Yesterday, I was hired to teach at the Bronx Lab School this coming Fall. I couldn’t be more excited about the fit.
Bronx Lab is one of the many new small schools in NYC (for those not familiar, the NYC Public Schools are breaking up large high schools into smaller themed high schools, both in an effort to give students and their families a choice in the type of school they attend, as well as enjoying the immense benefits of smaller learning communities). The school is in its second year, and is already showing tremendous promise. It has about 100 students per grade (this year it is 9th and 10th, and they will add 11th grade next year), and keeps class sizes to a manageable 20-25 students. Everyone seems to know everyone else, and there is a noticeable level of respect between the students and staff. Teachers are addressed by their first name (which all my former students will know that I am very happy about). Most of the students I talked to seemed to be genuinely happy to attend. The school plans to send every graduate to college, and seems to be on the way to achieving that goal (just for comparison, the large high school that used to exist in the building where there are now 6 small schools had a graduation rate of about 20%). I’ve had the chance to meet most of the teachers and all the leadership, all of whom are obviously gifted, enthusiastic, and committed to the students they serve.
Curriculum wise, the school stresses student-centered, project orientated, integrated curriculum, which is most definitely my cup of tea. And while the school is in some way still confined by the Regents Exams (content based test in New York State that students must pass in order to graduate), testing is not the schools focus (a HUGE relief given the environment I was in last year in Virginia). The school already has an integrated math and science curriculum, and the leadership wants to move towards having a similar integration between social studies and English (and potentially a fully integrated curriculum across all disciplines in 11th and 12th grade). Students have an extended day on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, where they are required to participate in an elective, though the list of electives is completely responsive to student demand.
The school’s most unique program is a required semester internship. For one semester either in 10th, 11th, or 12th grade, students are pulled out of all their classes and participate in a fully integrated curriculum based around an internship in a field in which they are interested. Students spend two days a week at the internship, and the other three days they are in the school doing primarily individual work which ties into their internship thematically, and also must incorporate the habits of thought of all four major disciplines. They also do some project work for the classes they are missing (the 10th graders rights now also take math, though that may not continue). The internship program is based on one developed by the Big Picture Company at the Met School in Providence, RI. I did part of my student teaching, as well as some volunteer work, at the Met while an undergrad, and I can vouch for the unbelievable success of the program (100% of their graduates go to college, something like 2/3 are the first in their family to go). One “advisor” takes 13 students for the semester, and is their only teacher.
I interviewed to be either an internship advisor or social studies teacher. I could end up in either position at this point, demanding on who else the school hires. Both positions offer tremendous opportunities for me, though, if it were left up to me, I’m leaning towards the internship position (the potentials for integrating blogging and other technology uses into the program are limitless, among other appealing aspects of it). And luckily I’ll be able to spend a lot of time at the school during the rest of this year to get to know it better and become part of the team as they begin planning for next year.
Though there will certainly be many challenges that come with teaching in an urban environment, I couldn’t be happier about the opportunity to help build a community whose mission I am truly passionate about. I’ll be sure to post more as I spend more time at the school.
Read more about the school here and here (I discovered Chris Lehmann’s blog while doing research on the school. He is opening a new school in Philadelphia, the Science Leadership Academy, this coming Fall. He has some pretty fascinating insights about education and the process of building a school community on his site)