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.

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.

Traditional response to intervention pyramid

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.

NWEA- Student Proficiency

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.

Welcome Families

Welcome new families and welcome back returning families. School officially began this week for all students.

The start of a new school year is such an exciting time to meet new people, reconnect with friends, and reflect on your goals for the coming year. One goal that I am most happy to share with you is our push to have more parent communication between parents, staff, and teachers. It feels like we are going back to our roots of how we started in 2010 as a homegrown charter school. I want the parent buy in that we had and continue to have to be reinvigorated this year.

This year, teachers will reach out to parents more and break down any walls that exist between parents and teachers, which shouldn’t exist but we know sometimes does. Some of the barriers that arise between parents and teachers are previous bad experiences either with the teacher or a parent, language barriers, or age difference when a teacher is very young and they feel insecure speaking to parents.

Christina and Ann Sept 2015

Christina and daughter Anne

When I started teaching, I was timid and nervous when talking to parents. Since that first year, parent-teacher relationships have been important to me, even the hard conversations.

I’m even more sensitive now that I have a daughter entering her first year of school.

We’re going to break down the parent/teacher barriers by providing professional development for staff as well asproviding multiple opportunities for teachers and parents to come together and communicate.

We will have more parent events this year. More fun parent events: a mother daughter spa afternoon, Halloween night, potluck dinners, community service and a variety of other events that will happen each month. In the past, parents sometimes felt that they were not able to go on trips as chaperones and we want to dispel that myth. There will be caps to the number of parent cha perones but we want parents to go on field trips with kids, especially in the middle school but we encourage it in all grades.

I’m encouraged about our Parent Council and welcome Ms. Lourdes Fernandez and Ms. Jhoselyn Almonte as respective heads of our new High School and Middle School Parent Councils. Ms. Nancy Betances, who many of you know and love, is taking on the new role as our Middle School Parent Coordinator.

“I am very happy that we have this Parent Council forum for us” says Ms. Fernandez. We will be meeting every other month and we want you there. The parents who are part of the Parent Council know we can’t do this alone. We need as much help as we can get. We welcome you.” Please join parent Ms. Fernandez and Ms. Almonte, along with Ms. Betances at their parent meetings. For dates, see Parent Council.

I feel that the parent involvement will push us to be better as a school and when kids see their parents involved in the school it provides additional accountability for them. This also means that there’s going to be stronger safety net for the kids.

Christina Reyes
Executive Director

Uncommon Feelings about the Common Core

www.inwoodacademy.org

Common (adjective) – occurring, found, or done often; prevalent.

Core (noun) – the central or most important part of something.

It is hard to think of two more basic words than common and core. As a young student in Ms. Lozinski’s English class I would have been asked to be more creative and imaginative in my language usage to avoid boring the reader in my writing. Yet, when placed together, no two words are more emotional in recent education conversation.

Since its inception, the Common Core has been criticized from all fronts. Teachers say the goals are unrealistic and unreasonable. Parents preach that schools are removing the fun and making learning environments too results-driven. Politicians are suggesting changes and government action against the list of standards. Most recently, a report stated that colleges need to start making changes in preparation for students educated in this “new era.”

I am going to share an uncommon view: the common core is not all that different from what great teachers have done for decades.

Common is exactly what the expectations in the Common Core are; common in classroom across this country and others. It is common in the classrooms of rural and urban communities where students are instructed to not just do, but think : in elementary school classrooms where children bake to learn what math actually is instead of memorizing facts, in middle school classrooms where students explain reasoning to understand how to learn and not what to learn, and in the high school classrooms where deep research is required to make an argument. These skills and lessons were taught long before the Common Core was in the news and will continue to be taught long after it disappears.  Classrooms that encourage students to think differently and deeply will always be the most successful.

As parents, educators, and politicians argue about the Common Core and debate about its effectiveness, I encourage my teachers to continue doing what they got into this profession to do: teach students in the best way possible. Sure, the language around the standards has changed and students are now expected to learn different concepts in younger grades, but weren’t they always learning that in the best class?  Didn’t great teachers always try to teach more than what was expected? I know that the great teachers who made me the man I am did.

