Mastery–based Learning

We began our first school year in 2010, a small group of eager teachers, myself included, housed in a trailer outside a local public school. We were entrusted with 125 fifth graders, charged with the task of supporting their educational growth by meeting their specific learning needs.

This first group of children will be entering the 11th grade in the fall of 2016. They know we not only expect them to graduate but expect them to be prepared for post-secondary education and the workforce. Just as we crafted an educational program to meet their specific needs in literacy or mathematics when they were in the 5th grade, we have adapted to meet their specific needs as high school students in order to prepare them for their postsecondary success.

Career Readiness

Many of our students are drawn to a more hands-on style of learning, where they can acquire the skills needed to promote career readiness. At Inwood Academy, we started to combine career training with academics as a way to get our students more interested in pursuing a post-secondary education, which may be a certificate from a trade institution or attending a two-year school or a four-year college.

As the economy continues to fluctuate, all of our students need to be prepared for a job market that is highly competitive and where a college degree doesn’t guarantee immediate employment. As reported in The U.S. Job Market And Students’ Academic And Career Paths Necessitate Enhanced Vocational Education in High Schools, there’s a widening gap of skilled labor to fill middle-skill jobs, which represents 42% of the U.S. workforce.

States and school districts across the country have recognized the need for career and technology training for high school students. The manufacturing industry is growing at an exponential rate all across the country, contributing to an increasingly large market for skilled job opportunities. Learning by “doing” has become a major force propelling the rise of business opportunities for entrepreneurs. Studies done on the small subset of high school students that have access to vocational training indicate that a growing number of graduates move on to well-paid, highly skilled postsecondary careers.

This movement toward career training at the high school level is merely a course correction from the assumption of the past few decades that all students will benefit from the same college preparatory courses and that every child should attend a four-year college right out of high school. As told in The New CTE: New York City as Laboratory for America report, New York City has been at the forefront of the national revolution in career education for the past ten years.

A student choosing a vocation or career over college should be a decision made with the same resources and in the same regard as choosing a college. That’s where Inwood Academy’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) program comes in.

As a founding teacher at Inwood Academy, my focus has been on building relationships with my students in order to understand their perspective – the unique set of experiences, challenges, fears and hopes that make them who they are and influence their decisions. I see a real need for a broader scope of options beyond the traditional academic pathway to graduation that we currently offer our students.

To meet the needs of students who would most benefit from alternative pathways to graduation, we have begun the process of establishing an official CTE program at Inwood. Universally recognized and endorsed by the New York State Department of Education, CTE programs are meant to provide an additional level of individualized support in the educational program and to increase the number of options for students to achieve postsecondary success.

Fundraising Campaign

Inwood Academy currently offers an introductory woodworking course that takes place during the school day, along with a program for advanced students offered afterschool and on weekends. Starting next year, we will add other classes including auto mechanics and metalworking. Our plan is to grow this program over the next two years with additional CTE course offerings and an expanded workshop facility. To raise the funds necessary for such an expansion, we have begun a crowdsourcing campaign on Indiegogo.

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If we raise the funding needed to expand our CTE workshop, Inwood Academy will be able to fully develop our CTE program as an alternative pathway to graduation with additional coursework and alignment to industry standards. Although we are fortunate enough to have dedicated classroom space, we cannot sustain our CTE program without additional funding. Contributions made to our campaign will be used to establish a facility with the resources, materials, and equipment that encourage creativity and facilitate deep learning.

Please visit our fundraising page and share it with anyone who might be interested in helping out:

Every little bit counts!

Civic Leaders at Inwood Academy

One of our goals at Inwood Academy is to ensure our high school graduates are young men and women of good character, with outstanding leadership ability.

Sometimes my job is easy because I believe you can be a natural leader and my tenth grade student Leydiann is one such student. Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer thinks so too. Last week, Ms. Brewer announced the members of her new Council of Young Leaders of Manhattan and Leydiann was appointed to serve as a member, one of fifty teenagers. Her term started last week and runs through June 30, 2017.

Serving on the Council of Young Leaders of Manhattan will provide Leydiann with a unique opportunity to address issues facing our community and will help her to develop skills that will serve her throughout her life. We are fortunate to have Leydiann represent our community. It’s young voices and their civic engagement on subjects from urban planning to police-community relations that will make a positive difference in our neighborhood and throughout the borough of Manhattan.

What does a natural leader look like to me? It’s someone who is concerned about making a difference, pays attention to what’s around her, and understands that she has to be proactive in order to make change. That’s Leydiann. While she displays all of our school’s character traits—honesty, integrity, responsibility, caring, and restraint—it’s how she cares for others that stands out most to me. She’s a great listener and is very aware of her reaction and response to situations.

