In Solidarity

On Monday, October 9th, Inwood Academy for Leadership held an IAL Stands with Dreamers event. This was our third Family Day of Service and this year we chose to show our support of immigrants granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status and their families.

Despite the rain, more than 300 of us marched throughout the Inwood community to protest the decision to rescind DACA. Staff, students, and families took to the streets and a contagious euphoria emerged. As we passed by pedestrians they joined us in the chanting and drivers, including an FDNY fire truck, honked to show their support. This made us all feel a closer connection to the wonderful community of Inwood.

 

We started the day at the middle school where we created posters to take with us on the march and staff took the opportunity to have conversations with families about the importance of DACA. Students on the debate team presented a pro and a con side of the DACA policy, dance classes performed, and one of our high school freshman students sang “Rise Up.” We ended the day back at the school with a performance by our Drum Corps.

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Serving a community with a high population of immigrant families, Inwood Academy wants all our students and their families to feel welcomed and supported. We will continue to provide support to all our families regardless of their status.

As educators, we aspire to have all our students feel safe to pursue a quality education that will prepare them for college, career and a better life for their families.

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The DACA policy, which protects around 800,000 Dreamers, could soon come to an end. The only permanent solution for our immigrant students is the DREAM Act of 2017, a bill introduced in the Senate in July that has bipartisan support. Passing this legislation would give Dreamers the security of permanent resident status and a path to citizenship so they can continue to go to school, work and participate in the country they have called home for most, if not all, of their lives.

Regardless of whether the DREAM Act of 2017 becomes law, we must continue to protect DACA. Protecting all immigrants from deportation is a priority for our immigrant community. Here is something you can do to help protect DACA: https://action.unitedwedream.org/petitions/keep-the-deferred-action-for-childhood-arrivals-daca-program/

Unity in Progress

“Unity is something that not only the Inwood community should have, but the whole world” said Inwood Academy senior Meliza Cepeda. Over the summer, community artist Reynaldo Garcia Pantaleón worked with students from Inwood Academy, Inwood Community Services, Inc. summer campers at IS 52, and students from Gregorio Luperon High School for Math and Science to create the Unity in Progress mural on IS 52’s exterior wall. On August 23rd our community celebrated the mural’s unveiling.

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The idea for the mural was conceived, designed, and named earlier in the summer by Meliza herself; she was inspired by wanting a more just and united world. The project beautified the exterior of IS 52, engaged students from three schools in societal transformation, and gave expression to perspectives that are needed in our public dialogue.

The students who worked on the project are leaders in their community. It was great to see how everyone worked together, built relationships, and created memories. Our students can walk past the mural with friends and family and say, “I helped make that mural.”

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The Unity in Progress mural project was made possible in part thanks to a partnership with Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance (NoMAA) and the Neighborhood 360˚ Program, which was created by the NYC Department of Small Business Services. NoMAA was awarded a grant to work on three murals in the Inwood community and this first mural was coordinated by Inwood Academy and Inwood Community Services, Inc.

Representing Our Community

Inwood Academy for Leadership has joined forces with our community of partners and families to provide a quality educational choice in Washington Heights and Inwood since we opened our doors seven years ago.

We are a community of first- and second-generation immigrants, mainly hailing from Latino countries, mostly from the Dominican Republic. It is vital for our students and families to connect with staff who look like them. Research has shown that students who share racial characteristics with their teachers tend to report higher levels of personal effort, student-teacher communication, post-secondary motivation, and academic engagement.

The diversity of our staff and resulting student-staff connections at Inwood Academy are a reflection of those findings. Our relationships with students create positive classroom environments that in turn help them throughout the learning process. In addition, a diverse population allows students to see adult relationships that model inclusion of this diversity.

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To recruit staff who represent our community of immigrants has meant we work with several local organizations to find qualified faculty who live within our community. In addition to hiring classroom teachers, we hire college students who are on a pathway to becoming teachers to work as Aspiring Teachers, Teaching Assistants and After School Tutors. We also provide aspiring educators hands-on work experience and help them pay for their college tuition through a reimbursement program. Now, with a degree in hand, many have become members of our staff and faculty. This is one of the ways we have modeled leadership for our students; they see how we are developing leaders from within Inwood Academy. We have also seen first-hand that if an educator believes in the potential of all their students and receives the right training and coaching from us, he or she can become a great teacher.

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Alina Ramirez, our Fiscal Manager, joined Inwood Academy as an afterschool tutor in 2010. Over the last seven years, we have watched Alina grow from a shy High School student to a confident City College of New York graduate contributing to our school community. Alina lives within walking distance of the school and has the ability to interact, influence and support our students and families on a daily basis.

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The many staff members who have connections in our community help us to serve our families in a personalized way and this, in turn, builds trust. While speaking Spanish is not a prerequisite for a job at Inwood Academy, it is a helpful skill that goes far when working with our families—many of whom speak little English.

Hard conversations are easier when trust is present. In a time when our nation is facing crises, being able to model unity within our school and community is a powerful message that creates stability.

As we look to graduate our first cohort of students in June 2018, we are hopeful that our high school graduates will return to serve the community as they have seen modeled at Inwood Academy!

 

Collaborating with Community and Across Curriculum

As I reflect on my students’ efforts, I see their commitment to learning and serving our community as a reflection of their pursuit to succeed in postsecondary education and career. While I am proud of the work we do at Inwood Academy, we could not do it without our extended community.

With support from Lowes Toolbox for Education, my Studio Art students collaborated with the high school Woodshop to make garden benches and hand painted wood signs for the Ulysses S. Grant Houses’ Community Garden.

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We installed these gifts—made from upcycled wood—in the Grant Community Garden in Harlem garden on a sunny Saturday last month with the generous gift of food and refreshment from our local eatery, G’s Coffee Shop.

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Paintings by the Studio Art students are also on display in our local Inwood Gourmet, Inwood Bagel, and Pick N Eat. These works are on sale and 100% of proceeds go directly to the student-artists.

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This upcoming school year, we will continue to collaborate across the curriculum. For one project, the students will learn studio art, woodworking, and computer science skills. If you want to help, please visit our DonorsChoose.org page, where we are raising money to support this “Artcade” Collaboration: Raspberry Pi Inspired project.

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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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.