What I Learned This Summer

Blog- GN 2

Gabriel is a 10th-grade student at Inwood Academy and he is sharing with us what he learned while working as an intern at the high school this summer.

This summer has been great. I’ve had a positive experience and great support at my first summer job, which was very exciting. I learned many things about what it takes to run an office and saw first-hand what good work ethic looks like.

This experience mostly taught me how much more I should value my parents, their work and the struggle they go through to keep our family going, and what makes a good adult. I didn’t realize until now how hard you have to work to earn a living and how I need to value work opportunities that come my way.

I’m looking forward to a great rest of the year. I hope to find work for the remainder of the year and I plan to start saving for my future goals.

Thanks to Inwood Academy for such a great experience this summer, working in their office. It taught me more than just how to have good work ethic. I’m a better person, and a better son because of this experience.

Meet Jeannie Infante, Inwood Academy’s Family and Community Engagement Associate Director

Blog- JI 4

Jeannie Infante began her career as a teacher and worked as a Community Director at a charter school before joining the Inwood Academy team in the spring. She received her undergraduate degree in Political Science at the City University of New York City College and a Master’s in Public Administration from John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Jeannie was raised in Inwood and she and her husband have one daughter and are expecting a son any day now.

Q. What excites you most about Inwood Academy’s mission?

It’s how we are preparing students for both life beyond high school and after college that excites me most about Inwood Academy’s mission. If we want students be to be happy and successful in life, we must educate the entire child—the cognitive as well as the social and emotional skills. With a dedicated staff, committed students, and caring parents, the school has built a strong foundation to do just that; help students achieve academic success and to empower them within their community—preparing them for college and life.

Q. How do you plan to build a more welcoming school environment for parents this year?

Before I joined Inwood Academy, the school had established many ways in which they encouraged families to participate in school activities. Also, last year the Parent Council enabled great communication between families and the school and I plan to build on what they already put in place.

I am dedicated to establishing authentic relationships with families which involve a three-part process. First, I’ll learn where students and their families live, work, go to church, eat, and play. The second part involves assessing the needs of our families. Finally, I’ll use this information to create opportunities that are relevant to parents, such as coming to the school and volunteering, supporting academic work within a classroom or at home, obtaining services, and/or attending events.

Q. Is it the role of the school to help parents be more involved in their children’s education?

Yes. Children receive powerful messages from strong family relationships between family and school. That’s why schools must develop ways to collaborate with families. We are calling on every family to participate in their child’s education and become role models by volunteering at the school or within the community. I’m here to facilitate their involvement. I encourage all parents to go to Inwood Academy’s website and download the calendar for the Middle School and High School and check the online calendar regularly.

Q. What type of workshops will you offer to parents?

This year we are going to offer various workshops and the exact topics will be determined once we survey parents to assess their needs. However, we have our first set of workshops for the middle school and high school on September 26 at 6:00 p.m. Details will be made available on our website.

Q. How can community partners become part of the school’s family involvement program?

Partnerships in education enhance and improve the quality of education, meeting the needs of students and educators. Community partners understand that schools can’t do it all on their own and can help families feel more connected to their community by providing resources and strengthening school programs.

Q. What are your goals for the future?

I am passionate about making a difference to level the playing field in education, especially for under-resourced schools. My goals are to build on the success of Inwood Academy through the use of traditional and nontraditional approaches to family involvement, as research shows that family involvement strengthens and supports students’ learning and well-being.

Q. What are nontraditional approaches?

Traditional approaches focus on what parents can do to support the school or academic achievement while nontraditional approaches focus on what schools can do to support parents. It’s the parent engagement model where the school and families collaborate; distributing the weight of involvement more evenly between us. That’s why I’m taking the time to get to know our families and working with Parent Council to elicit ideas from parents. What we’ll end up with is parent energy driving the family engagement efforts at the school.

Q. Tell us something about yourself that might surprise us.

When I am not working or spending time with my family I love to connect with nature by engaging in adventurous pursuits like zip-lining and running. I haven’t been able to do any activities lately but I have a few things on my bucket list for next year.

