‘Churches in the big city’: A charter school high school

Editor’s Note — Gaby Forgione, author of ‘Brigadoon,’ is reporting from San Francisco for CNN for her eight-part series that explores the new approach to reenergizing the American education system. Gaby Forgione submitted this…

'Churches in the big city': A charter school high school

Editor’s Note — Gaby Forgione, author of ‘Brigadoon,’ is reporting from San Francisco for CNN for her eight-part series that explores the new approach to reenergizing the American education system. Gaby Forgione submitted this report for CNN.

(CNN) — What happens when you place a charter school community in the mixed-income, minority core of a city that, for all intents and purposes, has a student population only in the single digits for every racial group, but whose social dynamics have been, for the most part, nonexistent for the past 200 years?

The first thing that happened, according to Anna Garger-Perry, who founded Yeshiva University High School in 2006, was a ‘critical mass’ of parents. “Now, with parents, you have now to address with them questions that don’t require higher math scores or graduation rates,” she said.

Taking equity into their own hands, faculty members tapped into the wisdom of local experts in various fields to come up with programming, still in development, that will hopefully inspire kids to believe in themselves, and improve their attitudes toward academic achievement.

One of the most basic concepts of education, Garger-Perry says, is to share the gospel — community. ‘Connect’ is the driving force behind all of the Yeshiva’s programs. The school–and indeed, the entire charter community–is all about sharing the gospel – sharing in the mission, sharing in the opportunities, and sharing in the value — what Garger-Perry calls, “churches in the big city” — and being of service. That’s called service learning.

The School Project

One community project, as its name implies, is aptly the School Project, a mentoring relationship between a Yeshiva student and a local teen with a learning disability.

The School Project is a community project that is committed to helping teen with disabilities lead better lives through a social learning model — designed around the needs of the student’s individual learning disability.

The student mentors learn how to best work with the teen who has special needs — and, in turn, the mentor students learn through experiential learning and personal experience, both in the classroom and outside of it. The teacher uses “triads” teaching — focusing the teacher’s pedagogy on this third, fourth, and fifth potential learner who are now trusted with a lead role in the classroom.

Each year, students lead an activity that resembles a community service project. The experience teaches them how to get along with others, and respects the student’s learning disability. At the end of the year, it is again the recipient’s turn to help the student who has learned how to be a leader in their community.

One teacher notes that the experience has changed the behavior of many of the students. Many of the children who barely showed up when the activity first started show up regularly, perhaps expecting to be part of something bigger. Once they are there, they see that this is, in fact, an opportunity for them to take responsibility for something.

Sometimes, the experience is a win-win. What some are calling ‘New Opportunities’ is a student driven project, where two children have been paired with other students and met a weekly mandate: a verbal affirmation and written evaluation of their interactions in class.

Self-esteem

The young woman who founded the project in her own school district was concerned that the social skills of her students were lacking — nearly all of whom are students learning about their first time in school. She decided to extend the project to her school’s other two high schools where, more often than not, the students found it easier to step outside of the classroom.

The teacher at each school saw positive changes. The attitude of students who have never studied on their own was transformed from weakness to confident accomplishment.

The teacher at one school noted that when she came to that school, there were only three or four kids who truly thrived. By the end of the season, 20 students had moved into that category.

Founder and CEO of the Yeshiva high school, Anna Garger-Perry, told CNN that one thing she has noticed is that, as students do their reading and math homework with help, and they connect with one another in a new way, they begin to think that higher math scores and academic success is within reach.

“[It is ] a journey towards increasing self-esteem and developing stronger relationships with one another.”

Copyright CNN

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