By: Christian Guerrero
June 18, 2014
Category: 8th grade | academy | culture | growth | high school | inwood | leadership
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.
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.
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, firstname.lastname@example.org, @inwoodacademy