Harlem Success Academy 1 aims to provide world class education for all its scholars. We are a K-8 school with an emphasis on academic rigor, but we also value highly the arts, sports, science, chess, and field studies. We believe that it is our job to make school a highly compelling and interesting place for children so they wake up every morning anticipating the school day.
In all content areas, our curriculum emphasizes thinking. We want our kids to learn how to think mathematically and scientifically, to be elegant writers and advanced readers. We are highly selective when choosing our faculty and offer extensive training to our teachers so that we can offer direct instruction, guided practice, and independent practice to children and do so at a high level. In addition to our academic offerings, including reading, writing, and math, we are one of the few schools in the nation to offer science 5 days a week, starting in kindergarten. This unique, discovery-oriented curriculum engages children in scientific experiments in physics, chemistry, and biology at very young ages.
Other than the school principal, we believe there is nothing more important than the quality of the teacher — so we are extremely selective. We get thousands and thousands of applicants from across the country who want to teach at our schools. Why? The level of training and support we offer teachers is unprecedented nationally. Now of course, we only select teachers to work in our schools who a)love to build relationships with kids and b)know how to learn themselves and are hungry to do so. We have found during our 6 years of operation that the single most important factor in great teaching is the quality of learner.
Scholars at Harlem Success Academy 1 begin their day with morning meeting and a community circle. We believe that classroom and school communities are essential ingredients to great schools. Rather than having an after-school program, we have a longer school day that’s punctuated by the arts and sports and chess and science. We also believe in free time and play. So all our kindergartners do blocks everyday. All children have recess at least once a day, even in winter. Children spend much of their day reading and discussing books. Whole class conversation, where children participate in a graduate-like English Lit seminar for kids, is an important part of our day. Our kids also use technology frequently, either in robotics classes or as part of their regular day where Senteos and Smartboards are integrated with instruction.
What parents might find most striking is the energy, clarity, and enthusiasm of our teachers, and the high academic bar we set for kids. All the while our schools have a warm, loving feel. Learning happens at a fast pace, with substantial rigor, but the kids are laughing and highly engaged.
Parents might also notice the passion our kids have for learning, especially reading. High quality books are everywhere. Kids read an enormous amount. We believe that if kids love reading, they can ultimately learn whatever they want to or need to.
Finally, parents would find the levels of thinking by even our youngest scholars both unusual and compelling. Beginning in kindergarten, scholars engage in a daily, dinner-table style debate about a book, crafting arguments and marshaling evidence to prove their ideas. We believe deeply in letting kids do the heavy lifting of thinking, rather than teachers thinking for kids.
Our children’s safety comes first and foremost. We also believe that without order and civility, no high-level learning can occur. So our schools are respectful and calm environments. Our lunchrooms are orderly. We believe learning and teaching are highly respected activities and so we create a culture of respect.
Each year the entire school goes on a college trip to a different college or university. Scholars experience everything from eating lunch outside on the college quad, to visiting the university library, to partaking in a scientific experiment in a real college laboratory. These annual trips get our scholars excited to go to college as they think about where they want to go and what they want to study, even at the age of 5! Scholars refer to their grade level as the year they will graduate college ("Class of 2022" or "Class of 2025") and they call their class by the name of their teacher's alma mater (Duke University or Harvard University), creating an environment where scholars don't just think about going to college, they plan on graduating from college.
Our school’s wish list would include:
- More technological tools
- More great books for home libraries
- More great teachers and leaders as we grow
- Space and funding equity
- More hours in the day
- Funding for even more robust specials and field studies
These days, parents have very little time. They have multiple responsibilities. We need to make it easier for parents to be involved and support their children’s development. Since at so many traditional public schools it is hard to reach a teacher or the principal, we try to make it easy by giving all of our parents their teacher’s card with their cell phone number. We also have an open door policy. Any parent can come and sit and watch instruction for 30 minutes, without an appointment. We also make parent involvement easier by having meetings on weekends and evenings. We value parent involvement immensely and believe schools must make it easier and convenient for them to be involved.
The libraries are within classrooms. Middle schoolers receive Kindles. We integrate after-school programs with the regular school day (e.g. sports, dance, chess). We have mobile laptops for our children, but not a separate computer lab.
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