Class of 2018: You’re The Reason Why We Come to Work Everyday

Excerpts from the Stepping Up Ceremony on June 25, 2014

Humanities Department Chair John Harrison’s address:

Class of 2018

From Left: Leslie, Terrell, Aaliyah

Moving from middle school to high school is symbolic of your journey into the world of us grownups, where you will finally earn the freedom to make decisions for yourself, to control your own destiny.  Unfortunately, with this freedom comes the responsibility of living with the repercussions of the decisions that you make.

This is a time in your life to figure out who you truly are.  Our identity is constantly in flux, flexing and bending to accommodate the experiences we encounter as we grow.  I can say without fear of exaggeration that each and every one of you is a testament to just how magnificent it is to be a human being.  I stand here before you today as one of your teachers, and I think I can say that I speak for all of us when I say that YOU are the reason why we come to work every day.

I can speak from experience about how difficult it can be to get up every single day and trudge to a school that feels like a prison.  Despite all the hard work, long hours, tests, rules, or uniforms, I think you’d all agree with me that Inwood Academy for Leadership is different than most schools.  We have been able to create a family for you here… and if I’m being honest, for me too.

By John Harrison,


Middle School Principal Ryan McCabe’s address:

Ryan and Christina

Principal McCabe and Executive Director Reyes

I want you to always remember to…

Be open-minded.  Life is going to present you with things that seem so different from your plans.  Remember to keep your options open.  Someday you may be presented with an opportunity you didn’t initially consider.  Take it, try it.  You may just realize that your strengths lay outside of your comfort zone.

Be creative.  Don’t try to be the best at something that already exists, do things differently.  Sometimes the best idea is the craziest idea. Don’t be afraid to be different or weird.

Be loyal.  Never forget where you came from or who you came with on your journey to success.  Stay together and loyal to each other so that the challenges you face, can be overcome as a group.  Remember that when you have someone’s back, they will have yours in a rough time.

Be a leader.  To lead means to have the confidence to make tough decisions, admit mistakes, support people, allow others to support you, be willing to include others and carry yourself with honesty, integrity, caring, responsibility, and restraint.

By Ryan McCabe,


Executive Director Christina Reyes’ address:

Class of 2018

Aminata and Ashlynn

Your children have grown so much in the last four years. They are unbelievably astute, insightful and caring individuals who have no problem letting someone know exactly how they feel. I am proud of their accomplishments and the journeys they have begun to take. We have athletes and artists, scholars and problem solvers – all ready to conquer the next big thing. They are eager and willing to take risks and allow setbacks to be learning experiences rather than stumbling blocks. Inwood Academy for Leadership did not initiate this, but we hope that we fostered these character traits and continue to do this with every student who remains with us into high school.

To those who are leaving, we want you to know that we love you and will miss you, and hope that you carry a little bit of us with you wherever you go.

The Prime Minister of South Africa once spoke these wise words; “you ask me what the road will look like from here and I am here to say that there is no road, only a direction….” I echo these words and add, there are no roads, only directions that you as growing leaders should choose to go in and bring others with you towards a life that will not be easy, but I pray it will be fulfilling.

Congratulations on crossing this milestone, but remember, this is not an ending, but a step. What I look forward to is the speech that I will make four years from now when you graduate high school and the many speeches that I expect to be invited to eight years from now when you graduate from college.

By Christina Reyes,

I’m Taking My Talents…to Inwood

During the summer, Inwood Academy for Leadership made #thedecision to add needed talent to the staff roster.  We reached out to Lebron James and Kevin Love, but we couldn’t match their offers.  However, we found the right people with the desired experience despite not being able to dunk a basketball.

Here are the fab four:

  • Denise Canniff, Development Manager. Denise worked at the New York Public Library last year and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for thirteen years, where she developed programs to increase the number of supporters for these institutions. She raised a son and daughter in the city—both of her children are now in college—and lives in Washington Heights.
  • Taylor Evans Bernal, Director of Talent Management. Taylor was formerly employed at Manhattan Charter Schools on the Lower East Side. She joined IAL with the desire to perfect her craft in human resources and work closer to home so that she could spend more time with her family.
  • Angelo Ortiz, Director of School Culture. Angelo worked at Inwood Community Services for the last twenty years to bring quality youth programs and preventative services to Inwood. He will work closely with the Inwood High School and Inwood Middle School Deans along with the College and Career Counselors.  Angelo joined IAL so that he could work more closely with students and families of the community he loves so much.
  • Erica Reyes, Director of Operations and Finance. Erica was formerly employed at Gap Inc. for 13 years, spending the last 10 as store manager for the highest volume store in NYC’s North Market. She spent much of her time leading the store team in meeting sales goals, customer service targets, and Operating and Human Resources objectives through execution, coaching and accountability.

