“My Bright Future”

Frequent readers of this blog know that Eduflack can best be described as a pessimist.  My pop icon hero is Eeyore.  And as I’ve often said, it isn’t even a glass half full/empty issue for me, I want to know who stole my damned water.

But sometimes even I can be moved by true positivity and commitment.  And today is just one of those sorts of moments.  This morning, I had the honor of attending the dedication of the new Amistad Academy facility in New Haven, Connecticut.  Founded in 1999, Amistad was the first charter school launched in the Nutmeg State.  And this new campus, just blocks from Yale University, was a project many, many years in the making.
As impressive as the facility is, it pales in comparison to the kids enrolled in the facility.  There is an enthusiasm, an embrace for learning, and a commitment to success at Amistad that is too often lacking in many other public schools – urban, suburban, and rural.  There is a sense of community and family in the building, from the administrators and teachers to the students and families to the community at large.
What is even more impressive, though, are the results.  Amistad is the cornerstone of non-profit Achievement First’s efforts in Connecticut.  At a time when Connecticut is suffering through the worst achievement gaps in the nation, Amistad and its fellow AF schools are demonstrating real results.  On the 2010 Connecticut Mastery Test of 4th grade reading, math and writing, AF students are passing at 75.2 percent rate.  That is a higher passage rate than the state as a whole, and it is a passage rate more than double that in the cities in which they operate.
We see the same for 8th grade performance on the 2010 Connecticut Mastery Exam.  AF posts a 79.5 percent passage rate, again higher than the overall Connecticut average and nearly double that of the cities in which they operate.
Those trends continue.  Looking at the 2011 state scores, 93 percent of AF 10th graders are proficient in all subjects tested by the state, 10 points higher than the state average and 36 percent higher than the proficiency levels in their host districts.
No, it isn’t all about the test scores.  It is also about every single kid at Amistad intending to go to college.  It is about schools like Amistad working with other public schools in the host district to improve instruction across the board.  And it is about demonstrating the cycles of failure and the absence of opportunity that have long dominated too many of our urban centers can be broken and populated.
Too often, we hear the criticism that charter schools somehow do damage to our public schools.  Such urban legend overlooks the fact that charter schools ARE public schools.  When we see the successes and the energy in schools like Amistad Academy, we are reminded of what is possible in public education.  We are reminded of the network that comprises effective K-12 public education — traditional public schools, charters, magnet schools, and technical/vo-tech institutions.  And we see how such institutions can work together to fulfill the social compact we have extended to offer all children — regardless of race or zip code — access to excellent public schools.
At today’s event, Paige Leigh Brown, a 7th grade scholar at Amistad, presented her poem, “My Bright Future.”  Her poignant words said it all:
You look before you and what do you see?
A bright scholar shining beautifully.
I see myself reflected.
My voice in society projected.
I see myself getting a degree
We should seek such insight and sentiment from every single student who passes through our public schoolhouse doors, whether they be traditional, charter, magnet, or otherwise.  All students should see a bright future.
      

9 thoughts on ““My Bright Future”

  1. Funny you should ask.  Amistad is built on three six goals: 1) unwavering focus on student achievement; 2) talent development; 3) more time on task; 4) rigorous curriculum; 5) strategic use of data and interventions for struggling students; and 6) strong school culture.
     

  2. Patrick–I’m not sure I would describe Eduflack as pessimistic, just honest and truthful, and the truth hurts at times. Yes, it sounds like Amistad is an ideal, utopian educational community with enthusiasm, love of learning, dedicated to academic success, and a sense of community from the school to the community at large. But, you’re still throwing in too many passages on test scores, when I really wanted to know about how Amistad turned the corner in education. My belief remains strong on the idea, this ideal, that all the positive things you mention about Amistad can be developed and expanded from curricula that works on internal or self-motivation, because, once kids “get it from the inside,” the outside environment loses its affect/effect. Make no mistake, the internal motivation I am talking about has to be strong, extremely powerful, empowering, to the extent that a child will not succumb to the negative forces of the neighborhood, bad news friends, and desperate schools trying to tread water in terms of their instruction and their emotionally unstable atmosphere. My questions about charter schools are these: How do kids get into a charter school like Amistad? How many kids in a class? How long is the school day? How long is the work day for teachers? I have seen the cycles of failure, from great kids, smart kids, who have lived in their neighborhood as if there was a dome over it, where they can’t see outside, where they can’t see new worlds. And, at the same time, I have seen, just to make the kids happier, the lack of opportunity, the absence of possibilities, alternatives, and choices, while the corruption continues until this day. If I’m looking out of the eyes of some students, I might be thinking to myself: Why should I bother? Who is going to make things right–for me? Any my answer is: “you.” And that is why I constantly talk about the inside world, the mind, imagination, and spirit, the creativity and creative self, which can lead young people to a better place, from the inside out. And again, Pat, charter schools are not public schools, they are private schools living inside public schools in many cases (NYC). Paige’s poem about the future is lovely, she sees the light. I will leave you with some word-a-thon poems (newspaper/magazine cut-outs)from my ex-students:NOWNow that I have seen the lightthere is no action!From place to placethere is no wherein the world to goi will not ESCAPEfor yearsGREAT PEACEcrystal loveOpen nightyou SLEEPyour ENTIRE life.soft beautiful and FREEyou Care More to future daysbold SPEED Fly to celebrateOUR golden mysteryBORN to think of the worldcalled imagination the Young greatspirit world Spurring before your LIFE The Turning PointFACE the cloudsof the future aheadRelease YOUR DREAM worldYOU will Show noFEARTHE New world is waiting for youCheers,Jeff Pflaum

  3. Dear JzWA,It would be great if we could clone great kids, teachers, an equally great curriculum, and a bright future. Replication is not easy with any program used, no matter how strong it is. It is up to the teacher and her interpretation. I believe one answer lies in the internal motivation of the participants (kids, teachers, school leaders, parents), the hunger or drive to want something badly enough and to work hard for it. When I read about the missions of various charter schools, especially in my old public school (NYCDOE), their objectives are strictly “old school,” which is about effort, commitment, and putting in the time (a lot), and there isn’t anything wrong with that, because that is where everything begins. ~Jeff Pflaum

  4. Dear Patrick,In any classroom situation, from elementary through high school–public, private, or charter–it is always about student achievement, development, endurance, perseverance, effort, dedication, responsibility, desire, independence, awareness, sensitivity, creativity, intensity, focus, emotional intelligence, values, and lots of other things. But these are “things” that can be “replicated” in most public school classrooms, it is not out of the question, and if the above factors were working on students individually, it would produce a “strong school culture,” an imrpoved behavorial environment, and down-the-road, maybe one of peaceful co-existence. ~Jeff Pflaum

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