Junior Honor Society Induction Ceremony

Anything is Possible

We tell our students that anything is possible and we bring mentors, like Arel Moodie, into our school who can reinforce what we teach. We do this to help students build self-confidence. Arel Moodie teaches young people that anything is possible. He spoke to our high school students about how to succeed in college through leadership and effort. Arel grew up on welfare in the projects of Brooklyn, NY where he witnessed those around him being murdered and imprisoned. He is a best-selling author and motivational speaker who built a million dollar company before he turned the age of 30.

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Arel Moodie’s message of “effort is everything” in his talk to our students had also, I believe, impacted our staff. It was a reminder that where we are today happened not by chance but rather by the hard work we put in to be successful. As an educator, it is vital that we model what it looks like to work hard and consistently remind students of the importance of effort.

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In my new role as a College and Career Success (CCS) Counselor, I use “effort” and “working hard” more than any other words when talking with students. Our CCS department has to embody and stress effort in order to guarantee that our students are successful beyond our school walls. One day, it is our hope that they, too, will model this behavior and share with others that hard work and effort enabled them to meet their goals and reach their dreams.

Beyond School Walls

Too often, people take for granted that kids have access to certain things. Some assume that any child who lives in a vibrant urban city has experienced many of its free learning resources. At Inwood Academy, we take full advantage of what New York City has to offer by taking our students on field trips.

On November 18, a group of computer science students from our high school attended a coding workshop at the Microsoft Store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. The students coded through an entire set of games using Flatverse, a Microsoft created programming language. Each of the students was then able to experience virtual reality, using the Oculus Rift and the HTV Vive. They were virtually transported to snowball fights, the top of a skyscraper, and to an alien landscape.

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The trip gave these scholars an immersive look at both the fun and challenge of technology.

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