David Boehm, former Director of Operations and Finance, is transitioning into the Director of Instructional Technology at Inwood High School where he will fully utilize his passion for technology.

By Christian Guerrero,, @inwoodacademy

Farewell and Hello

It’s not easy to say goodbye. This summer we are parting with an old friend: our dear little mini-building on Nagle Avenue.

For the last two years, we’ve been living in two different locations. Our 5th and 6th grades were in our first little space that we called “Nagle” and our 7th and 8th grades in our building we called “Cooper,” because Nagle only fit two grades. On August 1, we have the tremendous opportunity to bring together our 5th through 8th grades into the former St. Jude’s Catholic School located on West 204th Street to create Inwood Middle School. (Did you know Dyckman Park, not far from our new location, is actually called Monsignor Kett Park, named for the former leader of the St. Jude’s parish?)  Our soon-to-be 9th graders will remain at the Cooper building to launch the first year of our high school.

Inwood MiddleAs we move to Inwood Middle School, we are excited about the opportunities. It’s a place where our entire middle school (5th – 8th grades) can be in one building, small groups can meet in actual classrooms, and students have access to a cafeteria and a gym. However, we’re sad to leave the literal and figurative closeness of the community that was established at Nagle.

If you’ve been to this building, you know it’s a bright little blue and green building, tucked away behind PS 152, with its entrance facing Ellwood Street. We even gave ourselves our own address when we moved in, calling it the “Ellwood Street Annex” for the purpose of mail delivery. While it was never official, UPS somehow found us. (FedEx and the post office rarely did!)

Our existence at Nagle has been one that has required us to be inventive and creative. The physical space was so tight that we had to like each other or we wouldn’t make it. The teachers lovingly called working there “the struggle.”  Why?


  • To water our garden we had to hook up a hose to a classroom sink and run it through the window.
  • The garden, during warmer months, was our only space to have meetings. During colder months, we met in the hallway or a closet.
  • The dean’s/principal’s office was a closet, without a door.
  • Whenever we needed a closed-door room to have meetings, we would meet in the kitchen, which meant the teachers couldn’t get their lunches.
  • Small groups gathered in the hallway, on the floor or on stools.
  • The main office was in the hallway.
  • PE teachers held PE in classrooms when it rained, usually running students through “stations.”
  • Lunch was eaten in the classrooms

Yet through all of this, we grew to love Nagle because it was the place where students were progressing, where teachers were building relationships with each other and their students, and where character was being built. Space is a luxury in NYC; this is our blessing and our curse. When you ride the train, you know that being close to people is something that you have to do. In the same way, working and learning at Nagle meant that you had to figure out a way to get along. You had to be nice. You had to make learning happen, despite the circumstances. We all became educational MacGyvers, armed with a book and a stool.

As we bid farewell to our little space, we are thankful for the time it gave us to bond and create a strong foundation for our move to a larger space.

Coming SoonGoodbye, Nagle. We will miss your one hallway and your cozy quarters. However, you’ve given us something invaluable to take with us: a close-knit family and strength of character.

Hello, Inwood Middle School. We know we will have to work harder and be more intentional to create the Nagle
atmosphere, but we welcome the opportunity to grow and change with our new surroundings. See you soon!

By Christina Reyes,

Teacher Appreciation: From Annual Event to Daily Reality

“Teacher Appreciation Week” is frankly one of the most troubling weeks of the annual academic calendar. I realize that sounds a bit cynical so let me explain. It simply smacks of a culture needing to be reminded to do something it should be doing all the time. Truth be told, my wife and I don’t really make a big deal of out of Valentine’s Day either. We figure if we need a day to remind us to be attentive and thankful toward one another, we’ve got bigger issues.

I think Teacher Appreciation Week has its place as long as we’re targeting the right audiences. If it’s there to prompt parents and students to pause for a moment, write a card, and maybe get a Starbucks gift card, then great. But if schools actually need to be prompted to “appreciate teachers” during this week, then we’ve got some problems. Schools need to be in the business of appreciating teachers in ways that go far beyond that of the Hallmark variety.