Harvard University’s CS50

CS50 blog lg6

Inwood Academy scholars had the privilege of participating in a coding event this month—CS50 Hackathon NYC. We were just one of nine schools invited to participate in this Microsoft sponsored event.

The hackathon was more than a room filled with free t-shirts, bags, candy, and pizza. It was a collaborative computer science learning environment where students were helping students, educators from one institution helping students from another, and all making sure everyone was engaged and supported. I sat in on one of the pull out sessions that our three middle school scholars attended and I found it fascinating, as a non-computer science major, to see how CS50 first teaches students how to think algorithmically and solve problems efficiently, rather than to show them how to write a line of code. During this session, Isaac, one of our students, answered the instructor’s question and she said to him “I guess you could teach this class.” Did I mention that our scholars appeared to be the only middle school students at the event?

CS50 blog lg3

Our students met Harvard computer science professor David J. Malan. He started CS50 at Harvard and it has become one of the the most popular courses on campus—yes, computer science. They now offer a free adaption of CS50 for high schools that will satisfy the new Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles curriculum.

CS50 blog lg5

Former Inwood Academy teacher and current volunteer Jeff Maxim started a CS50 course for Inwood Academy students and he graciously arranged with Microsoft to have our students participate in the CS50 Hackathon NYC. It’s volunteers like Jeff and partners like Microsoft and Harvard that are making a difference for Inwood Academy students. And it’s supporters like those who donated to our Classroom Technology Campaign that are allowing us to create a more effective personalized learning model for our students. Learn more about the campaign or donate to it here: http://www.inwoodacademy.org/donate/classroom-technology-campaign.html

Q&A with Valerie Hoekstra – Part 2

Staff on Blue Shirt Day

Welcome to Part 2 of the interview with Ms. Valerie Hoekstra, Inwood Academy’s Middle School Director. See Part 1 here and read her bio here.

Q. Based on your five years of experience at Inwood Academy, are you making any major changes at the middle school?
We spent a lot of time focusing on academics and trying to make it rigorous, not necessarily test-focused and in the last year and a half we have figured out exactly what our students need academically and we know how to deliver rigor in an engaging way.

What we need to get back to a little bit is what we started with the first couple of years where our students see themselves as learners and understand that when they walk into the classroom they have a responsibility to bring something to the classroom as well. It’s not new, just that’s where our focus is going to be. We’re going to focus on that reluctant learner.

We’re going to focus on students seeing themselves as learners and then being able to use other students in the classroom as resources instead of obstacles, sometimes to their learning. Students will have a mental check list: I’m struggling on something and I’m going to use the strategy that I’ve learned to persevere a difficult problem. I may go ask one of the other students to see what they are doing to solve this type of problem, then go back and work on it again and finally see the teacher but to persevere through that learning.

We’re going to focus on that reluctant learner.

Q. And giving them the steps that they need to take to persevere?
No. There has to a recognition that I’m at a point where I’m about ready to give up. It’s being aware of how you are thinking, being aware of how you are feeling. Sometimes we don’t know when we are struggling. We don’t know why we are frustrated. You kind of mentally shut down. The first thing is to recognize that is happening. So, it’s not so much steps but a toolkit with steps of things that they can do in order to persevere as learners.

It’s part of our five character traits. The responsibility part of it, especially for learning. It’s students understanding that they bring something into the classroom every day and that’s different than walking into the classroom and thinking what’s the teacher going to tell me today, instead of what do I need to do to learn today. That, I think, is big.

This is teaching them to be students and really being participants in the classroom. Our teachers have been fabulous at building lessons and differentiating it for different students and making it engaging, and we will continue that. So that academic rigor will continue just as before, and teachers will continue to develop beautiful lessons, and we will get our students to walk into the door ready to receive it!

In order to help students to see themselves as learners and have the ability to persevere any kind of task, we are implementing a new advisory program. We will have small group advisory with one staff member and eight to ten students, three to four times per week for 25 minutes with lessons around our five character traits. That group, I envision, becomes the safe space for students, a cohesive group where students can rely on each other and talk to their advisor.

It’s students understanding that they bring something into the classroom every day and that’s different than walking into the classroom and thinking what’s the teacher going to tell me today, instead of what do I need to do to learn today. That, I think, is big.

