NAPCS is using the Charter Blog to feature public charter schools that prepare students for college using a range of instructional strategies. NAPCS asked school leaders to tell us in their own words how they use different instructional methods to create a “college-prep” focus. By combining data on instructional strategies from a national survey with on the ground stories of the work of charter schools, NAPCS wants to show the scope of possibilities in how charter schools can provide great learning environments for students.
At DREAM Charter School, my expectation as school principal, and the expectation of everyone who works in this building is that each and every one of our students is going to college. High academic achievement will get our kids ready, but that's not the only critical piece of setting our scholars up for success. We add to high academic expectations three things: health and wellness, family engagement, and full inclusion. It takes all of these elements working together to truly develop young learners and get them ready for life in the 21st century. At DREAM, we make no argument that academics reign supreme. But we also want to create a healthy environment of support so that our scholars can successfully brave the rigors of academic excellence.
At DREAM, health and wellness includes character development. We tell students to never give up; mistakes are how we learn; when something is hard, that just means we're learning. We let our scholars know from the very beginning – as early as kindergarten – that this work is really hard, but we are going to push them, and they can take the challenge. We let them know that if the work is easy, they’re probably not learning; and if it’s hard, they can’t opt out.
Physical well-being includes active recess even in the cold of winter, a full curriculum of physical education, and healthy meals that are modeled by every adult working here. Emotional and mental well-being is supported by a robust social work department that brings social workers into the classroom, lunchroom and school yard – our social workers don’t just show up when a student is in trouble. And they’re not only committed to the student, they’re committed to their families.
Which brings us to our families. Our Director of Family Engagement makes sure our students’ families feel welcome at DREAM. We recognize that parents are our students’ first teachers, and by doing so, we need to hear their voice when it comes to educating their child. Because what happens at home is just as important as what happens at school, we provide monthly family events that support our parents, such as legal clinics, reading and math workshops and nutrition classes. Beyond these formal gatherings, our families know they’re welcome at DREAM any day of the week.
Finally, DREAM values diversity – we are a full inclusion school where special education and ELL students learn side by side with general education students. We believe that all students have something to learn from students who are different from them. By having diverse students learning together, we are cultivating a generation of compassionate, rounded adults. This is supported by two teachers in each classroom – one general education teacher and one ELL or special education teacher – who partner to individualize each scholar's education in a shared learning environment.
This all sounds great, right? Well, we’re proud to say that it works. This year the New York City Department of Education gave us an A on our Progress Report. And our recent state test scores ranks DREAM out of 90 NYC Charter Schools second highest in improvement in ELA and sixth highest in improvement in Math. At DREAM, academic excellence does not come at the cost of recess, physical education, family programs and diversity – it comes through them.
As far as I’m concerned, college is on the horizon for all students at DREAM Charter School. Making that a reality is my job.
Eve Colavito, Principal, DREAM Charter School
Find DREAM Charter School on the Public Charter School Dashboard