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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IAL Walks Against Bullying

More than 300 members of our Inwood Academy community—adults, children, and teens—enjoyed the beautiful weather on October 10, the day we held a Walk Against Bullying.

This walk was the focus of our first annual Family Day of Service event and not only did our staff and families participate in the walk through Inwood Hill Park but they were asked to stand up to bullying as well. Children from schools in our community get bullied every day— 1 in 4 children get bullied each year. If we look at our middle school and high school as a representation of that data, it would be 200 out of 800 students. This is why we wanted our first Family Day of Service to focus on a Walk Against Bullying.

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We want our community to come together to become leaders and demand respect and kindness for everyone — especially for our children. On October 10 they did just that.

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I want to thank everyone who participated, especially our students and their families. It was a day for them to exhibit leadership in their own community. I want to also express my appreciation for all who helped in the planning, spreading the word, ordering supplies, creating the really fun Instagram prop frame, making the special #IALWalksAgainstBullying Snapchat filter, creating the anti-bullying buttons, speaking at the event, and wearing orange—the color adopted for the National Bullying Prevention Month. All of that – and much more made all the difference in the success of the event and in the lives of our students.

Check out our photo gallery:

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Artwork in Action

On Monday, September 19, Frenando Olivencia’s and his eighth grade English students participated in a global Artwork for Action: Refugees and Migrants Summit campaign. They joined World Vision’s International President and Chief Operating Officer Kevin Jenkins in writing messages to the world leaders who attended the United Nations Refugees and Migrants Summit in New York City.

Along with notes to world leaders, students wrote messages of hope to their Syrian peers. Their notes were written directly onto a large truck that World Vision had wrapped with an artwork showing Syrian children behind a wire fence (depicting a refugee camp or border). 

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World Vision commissioned artist Hani Shihada to produce the artwork for the truck. Mr. Shihada, a former refugee himself, joined Mr. Jenkins and our students to explain his inspiration for the artwork and his own experiences as a child forced from his home and country.

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World Vision drove the wrapped truck around New York City throughout the day on Monday, September 19, the day of the UN Summit. 

Join us and tell UN leaders #KidsDeserveBetter:

Why I’m Excited About Athletics this Year

August 29th was the first day of school. On that first day, many emotions were detected in the students, both hopeful and doubtful. However, for a student-athlete, the cheers and excitement of last year accompanied them as they came into a place that signifies triumph. The triumph in being the New York City Charter School Athletic Association’s (CSAA) Middle School Champions in both soccer and softball. The triumph of meeting the standards in the new Athletic Policy. The triumph for some in almost becoming champions but falling just short of victory. For those teams, the agony felt in defeat, will serve as a motivator because the next shot will be the first shot, the next strike will be the first strike, the next assignment will be the first assignment.

In the weeks and months to come, fresh faces will emerge and take on the responsibility in the form of new coaches, new students, new teachers. Zealous student-athletes and coaches will reignite the passion for their respected sport. The passion that only caring for something so much, can bring out in an individual. The passion that allows teachers, parents, coaches, and of course the student-athlete to rise to the occasion. This team of people cares enough to make sure that the student is the priority. The Athletic Policy was developed because we needed accountability for our student-athletes. Some athletes responded to the challenge by being responsible and attending study sessions, asking teachers for extra help, and spending more time studying. They showed restraint and studied when they could have easily been participating in another activity. Most importantly they showed integrity and did not fold under the pressure but instead continued to build their leadership skills.

Why am I excited about athletics at Inwood Academy this year? Additional sports such as middle school girls field hockey are expanding the athlete pool. The High School Varsity Girls Basketball Team was accepted this year to the Public School Athletic League (PSAL), another exciting change for our athletics program. Sports that have seen much success at Inwood Academy, such as wrestling, softball, and soccer, are patiently waiting for another opportunity, especially the High School Varsity Basketball Team. A team with five freshman starters who came one win away from a CSAA HS Championship. Teachers have given of their personal time to help students reach academic goals and standards. Parents have increased their overall support. All these sacrifices are what makes us family and will ultimately help us succeed.

How well will we perform this year? We can be encouraged; we can have a pretty good idea but reality is that it is impossible to say. One thing is certain, those that are truest to themselves and the program are granted its highest tributes. We do not evaluate our year by wins and losses but by the development of character.

This is Inwood Academy Athletics! We are the Inwood Academy Trailblazers!