In a school, “appreciation” looks like this:

Professional Development

Professional Development

  • Ongoing teacher input and influence in important matters affecting teaching and learning
  • Meaningful professional development that is teacher-led and teacher-focused
  • Adequate resources to effectively accomplish school-wide and classroom goals
  • Thoughtful use of everyone’s time
  • Timely and effective communication

The list could go on and on. The reality is this: “Teacher Appreciation Week” types of appreciation are easy. True appreciation is hard work. It’s transformational work. It’s daily work. And too few schools work with that in mind.

Inwood Academy is a school that takes this conversation seriously. We want to be a great place to work. When you come to teach here, we’re going to work hard to keep you. We want to stoke your fire, not burn you out. But this serious work does not mean that we’ve got it all figured out. We don’t. But we’re honest enough to say it and keep working at it. We’re always looking at ways to improve decision-making and communication. We seek ways to build a robust adult culture in order to create a rich student culture. It is a work in progress.

The key to this is the word “work.” It’s a commitment that we make to educators. All schools need to make this commitment. We’re proud of the work we’ve done to date in this arena and we’re even more excited about the joyful labor that is to come. We’re serious about making work work for our people and ensuring that appreciation isn’t an annual event but a daily reality.

By Nathan Eklund,, @nateek

3 Ways To Help Your Child Avoid The “Summer Slump”

For me, the summer of 1994 had to be one of the most exciting summers on record. Between Jim Carrey’s The Mask coming to theaters, the Rangers winning the Stanley Cup, and Weezer releasing their first album, I had an awful lot of things to distract me. But the fact is, all those distractions took their toll on what I’d learned in school.

You see, at the end of August, my sister and I were having a friendly competition to see who had neater penmanship when writing in cursive. By my memory, I was winning, until I tried to spell the word “question.” It’s not that I’d forgotten how to spell the word. I’d simply fallen victim to the “summer slump” and forgotten how to write a lowercase q in just two months.

I am by no means alone in this experience. All evidence suggests that the “summer slump” is a very real thing. Research has suggested that students lose two months of grade equivalent reading level during the summer months. We can compare the brain to an unexercised muscle that loses strength in the absence of use. But surely there are tips and tricks that every parent and student can use to avoid backsliding before September.

Here are a few suggestions to keeping our students’ brains sharp during July and August.

Renovated Washington Heights Library - NYTimes

Renovated Washington Heights Library – NYTimes

1. Visit the local library regularly. Having previously worked in the children’s section of a library for five years, I cannot say enough how useful it is to bring students to the library over the summer. New York State sponsors a summer reading program where children can earn prizes for completing books over the summer. Libraries often have special programs during the summer months specifically targeted to keep students thinking, engaging, and imagining. Visit your local librarian or library branch website for more information. And hey, it also helps that many libraries are air conditioned during those unbearable New York City heat waves! Nothing will stave off the summer slump better than regular reading habits.


Bronx Zoo - Events Calendar

Bronx Zoo – Events Calendar

2. Bring your child on experiences to keep them engaged. We live in the most vibrant and culturally important city in the world. Our kids have so much at their very fingertips that it’s almost our duty to take advantage of everything New York has to offer. Bring them to the Cloisters Museum right here in the neighborhood (admission is only a suggested donation) and see the look on their faces when you tell them that each one of the cloisters was meticulously moved from a church in Europe. Check out the American Museum of Natural History (again, a suggested donation) or the Hayden Planetarium. On Wednesday take a trip to the Bronx Zoo (they offer “pay what you want” Wednesdays) and see what the polar bear is up to in the summer. The New York Philharmonic hosts a free concert in Van Cortlandt Park on July 15. There’s so much more than I’ve mentioned. See for yourself just by Googling “free summer nyc.”

3. Help your child find a hobby. But first, let’s be clear on what a hobby is. Yes, going outside and playing ball or socializing with friends are fun activities–a great part of summer and certainly essential to adolescent development. But do not confuse these activities with hobbies. A good hobby piques a child’s interest and makes them hungry for more information. They’ll read about their hobby and talk about their hobby to friends. A hobby keeps the mind active and challenges the child to excel at it. Building and launching model rockets is great fun and educational (kits are available at Target). Learning a new craft builds creativity and encourages reading. My wife informs me that there are countless craft projects available on Pinterest. And while you’re at your local library, you can always check out a cookbook (reading skills AND math skills!) for family-friendly recipes.

By William Olsen-Hoek,