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!

What I Learned This Summer

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

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.

Embracing Mistakes and Feedback

There is a science behind learning from your mistakes, after all, learning is a process, but how do you teach that concept to students and how do you encourage them to take advantage of feedback they receive from their teachers?

One of the ways we accomplish this at Inwood Academy is to display classroom work, with teacher remarks and all, on the bulletin boards that are displayed throughout the halls of the middle school.

Bulletin boards display very different things than when I was in school. Typically, only the prettiest handwriting or best projects were displayed; and usually by the same students month after month. Even today, schools use bulletin boards for diverse purposes. At Inwood Academy, we want to make our students feel good about their learning so we showcase what is actually going on in the classroom on a daily basis.

The boards often include tasks done at different levels based on student need or choice, evidence of how students worked toward understanding of the task, and feedback on the work they did or how the work could be extended. By displaying their work that represents the academic process, students learn that it is the struggle and progress we value, and not just the finished product.

Enjoy some of our work in the month of May! Notice the difference in tasks or choice for students, the academic struggle needed to complete the tasks and the feedback from teachers.

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View more boards in our Bulletin Board photo album:

Bulletin Board: May 2016