Q. I heard you want to involve parents more in the school. Can you talk about that?
For the first time we have a full time parent coordinator, Nancy Betances. She has been with the school since the beginning and parents know and love her. In her new role, she is the liaison between the parents and the school, an advocate for parents, bringing what the school is doing to the parents, education, and setting up volunteer opportunities.

One of the things that a lot of parents have said they want to do is be in the classroom more and we want to have them in the classroom more. Our model for parent involvement will come from the staff council, to hear how they want to use parents in a classroom so we can set up something that is cohesive across the board. Nancy will work with the staff council to do that and work with the families to implement it.

Q. Are you doing anything differently than what you originally wrote in Inwood Academy’s charter application from 2009?
We figured out that Response to Intervention (RTI) we were using mainly at first for our special needs population actually works with everybody and that’s really the way it’s supposed to be. Because of the way our teachers evaluate who understood a lesson that day, it may not be the special education students who end up in the group that needs the extra help that day. It doesn’t really matter to us if they are the group that needs the help that day or not as long their understanding was accessed. On the other hand, a top student in the school typically might be in a group that needs the extra help that day, just for that one specific area. Because we have a lot of children that are English language learners and they may have no difficulty with math but when it comes to expressing themselves they may find themselves in a group that is getting the extra help even if they don’t have an IEP.

Q. You said using Response to Intervention is for all students and that’s the way it should be. Is that because of new teaching standards or a law that RTI is to be used for all students?
I think it’s the spirit of the law. So you have a tier, one group of full time special ed students, then a group in the middle who gets a certain amount of help, and then the biggest percentage of students are supposed to be those in general education who do not need services at all. It looks like each tier are completely separate. Yet, when you read about RTI if a learner is responding to something that you do you need to move them into a more independent work environment, and if they are not responding then you may need try something that gives them more support. The truth is that just doesn’t happen for special education students and it can’t possibly. So while you might just want to move that first tier of learners up and down you really have to move everybody and that’s what I think it (RTI) was really intended to be.

Traditional response to intervention pyramid

Traditional response to intervention pyramid

What’s going on at the moment is where we are going to catch them in learning.

It’s really looking at what students can do regardless of what we know about them from a test that they took because that doesn’t define what’s going on in the moment. What’s going on at the moment is where we are going to catch them in learning.

The more often we use growth data and targets for every child and we see individually what they are able to do, the better. Hopefully, it’s where education is going.

Q. Do you think charters do a better job of that?
That’s a good question. I think there’s more talk about it in the charter school world but there are a lot of progressive independent and traditional public schools who also have this model. A lot of schools are not going after the one size fits all, but in high performing schools it’s probably their model.

Q. What role does test data play at the middle school?
Oh boy (checks the time). Test data is really important. We use test data every day but our tests could be as easy as here’s your exit ticket, answer this question. An exit ticket will be one question on the lesson of the day, the objective of the day. Teachers use that to inform their instruction for the next day. We also have unit tests designed by teachers to see if their students get the content, did they understand what was going on, and how well are they writing and are they improving in their writing and those kinds of things. We use this data every day.

We have the state test scores which are helpful to see how we are doing as teachers moving students along but that’s more of a benchmark for them. Because we don’t get back (the results) for quite a while for individual student results and we don’t get every question anyway we don’t have timely or as clear data that we would like to have from the state tests. They, obviously, can’t give out all of the test data because that would invalidate the test.

Then we have NWEA which our students take three times a year. It’s a national standard for measuring real growth and we’ve used it since the beginning. We can see where a child started with us and it doesn’t matter how low they are. For the students who start with us in our fifth grade and they’re at first grade reading, we know the state test is too difficult for them and they won’t pass it, but with the NWEA data we can see growth against the targets we set for them. We can’t do that with the state test data.

NWEA- Student Proficiency

Q. What does an ideal classroom look like to you?
There really isn’t an ideal classroom. There are ideal teachers. There are teachers whose personality come through in a classroom and that to me is ideal. I also think an ideal classroom is when teachers use their personalities—that could be somebody who is really kind of boring to someone who is really exciting or really intense—but every student is involved and sees themselves as a learner in that class and knows that if they are not doing their part the class suffers, and the student doesn’t want that to happen.

