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: http://www.inwoodacademy.org/donate/classroom-technology-campaign.html

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.

Middle School Debate Team News

Are you interested in becoming a lawyer, a politician or just like to have the last word with your friends, parents and teachers? That’s what we asked our students last month and within three weeks Inwood Academy Middle School had its first debate team and were off to its first tournament.

The debate team is offered through the Afterschool Enrichment Program. When I applied to be part of the enrichment staff I mentioned my participation in debates and was quickly recruited to launch the school’s first debate team. My colleague Justin Diaz, also part of the afterschool program, has tons of debate experience and together we coach the team.

On Saturday, October 10th, the debate team participated in the Middle School Parliamentary Debate 1st Tournament (Manhattan/Harlem Debate Leagues, operated by The Debate League of New York City). For the debate, we split our students into two Inwood Academy teams for the three-person parliamentary debate:

Jasmin Lantigua (8th grade), Janelys Guadalamar (7th grade), Laura Rodriguez (6th grade)
Jorge Chavarria (8th grade), Ashley Michel (7th grade), Taina Carbuccia (6th grade)

It was quite extraordinary to see these students step up and form arguments on topics they had a very short time to learn. Before the debate, we spent the first few sessions in afterschool on the structure and format of a parliamentary debate and how to build an argument and it left little time to research both sides of all three policies, proposition and opposition, they needed to know for the debate. As with all debates, they did not know which policy or side they were to represent. The parliamentary debate topics included:

This House would raise the minimum wage.
This House would make panhandling illegal.
This House would implement year-round school.

They worked extremely hard and for that we’re proud.  Justin and I are also very excited for the students ranking: Jorge, Taina, Ashley ranked 10th in Beginners 3-Person Parliamentary Debate, Top 3-Person Teams (out of 33 teams), receiving trophies for making the top ten teams! Jorge Chavarria ranked 16th in Beginners 3-Person Parliamentary Debate, Top Individual Speakers (out of 93 speakers), receiving a medal for making the top 20!  Did I say we’re proud?

All middle school students can audition to join the debate team. They can contact me at Rikelma.Jimenez@IALCS.org. Students will learn what formal debate looks like, research topics, and practice for competition, in order to debate more tournaments with other middle schools this school-year.

Q&A with Valerie Hoekstra – Part 2

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.

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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.

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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.