The 30 Schools in 30 Days project will highlight a different New York State charter school each day, featuring each school's successes, and the challenges that come from being denied access to state facilities funding. Perhaps most important, each school leader has a message for state lawmakers in Albany: please find a solution to the facilities funding problem and allow ALL of the state's charter schools access to building aid this year.
What happens when two public school teachers see a huge problem in their district -- one that leaves families with no real options?
For Martha Andrews and her fellow teacher and school co-founder, Sasha Wilson, the answer was to open a great charter school. That is what they did and how Bronx Community Charter School came about.
“We were teachers in District 10,” said Andrews. “It was very clear to us that families in District 10 needed more choices. We’re the only charter elementary school.”
She continued, “We wanted to offer something different than what kids get in a traditional district school. We have small classes, and we’re a small school of 350 students in K-5.We have two teachers in every classroom of 25 kids. We spend time getting to know our students as individuals.”
Andrews said that every adult in the school knows every child in the school. Their curriculum and model is grounded in knowing that kids work best when their adults know them very well. It’s a point of pride that they have been able to foster a real sense of community and respect.
The school started 100 kids in K-1 and 16 staff members and has grown. This is the school’s seventh year. The school student body is very diverse. Their plan is to add a middle school.
“More than 15 home languages are spoken in our school,” said Andrews. “Our families come from a wide range of places and are mostly Latino, West African, and African-American. 85% of our students qualify for free or reduced lunch.”
Andrews said that the put a lot of emphasis on project-based learning.
“We start the year with a six week all-school study where the whole school learns something together. This year, the project was on the Bronx River. Part of the research was spent canoeing on the river, spending time on the riverbanks, and examining the ecosystem. The kids designed projects around the river and each project is geared towards the appropriate ages and grades of the students.”
For instance, the kindergarten students learned about the animals that live in a river and the older students would study things like erosion and how the river has changed over time.
Then the entire school presents their findings to their families. Andrews says it’s a way to connect the entire school and get the kids excited about learning. You can read more about the project here.
There is something else unique about Bronx Community Charter. The staff is unionized with the UFT. It’s a slimmer contract than what the UFT has with the city schools and Andrews said it works well for her school.
Andrews said, “We believe strongly in the importance of the union. It was an incredibly amicable process to codify our contract. This ensures teacher voice throughout the school.”
Like all charters in private space, Andrews said this has been an incredible learning experience.
“In our first space, we wore many hats. We learned a lot about plumbing, we answered the phones, and served lunches. We saved money for our permanent facility, which we designed ourselves with our staff and our families. Everyone contributed to the design of the space.”
While the school says it is fortunate to have a great building, it doesn’t come without the challenge of paying for it – something all charters in private space must do. Right now the school diverts per-pupil funding to pay for the costs associated with the school building.
“With more equitable funding we could hire additional counselors, social workers, and support staff to provide the social and emotional support that our students need.”
Andrews has a message for lawmakers: “We are educating public school kids and our kids deserve the same level of funding that all other New York City public school kids get. Right now they are not receiving that. We should all be treated fairly under the law.”
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