Each day, staff recognize the positive impact that a student or teacher is making and we formally recognize achievements when we celebrate our Students of the Month. However, I chose to recognize Leydiann here, on this blog, and to thank her for all she does in our school community, for being the founding President of Inwood Academy’s High School Student Council, and to how she humbly stands out and leads by example.

Let’s all congratulate Leydiann on her appointment to the Council of Young Leaders of Manhattan.

A Silent Debate

While a silent debate might sound like an oxymoron it was a tool that I used to encourage my students to come up with ways to reduce waste in their daily lives. From thoughts on unplugging unused electronics, to changing construction materials, the sixth graders made some very viable suggestions to reduce energy costs.

When the team from Google Classroom came to visit Inwood Academy on April 13th, sixth grade scientists were able to show off their skills using Google Classroom, an online forum that helps teachers develop a collaborative work environment in the classroom. My class was using the “question” function to have an online, silent debate about recycling and reducing costs in their homes. This feature in Google Classroom provides a forum for students to step up and have a voice. Even students who do not traditionally participate in discussions are active in the online debate. It’s wonderful to see what everyone has to say with the risk of embarrassment minimized.

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After observing the class’s silent debate, the team from Google asked a number of questions about how to improve their products and offered suggestions about ways their current products could be utilized in the classroom more effectively. It’s great to get the feedback from the developers and have a team from a company the size of Google stop in and care about our students and how they are learning.

Now let’s celebrate Earth Day every day.

Scholarship, Leadership, Service, Citizenship and Character

Parents, families, students, faculty, administration and friends of Inwood Academy celebrated scholars at the 2016 National Junior Honor Society Induction Ceremony.

The National Junior Honor Society (NJHS) recognizes the highest achieving students. More than just an honor roll, NJHS welcomes students who have demonstrated excellence in the areas of Scholarship, Leadership, Service, Citizenship and Character.

Thirty-four Inwood Academy scholars were inducted into the NJHS on Wednesday evening. One student, Alysha Urena, who has been consistently on the honor roll since her first year at Inwood Academy, spoke last night; here’s an excerpt:

“Middle School isn’t easy. There happens to be a lot of distractions! To continuously push yourselves academically and stick with challenges in order to achieve scholarship is quite a feat. You didn’t get here because you’re smarter than everyone else. You’re here because you determined to be here. Josely Jimenez asked me almost every day if her average was where it needed to be to become a NJHS member- even when she had to stay an extra week in the DR! She emailed me consistently to get to get her assignments and ask about her grade point average.

Another quality you demonstrate is leadership. Other students follow you not because of your magnetic personalities, but because of the choices you make. Your example in the classroom, cafeteria, hallways and neighborhood is noticed by others. So, leadership that is compelling results from your character, another hallmark of a NJHS member. Your character has led you to understand that right is right, even if everyone else seems to disregard it, and wrong is wrong, even if everyone else seems to think it’s okay. A person of character does not take a poll to determine the right actions.

Finally, you are now becoming members of NJHS because your character and leadership cause you to serve others. You are citizens of this neighborhood, city and country who look out for the needs of others. Now you have each other. When you come back from break, your NJHS 2016 T-shirts will be ready for you to wear. Wear them often, not out of pride, but because of what you signal to others: An Inwood Academy student who leads through serving others, by encouraging them to develop the same character to choose the right path and to persevere through academic and personal struggles.”

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Congratulations to all of our NJHS members and their families.

To view more photographs from the ceremony, see our 2016 National Junior Honor Society photo album.

Young Scientists

It’s amazing when young scientists come together!

The Inwood Academy Middle School science fair became far more than was expected. The sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students that were featured in the 2016 Science Fair represented an elite group of young scientists at the school. As the projects came in, the science teachers couldn’t help but recognize the level of effort and research that our students put in this year. The competition, held in the middle school gym on March 23rd, showcased 45 young scientists from across the three grades. With projects that touched on genetics, plant growth, the Stroop Effect, dissolving an egg shell, and the effects of friction, our students learned a lot and were thrilled to share all they knew with all those in attendance.

Watch Marlenie describe her project, the effect of additives on eggs.

Visitors and judges were wowed by presentations and discussions with all our students. We even highlighted a fifth grader that completed a project independently even though he wasn’t required to. Science at Inwood Academy has found a way to become very relevant to our students. They have so many questions that our annual science fair allows the students the opportunity to explore and showcase their own interests. The hardest part about the fair was choosing the participants.

