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

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

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:

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.

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.

Q&A with new Middle School Director – Part 1

Valerie Hoekstra has led the school’s special education and academic intervention services since Inwood Academy launched in 2010 and was named its Middle School Director in June 2015. She was one of the authors for the original Charter School Application in 2009, outlining how the school would serve students with special needs. For the past five years, students and teachers have relied on Valerie for her expertise and compassion for the faculty and students. While our teachers and students know her well, we thought a Q & A session with Ms. Hoekstra might help our families and supporters get to know her a little better. Her bio can be found on our Leadership page.

Q. What inspired you to become an educator?

I loved school growing up and loved learning. When I got to college and thought, well, if I go into business or medicine or law I won’t be in a classroom as much anymore so I took a couple of classes in the education department just to see if I was interested. I took a class called How Children Learn and became fascinated with the process of how kids take in information, what they do with it and how their minds work, and the cognitive science of it.

Q. Were you a good student?

I was a good student, yes. Middle school was not my shining moment, but by the time I was in high school I was a very serious student. Maybe that’s why I was drawn to middle school students.

Q. What excites you most about Inwood Academy’s mission?

There are things about us academically that are very similar to other schools. Of course, everybody wants students that are college ready and I see that pushed a lot in schools but I was also just reading today how new research shows students that are over achieving are not able to focus on their character or who they even want to be or what they want to do. They are told to give back to their community and have many community service hours but don’t see themselves necessarily as members of their community. When I think about Inwood Academy, I think about the whole child, which is my view of education. You really can’t educate just the brain of the child, you have to educate all parts of them and I feel that our mission captures all of that.

Q. So it’s also focusing on the emotional and social aspects of a child?

Yes and community, too. A lot of our kids will stay in this community or another urban environment. Many of our teachers and our aspiring teachers started out here, went away to school, and came back. Even if our students go into other communities they need to know how to be responsible for their part and to be responsible for the people around them. A lot of our students will stay in this community because of their strong family ties and love of the city. There is a different community feel up here (Inwood) than there is in different parts of the city and they naturally are drawn toward this because of its warmth.

Q. What was your contribution to Inwood Academy’s original Charter School Application?

When Christina (Reyes) was writing the charter one of the things that she wanted some help with was thinking about special populations. What is our philosophy of students with special needs? How do we set it up? What does our Response to Intervention look like? In other words, when you try something with a student, how do we know it’s working, what do we do once we see that it is or is not working, and what is the next step, or how do we know when to pull back on services if they are not needed? Then it was how do we set up accountability with the Department of Education. What do we do with students who come in where we identify that they actually need an IEP (Individualized Education Plan from the Committee on Special Education) and what would be our process? For me it was really wonderful because I got to say, well, here is what the law says we have to do and here is the way I think it should look. I believe that all students have the ability to learn and we can’t just say that because the student has an IEP that is written this way that we have to keep them separate. And so we really worked on finding what the least restrictive environment is for a student and then when can we move them along to a different setting or to a less restrictive environment, even still.

Q. How will your experience as a special education specialist influence your decision making going forward as Inwood Academy’s new Middle School Director?

I can’t decide if it’s the special education specialist or if it’s just the mother in me, but I really like to take away as much chance for issues to happen as possible. In my experience with special education students, clear structure and understanding what’s expected of them is when they feel safe and that’s when they will respond in a really positive way. But I felt the same way about my own children.

Our goal is for 100% of our students to be engaged in the work of a reader, the work of a mathematician.

We want to look at the reluctant learner this year and that probably comes out of my special education background. Our goal is for 100% of our students to be engaged in the work of a reader, the work of a mathematician. In math we are focusing on persistence and working through difficult problems and both of those are special populations’ struggles.

Q. What are your thoughts on in-classroom teaching vs pull-out push-in model?

We do both. I think it’s kind of a continuum and it’s on an as needed basis. Most of our teachers teach in a way that in one class period they are going to see the work of every student. They have set up stations where they are at one station and the students rotate through or the teacher rotates around and sees what’s going on. Because we also collect a lot of data, and daily data, we know whose struggling on whatever so that might mean that they need to be pulled out for a time or they need just a quick fix on something.

There are students who need to be pulled out and we have pull out for those needs. It’s students who are especially distracted or English language learners who just need a lot of extra vocabulary or need more background knowledge so when the content is really important to be delivered that way we will do it. Most of the time our model is to deliver it in the classroom as often as possible and that’s what kids prefer.

A big challenge is, honestly, funding.

Q. Based on your experience teaching in different school settings, what do you think is the biggest challenge for us as a charter school?

It’s not what most people think it is. I think most people would say that its students come from a background where they don’t have background knowledge, they don’t have the language skills. I don’t think that’s it. Sure, these are many of our kids and we have found ways to come along side children and celebrate their amazing strengths.

A big challenge is, honestly, funding. We are not funded the same way traditional public schools are, but we have the same requirements in terms of building and teachers and meeting the special needs of our students. We have a lot of things that we would like to do and we are restricted by budget.

We take in everybody and we try, especially with students with special needs, to meet them where they are even though they may be four or five years behind.

As the charter management organizations in the city grow, it’s harder for philanthropists and private foundations to find us and to see who we are and what we do and how we are different from the big charter organizations. Our philosophy is different. We take in everybody and we try, especially with students with special needs, to meet them where they are even though they may be four or five years behind. We’ve built services like our Orton-Gillingham reading program specifically for students that are that far behind, where other charter schools may not always do that. We also have an extra teacher that just does that because we think it is important. And this requires funding. That to me is the biggest problem.

The students that we serve and the enthusiasm from the parents and what is the potential in this neighborhood I think is really exciting. I just feel like we need to keep searching until we find more strategic partners. I don’t think that it’s going to be the same ones who fund charter management organization because if they are supporting an organization like that they already have a bigness in mind and they have a philosophy in mind.

Q. Tell us something about yourself that might surprise us.

I read everything from books about economics and science to books about World War II and the Civil War, and a lot of non-fiction. I also love to read fiction; I read science fiction and once in a while I’ll read a suspense novel, but mainly I just read kind of anything. Books about nothing are my favorite.

Q. And your family?

I have four kids. Our oldest is blind which was something that made me understand the IEP process from the parent perspective and taught me a lot of what to do and what not to do. How the system worked from the parent end. Sometimes I’m conflicted in my role at Inwood when I’m sitting in an IEP meeting (with the CSE) from being the teacher or wanting to be the parent advocate. I think we can really play both because as teachers we do have to be both.

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, christina.reyes@inwoodacademy.org, @inwoodacademy