Q&A with new Middle School Director – Part 1

Val 13

Valerie Hoekstra has led the school’s special education and academic intervention services since Inwood Academy launched in 2010 and was named its Middle School Director in June 2015. She was one of the authors for the original Charter School Application in 2009, outlining how the school would serve students with special needs. For the past five years, students and teachers have relied on Valerie for her expertise and compassion for the faculty and students. While our teachers and students know her well, we thought a Q & A session with Ms. Hoekstra might help our families and supporters get to know her a little better. Her bio can be found on our Leadership page.

Q. What inspired you to become an educator?

I loved school growing up and loved learning. When I got to college and thought, well, if I go into business or medicine or law I won’t be in a classroom as much anymore so I took a couple of classes in the education department just to see if I was interested. I took a class called How Children Learn and became fascinated with the process of how kids take in information, what they do with it and how their minds work, and the cognitive science of it.

Q. Were you a good student?

I was a good student, yes. Middle school was not my shining moment, but by the time I was in high school I was a very serious student. Maybe that’s why I was drawn to middle school students.

Q. What excites you most about Inwood Academy’s mission?

There are things about us academically that are very similar to other schools. Of course, everybody wants students that are college ready and I see that pushed a lot in schools but I was also just reading today how new research shows students that are over achieving are not able to focus on their character or who they even want to be or what they want to do. They are told to give back to their community and have many community service hours but don’t see themselves necessarily as members of their community. When I think about Inwood Academy, I think about the whole child, which is my view of education. You really can’t educate just the brain of the child, you have to educate all parts of them and I feel that our mission captures all of that.

Q. So it’s also focusing on the emotional and social aspects of a child?

Yes and community, too. A lot of our kids will stay in this community or another urban environment. Many of our teachers and our aspiring teachers started out here, went away to school, and came back. Even if our students go into other communities they need to know how to be responsible for their part and to be responsible for the people around them. A lot of our students will stay in this community because of their strong family ties and love of the city. There is a different community feel up here (Inwood) than there is in different parts of the city and they naturally are drawn toward this because of its warmth.

Q. What was your contribution to Inwood Academy’s original Charter School Application?

When Christina (Reyes) was writing the charter one of the things that she wanted some help with was thinking about special populations. What is our philosophy of students with special needs? How do we set it up? What does our Response to Intervention look like? In other words, when you try something with a student, how do we know it’s working, what do we do once we see that it is or is not working, and what is the next step, or how do we know when to pull back on services if they are not needed? Then it was how do we set up accountability with the Department of Education. What do we do with students who come in where we identify that they actually need an IEP (Individualized Education Plan from the Committee on Special Education) and what would be our process? For me it was really wonderful because I got to say, well, here is what the law says we have to do and here is the way I think it should look. I believe that all students have the ability to learn and we can’t just say that because the student has an IEP that is written this way that we have to keep them separate. And so we really worked on finding what the least restrictive environment is for a student and then when can we move them along to a different setting or to a less restrictive environment, even still.

Q. How will your experience as a special education specialist influence your decision making going forward as Inwood Academy’s new Middle School Director?

I can’t decide if it’s the special education specialist or if it’s just the mother in me, but I really like to take away as much chance for issues to happen as possible. In my experience with special education students, clear structure and understanding what’s expected of them is when they feel safe and that’s when they will respond in a really positive way. But I felt the same way about my own children.

Our goal is for 100% of our students to be engaged in the work of a reader, the work of a mathematician.

We want to look at the reluctant learner this year and that probably comes out of my special education background. Our goal is for 100% of our students to be engaged in the work of a reader, the work of a mathematician. In math we are focusing on persistence and working through difficult problems and both of those are special populations’ struggles.

Q. What are your thoughts on in-classroom teaching vs pull-out push-in model?

We do both. I think it’s kind of a continuum and it’s on an as needed basis. Most of our teachers teach in a way that in one class period they are going to see the work of every student. They have set up stations where they are at one station and the students rotate through or the teacher rotates around and sees what’s going on. Because we also collect a lot of data, and daily data, we know whose struggling on whatever so that might mean that they need to be pulled out for a time or they need just a quick fix on something.

