Achievement First Apollo Elementary School is a community of hard-working scholars taking their first bold steps in the climb towards college. Every day, the school’s founding leadership and staff work with a sense of urgency and clarity of purpose to ensure that the scholars of AF Apollo are prepared to develop, excel and achieve anything to which they aspire. In doing so, the faculty creates a joyful place where scholars thrive and grow, reach as they read, listen, sing, dance and master critical skills.
Achievement First Apollo is part of a network of 20 Achievement First public charter schools relentlessly focused on closing the achievement gap in the most under-served communities in New York and Connecticut. To this end, teachers and school leaders work tirelessly to build safe, supportive, college-preparatory environments in which outstanding effort, academic excellence and strength of character flourish.
Achievement First Apollo sees teacher quality as the number one determinant of student achievement. Accordingly, finding, developing, recognizing and retaining great educators are the school’s top priorities and the primary drivers behind its supportive, growth-oriented school culture. In recruiting talented educators from around the country, leadership looks for relentless focus on academic achievement and character development along with a thirst for constant reflection, growth and development. Most importantly, prospective teachers must demonstrate their uncompromising commitment to Achievement First’s mission: to deliver on the promise of equal educational opportunity for all of America’s children. In return, Achievement First teachers are supported, challenged and inspired to take their skills to the next level. Every member of the Achievement First family meets regularly with a coach to discuss strengths and areas for learning, as well as opportunities to stretch, grow and excel.
The AF Apollo school day facilitates gap-closing results by maximizing minutes of high-quality instruction and learning. Every day, scholars arrive by 7:15 a.m. to enjoy breakfast before their first character development lesson at 7:50 a.m. and math period at 8:00 a.m. Between this early start and late dismissal (3:45 p.m., Monday-Thursday) – the schedule runs two hours longer than the traditional public school day. This allows for individualized attention, targeted intervention, and a major focus on reading. To fuel the hard work of their college-preparatory education, scholars have a snack at 10:00 a.m. followed by lunch at 1:00 p.m. Scholars also receive daily writing instruction, science or social studies lessons, cooperative play time, and specials (including Capoeira!). On Tuesdays, the entire school assembles for REACH Circle – a weekly highlight celebrating achievement, character and commitment. Every Friday, scholars dismiss at 1pm to allow teachers two hours of weekly professional development.
Achievement First schools are focused learning communities where each and every adult knows the name of each and every child. To foster this sense of cooperation, faculty share a set of clear standards designed to ensure that success in one grade can be seamlessly built on in the next. To this end, instruction is unambiguously data-driven, with an emphasis on critical thinking and mastery, not simply covering material. Every six weeks, scholars take interim assessments to track progress towards individualized achievement goals. Upon receiving the results, teachers meet with school leaders to develop lesson plans and address gaps. Whatever the particular challenge, teachers work hard to infuse lessons on math and literacy with joy (the “j-factor”). Through songs, games and special recognition, team members do “whatever it takes” to impart a love of learning alongside the core skills required to succeed.
Achievement First scholars live by the REACH values: Respect, Enthusiasm, Achievement, Citizenship and Hard Work. To help even the youngest students understand the meaning of this school-wide credo, the entire community zeroes in on one of these core values every six weeks, making it the focus of its weekly school-wide “REACH Circle.” Throughout the school day, teachers build these principles into their lesson plans, offer praise, and award special prizes and privileges. Perhaps most importantly, the school invests deeply in its parent relationships. Parents are welcome at the school at any time, encouraged to engage directly with the principal, and required to donate at least six volunteer hours (many parents have met this requirement several times over!). The result is a three-way partnership between parent, scholar and school governed by mutual respect and shared responsibility.
Achievement First Apollo is dedicated to creating a joyful, celebratory, inspiring learning environment. Beyond its weekly REACH Circle, the school hosts a number of annual events recognizing hard work, improvement, and “doing the right thing.” This year’s Multicultural Night Performance was a big hit (thanks to some very talented kindergarteners and first grade performers, along with a wildly popular parent “Soul Food Sale”). Every week, scholars, teachers and parents alike look forward to participating in the Achievement First Apollo “POWER Cheer” – an opportunity for various members of the school community to receive praise and encouragement and show off their very best moves.
Achievement First schools – like charter schools throughout New York City – need the space to grow and thrive. As it develops to scale, Achievement First Apollo will soon outgrow it current shared facility. In securing a home for its fully-grown community, the school will rely on the support of educators, administrators, and community leaders citywide who believe in a first-rate public education for New York’s urban students. To visit an Achievement First school, make a contribution, become an advocate, or explore other opportunities to get involved, visit http://www.achievementfirst.org/.
Achievement First Apollo serves the urban, low-income population of Cypress Hills and East New York, Brooklyn. Like their peers at other area public schools, AF Apollo scholars are working against statistics: Fourth graders growing up in low-income communities are already three years behind their peers in high-income communities; without intervention, about 50 percent will not graduate from high school by age 18 and one in 10 will receive a college diploma. To arm its scholars in this battle, Achievement First Apollo offers a rigorous, standards-based curriculum aligned to a singular goal: providing all scholars with the academic and character skills they need to succeed in college and beyond. As they navigate this treacherous journey, scholars receive individualized instruction, personal attention from adults who care about them, and unwavering encouragement – all in the interest of inspiring hard work, smart choices and bold ambition.
All Achievement First schools operate at a per-student cost equal to or less than their host public school districts. Like other public schools, funding is provided by the state based on the number of students enrolled. Because Achievement First Apollo is not yet at full scale (the charter currently serves grades K-2 but will ultimately serve grades K-12), it relies on private philanthropy to fill gaps between operational costs and state support (many expenses – including facilities and administrative staff – are constant regardless of enrollment.). Additionally, in 2010-11, the school received $1,044 from its board of trustees – funds directed towards special events and school-wide celebrations. The school anticipates realizing economy of scale and full sustainability on public dollars in 2013-14.
Achievement First Apollo shares a facility with I.S. 302.
Achievement First actively engages community stakeholders in Cypress Hills and East New York to find ways to better serve their needs and address their concerns. Members of the organization’s external relations team make frequent visits to the school’s surrounding community to talk to prospective parents, participate in community meetings, and develop partnerships with local day care centers and community-based organizations.
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