I was scheduled to take a little road trip today down to Philadelphia to visit Chris' SLA with my principal. And while unfortunately that trip had to be rescheduled, since I already had my classes set for me not to be there and the sub had already been called, my principal sent me down to visit the Beacon School on the Upper West Side to learn what I could from observing their social studies classes, and also paying special attention to their 12th Grade classes, as we at Bronx Lab are in the process of planning our first 12th Grade Experience for next year.
Not that I didn't know this walking in, but the first thing I noticed is that Beacon is a different world from Bronx Lab. Bronx Lab is 98% Black and Latino, with 86% of our students getting free lunch and 47% of our entering 9th graders reading at grade level; Beacon is 53% White and Asian, with only 24% getting free lunch and 70% of their entering 9th graders reading at grade level (statistics from insideschools.org). Add that onto the fact that one has to go through an extensive interview process to even be accepted to Beacon, they have their own building, have been around ten years longer than we have, and have most of their students exempted from the history and science Regents exams, and some might think that there is little to be learned for a teacher in my situation from a place like Beacon. But from all I have previously heard, and saw today, Beacon is a different world not just from Bronx Lab, but from most other high schools as well. It is a special place - the type of place that, as a left-learning-middle-class-white-guy, I would dream of sending my kids (if I ever have any).
My principal sent me with three questions:
- What do I like about Beacon school-wide that we could bring to Bronx Lab?
- What do I like about Beacon that I want to bring into my classroom?
- What can we learn from their senior year?
For the sake of readability, I'm going to address these questions in three separate blog entries.