The best part of the Common Core is that it assumes that every student in America can succeed. Whether you live in the suburbs of Chicago, the rural areas in the South, or on Dyckman Street, a fifth grade student prepared for success should be able to do the same thing. At Inwood Middle School, we aren’t scared or angry about the Common Core. It is the confirmation that good teaching encourages all students to read thoughtfully, write convincingly, think critically, speak up and speak well.  At Inwood we will continue to make following the standards common, so that our children won’t be.

By Ryan McCabe, ryan.mccabe@inwoodacademy.org

www.inwoodacademy.org

3 Ways To Help Your Child Avoid The “Summer Slump”

For me, the summer of 1994 had to be one of the most exciting summers on record. Between Jim Carrey’s The Mask coming to theaters, the Rangers winning the Stanley Cup, and Weezer releasing their first album, I had an awful lot of things to distract me. But the fact is, all those distractions took their toll on what I’d learned in school.

You see, at the end of August, my sister and I were having a friendly competition to see who had neater penmanship when writing in cursive. By my memory, I was winning, until I tried to spell the word “question.” It’s not that I’d forgotten how to spell the word. I’d simply fallen victim to the “summer slump” and forgotten how to write a lowercase q in just two months.

I am by no means alone in this experience. All evidence suggests that the “summer slump” is a very real thing. Research has suggested that students lose two months of grade equivalent reading level during the summer months. We can compare the brain to an unexercised muscle that loses strength in the absence of use. But surely there are tips and tricks that every parent and student can use to avoid backsliding before September.

Here are a few suggestions to keeping our students’ brains sharp during July and August.

Renovated Washington Heights Library - NYTimes http://tinyurl.com/pe7v8fe

Renovated Washington Heights Library – NYTimes http://tinyurl.com/pe7v8fe

1. Visit the local library regularly. Having previously worked in the children’s section of a library for five years, I cannot say enough how useful it is to bring students to the library over the summer. New York State sponsors a summer reading program where children can earn prizes for completing books over the summer. Libraries often have special programs during the summer months specifically targeted to keep students thinking, engaging, and imagining. Visit your local librarian or library branch website for more information. And hey, it also helps that many libraries are air conditioned during those unbearable New York City heat waves! Nothing will stave off the summer slump better than regular reading habits.

 

Bronx Zoo - Events Calendar http://tinyurl.com/lwtgqsq

Bronx Zoo – Events Calendar http://tinyurl.com/lwtgqsq

2. Bring your child on experiences to keep them engaged. We live in the most vibrant and culturally important city in the world. Our kids have so much at their very fingertips that it’s almost our duty to take advantage of everything New York has to offer. Bring them to the Cloisters Museum right here in the neighborhood (admission is only a suggested donation) and see the look on their faces when you tell them that each one of the cloisters was meticulously moved from a church in Europe. Check out the American Museum of Natural History (again, a suggested donation) or the Hayden Planetarium. On Wednesday take a trip to the Bronx Zoo (they offer “pay what you want” Wednesdays) and see what the polar bear is up to in the summer. The New York Philharmonic hosts a free concert in Van Cortlandt Park on July 15. There’s so much more than I’ve mentioned. See for yourself just by Googling “free summer nyc.”

3. Help your child find a hobby. But first, let’s be clear on what a hobby is. Yes, going outside and playing ball or socializing with friends are fun activities–a great part of summer and certainly essential to adolescent development. But do not confuse these activities with hobbies. A good hobby piques a child’s interest and makes them hungry for more information. They’ll read about their hobby and talk about their hobby to friends. A hobby keeps the mind active and challenges the child to excel at it. Building and launching model rockets is great fun and educational (kits are available at Target). Learning a new craft builds creativity and encourages reading. My wife informs me that there are countless craft projects available on Pinterest. And while you’re at your local library, you can always check out a cookbook (reading skills AND math skills!) for family-friendly recipes.

By William Olsen-Hoek, William.Olsen-Hoek@inwoodacademy.org