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.
When Staten Island Community Charter School (SICCS) COO Lorna Harris talks about the school, you can hear just how much providing a strong, close-knit school community for students means to her.
“We are on an island, and it can be isolating,” said Harris, who was a member of the founding group. “There weren’t good school options in the neighborhood and the need was great. As a response, community members – grandmothers, parents and local residents—worked together to build this school from the ground up in order to provide an exceptional academic experience for our kids.”
The school, the first and only charter school in Staten Island, opened in 2010 and currently serves 360 students in grades K-5, but will eventually expand to serve grades K-8.
The school is holistic in its approach to learning with a cutting-edge curriculum that has the Resolving Conflicts Creatively Program (RCCP) as a cornerstone. Every aspect of student learning and achievement takes into account the social-emotional aspects of learning.
The goal is to make sure each child graduates ready for college preparatory high schools and for the world at large. “We believe that every single child if given adequate support, can and will succeed,” says Principal, Dr. Nicole Garcia.
Board chair, Ellen Icolari, seconds that. “SICCS aims to build a student body who are articulate and excited about the world around them, who are good community members, who understand that we have to protect our natural resources and that we have to support each other,” Icolari says.
The school, which is divided between two campuses less than a mile apart, is making the best of existing space. The hallways of the school are named after great schools such as Harvard, Princeton and Howard University. Students who excel in every area – with great grades, attendance and behavior – are known as Super Star Scholars and rewarded with year-round incentives such as participation in fieldtrips and cultural events. The school launched an innovative dance and performance program called PAIR (Performing Arts in Residence) that is led by highly accomplished musicians and dancers who live in Staten Island.
The school’s student population is very diverse. Students hail from Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ecuador, Panama, Belize and elsewhere. “Staten Island has the largest Liberian population outside of that country,” says Harris. “Many of our kids come from homes where the family tradition is oral communication, and not necessarily written.”
School leaders have worked hard to make Staten Island Community Charter a safe and welcoming place for kids. Harris said that having an exemplary learning environment for all of the children is a priority.
But, she said, finding enough space to grow is still a huge issue. “I am telling you, we are busting at the seams. Having adequate space and providing academic excellence cannot be divorced from one another. A student’s environment impacts their learning.”
The school applied for co-locations but so far has not been accepted. “We’ve taken to working in hallways and getting very creative,” says Harris.
The cafeteria doubles as a performance space and a conference room. An open space nearby is transformed into a dance studio.
The denial of state facilities funding is a huge hurdle for the school. “The money we spend on facilities should go to our instruction and programming,” says Harris. “How do we deliver these critical services our children need? We don’t have a CMO. Our principal rolls up her sleeves just like everyone else does and we’re all working so hard to provide the best possible education for our students. But we need help.”
Her message to lawmakers: “We are undergoing a tremendous and positive transformation. We are committed to excellence but we desperately need private facility relief to maintain our existing space and continue to expand.
Until then, there is much work to do.
“We have big ideas about how far we can take this school with a little more money and a little more space,” says Principal Garcia.
To learn more about SICCS, visit www.si-ccs.org
A Staten Island student talks about her favorite thing about her school
A Staten Island student delivers the iconic "I Have a Dream" speech
Do you like this post?