Black History, Black Culture

Aminata Gueye, founder and president of Inwood Academy’s Black Student Union, shares her thoughts on our country’s black history and black culture. Aminata is senior at Inwood Academy and has been president of our Black Student Union since 2016. Currently, there are 13 members in the group.

Interview by Cindy Burgos

Can you tell me about the history of Black History Month?
While February celebrates Black History Month, black history is more than just a month and is simply not enough time to reflect on or to highlight all the contributions black people have made in our country. However, Black History Month is important nonetheless. It grew out of a weekly celebration in February that was established by Carter Woodson in 1929 and the impact was immediate. Black history clubs sprang up and teachers began to demand materials to instruct their students. Woodson chose the second week of February because it coincided with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The celebration was expanded to a month in 1976, the year of our bicentennial and every president since has dedicated a theme to celebrate black history in February.

What does the celebration of Black History Month mean to you?
It’s a set time to highlight the successes of our people, acknowledge our struggles and really show our admiration for what black people have been through and achieved as leaders, and the way they’ve prospered. In a way, it’s making sure that Americans don’t  go off and say “we’re in a post-racial world” or “racism doesn’t exist anymore.”

Name someone you admire that exemplified(s) leadership in black history.
Angela Davis is someone I have always admired. Angela, she is the textbook definition of strength. It’s that attitude she has towards tackling social injustice issues that I wish to exude.

Lupita Nyong’o, I will never stop saying how much she inspires me. I deeply feel that Lupita is driving forth conversations on colorism. She is a model for anyone when it comes to self-love, not just dark skin girls or African girls, but really anybody; everyone is supposed to be represented and feel free to love themselves.

Considering the social and cultural issues we struggle with, what ways can we display leadership?
There’s a quote that I love by Huey Newton that says “The revolution has always been in the hands of the young. The young always inherit the revolution.” I really believe this. When it comes to leadership you’re supposed to focus on acknowledging the ways you can guide and teach others. From generation to generation things will get better,  but only if we pass down information and wisdom. We now know more about ourselves and our history because of those before us. We must continue to pass on knowledge and guide younger people so they can make better and more informed decisions.

Aminata will be leading a workshop for her peers in partnership with teacher Takiyah Ariyibi about black culture. This workshop will be part of the Inwood Academy High School’s Student Advocacy Day on March 14th.

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 page, where we are raising money to support this “Artcade” Collaboration: Raspberry Pi Inspired project.

Awards and Honors

Since our school opened its doors to our first class of fifth-grade students seven years ago, award ceremonies have placed an important role in how we recognize students’ hard work and achievements.

On June 7, our Academic Ceremony for grades nine to eleven recognized individual students’ achievements in academics, arts, athletics, community service, character, and leadership.

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Outstanding Woodworker Award Recipient

Students were selected from each grade to receive Character Trait awards for Integrity, Honesty, Responsibility, Caring, and Restraint and Perfect Attendance Certificates went to six scholars.

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Responsibility and Integrity Character Award Recipients

Our Honor Roll students were awarded certificates in different categories of academic achievement and one High Honor went to junior Sokeyra Francisco.

The evening ended with the induction of twenty-one juniors into the National Honor Society. NHS faculty advisors Dan Gaffney and Loweye Diedro led the selection process, which recognizes students who have demonstrated excellence in the areas of scholarship, service, leadership, and character. Membership into the society is one of the highest honors our faculty can bestow on a student.

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Inductees of the National Honor Society Recite the NHS Pledge

It’s wonderful to see how big an impact awards have on students. It gives them a sense of accomplishment and motivates them to continue to work hard.

View all photos from the event here:

2017 HS Awards and Honors

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.


The trip gave these scholars an immersive look at both the fun and challenge of technology.




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!

Oh How the Years Go By!

One of our founding teachers recently came upon a class picture of our now 8th grade students when they were in 5th grade – our first class of Inwood Academy. These kids are like our babies, our first born, our princes and princesses! The first thing I saw was the obvious differences in appearance. The different heights, hairstyles and the changes in their beautiful faces were tear-inducing, but as I continued to look at it I had a few more thoughts…

They’re still here.

Out of the 29 students pictured, 27 are still enrolled at Inwood. Out of those 27, 25 are staying for 9th grade, representing our first high school class this fall. Both of the two staff members pictured are still working at Inwood and both are planning to return next year. Our students and staff tell us they love to be here because we support and celebrate their growth and development. Through collaboration and hard work they too have contributed to making this an  environment where people want to stay.

Creating a culture doesn’t happen with a cookie cutter.Students in the Hallway 2010

The faces of the students take me back to the time when we first entered the hallway of the building we refer to simply as “Nagle.” We are now housed in two buildings (“Nagle” and “Cooper”). Seeing this picture reminds me of simpler times. We were in one building with 110 students, eight teachers, an office manager, a finance manager, an operations director and a principal – me. Now with 97 staff members and 445 students, that picture seems almost magical. Magic or not, that first year at Nagle was hard but rewarding, and it set the tone for the culture we have created together. That year formed the foundation of who we are; we built on the strengths found within our staff and students and created a culture around it. Although we now have two buildings, and in some ways two cultures, what makes Inwood “us” is evident throughout the entire organization.

We value all of the voices of  our community. Regardless of how a decision is made – from the top down or from the grass roots – those voices are major factors. Staff, students and parents have invested hours and hours of time to help form our high school opening in the fall, from choosing a high school uniform (yes, there will be one) to whether or not we make early college credits available.

We value a student’s character, but not the kind you read about in books. It’s the kind of character that means when we all mess up and we all fall down, we all can get back on our feet again with the love and support of a caring environment. It’s the kind of character that means teachers can spend class time having challenging and productive conversations with students about the realities of the world around them and the kinds of issues that they encounter. It’s the kind of character that means students cheer for their classmates at the spring concert – even those playing a piano solo – by chanting each student’s name. It’s also the kind of character that means students can get up and play a piano solo in front of a crowded audience at the age of ten.

We value students’ developmental stages; our hallways are not silent and that’s ok. This took time. As a NYC charter, the bar set is silence – silence in the hallways, silence in the classroom and sometimes even silence in the lunchroom. In some ways, we thought this is what we had to do, but we tried it on for size and realized it didn’t fit. Expectations and boundaries? Of course! Students thrive when they know what their boundaries and expectations are, and we wouldn’t want it any other way. But as educators and community members with youth development backgrounds, we realized that silence didn’t work for us because it didn’t work for our students.

They have grown. ND4_4769

When students arrive at Inwood Academy in 5th grade, an average of 75% are not reading on grade level. Many are reading two or three grade levels behind. In the beginning of this academic school year only 54 out of 217 5th and 6th graders were reading on grade level. Our latest measures indicate that 125 out of the 217 are now reading on grade level. In many ways our 5th and 6th grade years are considered to be an academic boot camp for students. They often have play catch up – to master the fundamentals while accessing the deeper critical thinking required by the Common Core. This task is not easy, but our teachers have created environments where individualized goals for each student create avenues for progress. Our students begin learning the minute they walk in the door and continue to learn throughout their time with us.

As we continue to grow as a school and as our students continue to grow as individuals, I am excited about the foundation we have set. Our high school will open this fall with 100 of these eager students ready to conquer. Go Inwood!

By Executive Director Christina Reyes,, @inwoodacademy