There are students who need to be pulled out and we have pull out for those needs. It’s students who are especially distracted or English language learners who just need a lot of extra vocabulary or need more background knowledge so when the content is really important to be delivered that way we will do it. Most of the time our model is to deliver it in the classroom as often as possible and that’s what kids prefer.

A big challenge is, honestly, funding.

Q. Based on your experience teaching in different school settings, what do you think is the biggest challenge for us as a charter school?

It’s not what most people think it is. I think most people would say that its students come from a background where they don’t have background knowledge, they don’t have the language skills. I don’t think that’s it. Sure, these are many of our kids and we have found ways to come along side children and celebrate their amazing strengths.

A big challenge is, honestly, funding. We are not funded the same way traditional public schools are, but we have the same requirements in terms of building and teachers and meeting the special needs of our students. We have a lot of things that we would like to do and we are restricted by budget.

We take in everybody and we try, especially with students with special needs, to meet them where they are even though they may be four or five years behind.

As the charter management organizations in the city grow, it’s harder for philanthropists and private foundations to find us and to see who we are and what we do and how we are different from the big charter organizations. Our philosophy is different. We take in everybody and we try, especially with students with special needs, to meet them where they are even though they may be four or five years behind. We’ve built services like our Orton-Gillingham reading program specifically for students that are that far behind, where other charter schools may not always do that. We also have an extra teacher that just does that because we think it is important. And this requires funding. That to me is the biggest problem.

The students that we serve and the enthusiasm from the parents and what is the potential in this neighborhood I think is really exciting. I just feel like we need to keep searching until we find more strategic partners. I don’t think that it’s going to be the same ones who fund charter management organization because if they are supporting an organization like that they already have a bigness in mind and they have a philosophy in mind.

Q. Tell us something about yourself that might surprise us.

I read everything from books about economics and science to books about World War II and the Civil War, and a lot of non-fiction. I also love to read fiction; I read science fiction and once in a while I’ll read a suspense novel, but mainly I just read kind of anything. Books about nothing are my favorite.

Q. And your family?

I have four kids. Our oldest is blind which was something that made me understand the IEP process from the parent perspective and taught me a lot of what to do and what not to do. How the system worked from the parent end. Sometimes I’m conflicted in my role at Inwood when I’m sitting in an IEP meeting (with the CSE) from being the teacher or wanting to be the parent advocate. I think we can really play both because as teachers we do have to be both.

Summer Camp Campaign Underway!

send kids 3

Each year, hundreds of kids from Inwood Academy are home during the summer due to lack of quality and affordable summer camp programming in our community.

We want to give our kids an awesome summer camp experience this year. To raise funds for our camp, we’ve created an easy way for you to contribute and to ask your friends and family for their help.

Whether you are a supporter—community partner, volunteer, donor—or staff member of Inwood Academy, you can help. Show them what your Inwood Academy experience means to you!

We’re using CrowdRise as a platform for our Send Kids to Summer Camp campaign. It’s fun and effective!

It’s easy to join in! To participate:

1) Go to Send Kids to Summer Camp campaign and make a donation. You can donate to the overall camp fundraiser or to one of our staff fundraiser pages. A $20 donation will cover the cost for one of our students to attend one day of our camp.

2) On Send Kids to Summer Camp or this blog post, select any one of the social media sites’ icons—Facebook, Twitter, etc.—to help spread the word.

3) On Send Kids to Summer Camp, select “fundraise for this campaign” and set up your own page, with a photo and a personal message. Then go to “manage campaign” and send the link out to your friends and family. Post on social media and spread the word.

We do not charge our families for summer camp so every donation, every share, every fundraiser makes a difference!

Already, there are three staff members fundraising for this campaign. Which one will be the first to reach their goal? Which is the most likely to exceed their goal and help get us to a total of $30,000?

https://www.crowdrise.com/givekidsachoice/fundraiser/johncharrison

https://www.crowdrise.com/givekidsachoice/fundraiser/crystaljohnson5

https://www.crowdrise.com/givekidsachoice/fundraiser/kennethtejeda

Thank you for your enthusiastic help on this. Let the fundraising begin!