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The level of performance this year only raises the expectations for future science fairs at Inwood Academy. Come out next year and be amazed at what you can learn.

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To view more photographs, see the Middle School Science Fair photo album on our school’s Flickr page.

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Our Dream of Becoming Professional Dancers

Fabian and Sebastian are 10th grade students at Inwood Academy. This is their blog post about what they’ve been doing outside of school and a huge honor they recently received. Read on.

Ever since we were young children we have dreamed of going to a famous dance school and training to be professional dancers. We want to tour the world and touch the lives of audiences who might also want to become dancers.

We are so happy to be one step further to reaching our goal. We were accepted to the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School of the American Ballet Theatre (ABT). Attending the ABT program is an amazing opportunity but very pricey. One of the Inwood Academy teachers helped us to set up a fundraising page and now the school has given us the opportunity to write this blog post so you can learn a little bit more about us and help us raise $15,000.  This will cover the tuition for both of us to attend, which is more than our family can afford. We need to decide whether or not we will be able to attend the school by May 1st.

Our interest in dance started when our mom placed us in the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater summer camp.  From there we started to take dance classes and began to love the technical dance. At the Harlem School of the Arts we have been trained by amazing dancers from Alvin Ailey, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Dance Theatre of Harlem and more.

During our journey as dancers, we have been granted many important opportunities from amazing schools. We have been guest dancers for well-known dance programs, opened for some of the best companies in New York, and have taken classes with inspirational choreographers. For example, last spring we performed in France with Aubrey Lynch and also at Lincoln Center with the Alvin Ailey Company as part of Ailey Camp. This past summer we took classes in the Joffrey School of Ballet’s summer intensive. This March we were part of the cast of a production of West Side Story produced by Carnegie Hall and the Somewhere Project.

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This ABT program aims to provide dancers with a rich knowledge of classical technique and the ability to adapt to all styles of dance. Some of the classes include ballet, pointe, partnering, men’s class, character, modern technique, variations and Pilates. We will be in level 5 taking classes between 4:30 and 7:00 p.m. and be working not only with ABT faculty, but Alumni students from the past years.

By supporting us you will be helping two Latino twins succeed their dreams as being professional dancers in great companies. As Latinos, we will stand out in the crowd and raise awareness to Latinos in the ballet world. Let’s face it. Have you ever seen a Latino dancer play the part of the king in the ballet Swan Lake or play the prince in Sleeping Beauty?

We only began dancing when we were 13, which is very unusual in the world of professional dance. The hardest and most intimidating part of dance at first was that everyone else had been dancing for much longer and had an advantage in classes because they were more advanced. Our schedule is also difficult because, as a charter school, Inwood Academy’s school day finishes later in the day, but our dance classes go from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. every night. By the time we get home it is about 9:00 p.m. and we have to do homework and study. We travel six days a week and spend about 18 hours a week in classes, apart from the time we spend stretching and rehearsing on our own. We also help with the middle school kids in dance classes on Saturdays.

We would appreciate dearly if you can support us in funding the amount of money needed for this amazing experience at the ABT.

P.S.  Thank you Ms. Laughner for helping us with our fundraiser and granting us the opportunity to tell our story here.

Garden Growers

One of my goals is to ensure the school engages all students and to help us achieve this we use personalized learning strategies and integrating technology into the classroom. The result, Inwood Academy is creating learners—children who are engaged and thriving in a learning environment. Another means to achieving my goal is to partner with community organizations that provide unique learning experiences for our students.

It is community partners like the New York Restoration Project (NYRP) who are providing a vital role in helping us to educate the students at Inwood Academy. They invited us to participate in their Gardens Grower Program.

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Last week, the Education Team at the NYRP joined our fifth grade students. They learned about the benefits of growing their own food, soil, and harvesting. Math and science, along with the art of seeding, were used throughout the class.

Our students will meet with the NYRP team a few times a month in our backyard, Swindler Cove in Sherman Creek Park. There, they will transplant the crops they started last week, explore the five distinct habitats represented in the park, and at the end May harvest their onions and eggplant.

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To view more photographs, see NYRP Garden Growers photo album on our school’s Flickr page.

To stay tuned on our Garden Growers, join us on Inwood Academy’s Facebook page.

To learn about how Harvard, Microsoft, and Columbia University recently supported our students, read our Harvard University’s CS50 and The Joy and Wonder of being a Medical Student blog posts.

Harvard University’s CS50

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?

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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.

