On Friday, February 26th, 2016, Daisy Concepcion, Director of School Quality in the Department of Education, visited UAGC to speak with students, parents, and staff. Her task was to give the UAGC community feedback on the kind of school community we have become.
Looking specifically at the instructional core of curriculum, pedagogy and assessment, alongside the school's culture of high expectations and the structures for improving learning, Ms Concepcion concluded that UAGC is WELL-DEVELOPED, the highest rating, in every category assessed. Last year, only 7.5% of schools reviewed (93 out of 1,234) received this highest rating.
The day was filled with incredible examples from the culture of learning UAGC has built since its inception. These examples stretched across many members of our school community, including students, parents, and staff.
While visiting multiple classrooms, Ms Concepcion remarked on how scholarly UAGC students are, both in behavior and in language. They speak, clearly, about the ways they are learning. Students think about both how and why they do school work; no tasks are meaningless, monotonous, or boring. All work is done to accomplish something for a given audience and mindfulness permeates all activity. All students, Ms Concepcion noted, are cognitively engaged in higher-order, active participation.
In her meeting with students across all grade levels, students explained the work they were doing in each class, and how it served their long-term goals for college and career readiness. Seniors, juniors, and sophomores explained the importance of "breaching," recognizing their own confusion and working to resolve it. They expressed the power of working with their peers, through Unison Reading, Responsibility Teams, and Shares. They explained how they develop their own intentions and take on the responsibility of breaking down learning standards for themselves, with the support of their teachers. Several students talked about how much the Learning Cultures formats have empowered them since arriving at UAGC. Learning Cultures, the comprehensive school reform model developed by NYU Professor Cynthia McCallister, has been implemented, with the support of Dr. McCallister, at Green Careers since Fall 2013 (see www.LearningCultures.net).
"This all sounds nice," Ms Concepcion said, "but what if I just came to the school and sat in the back. What if I just refused to participate in all this stuff?"
"Miss," said freshman Dijon Pleasant, grabbing her arm, "They won't let you! Teachers will work to pull you in, talking with you and encouraging you. That didn't work for me when I first got here, so Keepers of the Culture met with me. They wouldn't let me refuse to participate!" He went on to describe how, through his work with Keepers of the Culture, he learned how to think and talk about his own learning. Though he had struggled with school when he first arrived at UAGC, he now is able to "feel success" in working through tough texts and content.
Many UAGC parents also met to discuss the impact the UAGC community has had on their children. Ms Concepcion began by asking them about the Common Core Standards, which have been the subject of much state and federal debate.
"We can't say much about the Common Core," parents said in answer, many of whom were educated in languages other than English, "but we know that our children are learning how to think." They talked at length about the power of metacognition, thinking about thinking, and the ways UAGC has empowered their children to speak, listen, read, and write.
"I moved to this country for greater opportunity," said the mother of senior Candy Gonzalez. She went on to describe how life in New York is a continual struggle, but that the opportunities American education, through UAGC, has given to her daughter have made it worthwhile. "In four years, she has learned English, published writing, become an accomplished speaker, and will be graduating in June, participating in an internship in Germany over the summer, and beginning college in the fall."
Other parents echoed the ways their children have been empowered by pursuing their passions at UAGC. When Ms Concepcion asked about the different kinds of curriculum at UAGC, and wondered how parents knew if their children were really learning, parents responded with confidence that their students show them evidence, regularly, of the work they are pursuing in their classes.
The DOE recognized teachers as the greatest area of celebration at UAGC. Every teacher pushes for rigor and maintains a culture of high expectations. Teacher's strategies, Ms Concepcion said, are "nimble, like a spider-web" built through all of the classes to support student learning. She noted how teachers work with students and parents to develop "concentric circles of understanding and clarity." She talked about how "actionable, meaningful feedback" is woven throughout the curriculum, supporting both the "learning of content and of metacognition, how to think."
Teachers push rigor in the classrooms, specifically through the Learning Cultures formats. Unison Reading, especially, was singled out as a powerful way that students develop the strategies and skills to expand their own learning. "I watched students wrestle with an idea," Ms Concepcion added, "the teacher gave them the space to make mistakes, and let them read, re-read, and re-read again the text they were struggling with." In the end, the students learned where their understanding broke down, breaching, making their thinking visible, at the place of confusion, and then were able to resolve and build understanding.
"What a powerful example of learning" the reviewer noted.
While so much of this is about the work of the school team, Ms Concepcion prefaced her comments by saying how much depends on the leadership of the principal. She reflected that students and parents alike discussed how Principal Kerry Decker was always in classrooms, working with students and teachers to improve the power and quality of instruction. "In too many schools, the principal is shut away in the office," added Ms Concepcion. Instead, at Green Careers, every part of the community works together to empower and strengthen the students.
Welcome to our classroom
At UAGC, we are excited by the way our community continues to grow and evolve. As an open-enrollment school, we're grateful to have the support of the Department of Education as we continue to serve any student who wants to be a part of our community.
Ms Concepcion noted how each school is New York City should be seen as one "classroom," a singular place of learning that is part of the city-wide school community of over 1800 "classrooms."
We welcome you to be a part of our classroom, to visit, to partner, or to join. We hope that the power of collaboration, intention, and responsibility experienced by our students, teachers, and staff will continue to spread, creating meaningful change in our society here and around the world.