Saturday, October 30, 2010
Harlem Village Academies
On Tuesday I visited one of the Harlem Village Academies, the leadership school, a 5-8 charter school in West Harlem. This school is a shining example of one of my mantras for successful schools. Know your mission, know what you're trying to accomplish, and let that mission permeate every aspect of what goes on at your school.
Like Manhattan Charter, this school was co-located in a public school building. In fact, HLA covers the fourth floor, and three different schools (a middle and two high schools) are on floors one through three. As you ascend the stairs you can tell when you've reached the charter school because you see this at the entry:
This school expects its students to treat education like a full-time job, stick with it, and go to college. Every classroom is decorated at the entrance and throughout the room with banners, pictures, and memorabilia of the teacher's alma mater.
Every year, the students also take a summer field trip to Notre Dame. Why ND? "It's the principal's school and she's playing favorites, recruiting for her school."
How deeply does the culture permeate? On the back of the student uniforms it reads, "Education is my full-time job" or "Those who stay will be champions." (The school asked me not to post pictures of any students or their uniforms.)
Observing their classrooms is a treat, and you can tell that, even though the 5th graders we saw had only been in the school for two months, they buy into the ethos. There's no talking in the hallways between classes, and that's not just a rule. We never saw a student talk in the hallways, even when walking without a teacher. Each classroom is established with a common procedure, and each lesson has a common structure.
Every student knows right from the beginning what they will be learning, and its reinforced positively. The above is from a reading class. GRWBAT means "Great readers will be able to..."
We had a tour guide, who is in charge of public relations and fundraising at the school, but honestly, the school is so dedicated to their vision and so effective at carrying it out, that the explanations were almost unnecessary. From entry, through every moment in the school, until you walk back down through three levels of different public schools, you have no doubt what HLA is trying to accomplish, nor any doubt that they are doing it very well.