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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:

The Joy and Wonder of Being a Medical Student

It was an honor and a privilege to welcome medical students from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons to my fifth grade math class. As a teacher, I liked how the Young Doctors were very organized and they set up four stations for small groups to rotate through—circulatory and digestive systems, skeletal, and nerves and reflexes. They also had things students could touch and feel and see and models of how the body functions. They learned about the bones in the body with a human skeleton model, listened to their heartbeats with a stethoscope, and learned about reflexes with a penlight and knee reflex hammer. They also had my students pour orange juice onto crackers in plastic bags to demonstrate how acids break down food in the digestive tract.

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My students were very comfortable interacting with the Young Doctors, who were donned in white coats and all. They were also very engaged and it was mainly because many of them want to become doctors and this gave them exposure to the hands on science about the human body and they got to see people that they want to be in the future—role models.

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I want to thank the Columbia medical students for spreading the joy and wonder of what it’s like to be a doctor with our students and the Black and Latino Student Organization’s Young Doctors Program for organizing the visit.

Staff Blog Series: 10 Questions in 5 Minutes with Stacy Woodard

10 Questions in 5 Minutes is our new blog series in which staff members are interviewed. The first post in the series is with our new High School Principal in Residence Stacy Woodard. You can read more about her on our Leadership page.

1. What’s your favorite book?

My favorite book is by T.D. Jakes called Reposition Yourself, Living Life Without Limits.

2. Who is your favorite musician?

My favorite musician, if this counts, is Mary J Blige, she may be a bit out of the times for our students but they should know or definitely their parents know who she is.

3. What is your strongest character trait?

I think that my strongest character trait is patience. I have a high tolerance for a lot of things, I typically remain calm and people often tell me that I exhibit a lot patience.

4. Which character trait are working to improve?

I would like to improve on being more decisive. I am a Libra so with most things I am always trying to find balance and weigh both sides of a certain situation before I make a decision. Because of this, I tend to be indecisive sometimes and struggle to make quick decisions. In other words, I think too long. In addition to that I am always thinking about how I can satisfy all parties involved in the decisions I make especially when there are differing opinions…in my mind, how can I give each person what they want? The truth of the matter is, you can’t please everybody and I am learning that.

5. What does leadership mean to you?

It means to help yourself and others to do the right things. Leadership means that you set direction, build an inspiring vision and create something new. Leadership is about mapping out where you need to go to “win” as a team; and it is dynamic, exciting and inspiring. I’m going to sum that up by saying leadership is being an example of the big picture that you want to see. I think that in everything you do you have to be consistent because people are looking for the consistency more than anything. So, leadership in that sense, again, is just going back to what is it you want to see and then building people to take on some of those same characteristics of what your style of leadership is.

Everything that I do I really try to make sure that my message is always one that is easy to accept, and that it’s not hard for someone to notice or they don’t have to look for a trait, that it’s very transparent.

6. What’s the one thing you wish you didn’t worry about during middle or high school?

I worried too much about being the perfect student and wish I hadn’t stressed as much about it as I did. When it came to my studies I was a perfectionist and I worried about my grades. The crazy thing is I always did great but if got a 99% on an assignment or test I needed to know why it wasn’t a 100%. I would really worry about not getting straight A’s in all my classes. I’ll never forget my French class, I received a C on a progress report and worried over it for three weeks.

7. Who has been your greatest inspiration and why?

My greatest inspiration is my mom. She wasn’t afforded the opportunities that I was and I think because she was very aware of that she made it a point to let her children know from where she came, and what she did wrong and why it was important to not do those same things.

8. Why did you become an educator?

As far back as I can remember, teaching was all I ever wanted to do. I was the kid who played school with dolls and teddy bears. I would set them up in a line, like they were my students. I had a great experience in school, too, and wonderful teachers who took me out of my comfort zone, saw something in me and nurtured it, and in a way I wanted to repay them by doing the same thing for my own students.

9. What’s does an ideal classroom look like to you?

The ideal classroom is one where the teacher is not front and center. The conversations are among students…they are discussing and debating their own work as well as productively struggling through their work because in their mind they can’t stop until they get it right. I think of the term organized chaos, where there are multiple things going on all at once—everyone is not going to be on the same page because we’re all different.

10. What’s the most useful tip or advice you recently received?

A really great friend of mine recently reminded me of a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” This came about while we were watching a football game. One of my favorite teams hasn’t been doing that well, the Seattle Sea Hawks. They were defending NFL champions and this season they have not started out doing well. In a moment of haste I was saying I’m not going to support them anymore and my good friend made me reflect on this Martin Luther King, Jr. quote.