by George J Elbaum
The Academy of Arts and Sciences is a small public high school with a total enrollment of 350 students (82% minority and 48% economically disadvantaged) and 18 full-time teachers, and the school’s program focuses on “the three Rs: RELATIONSHIPS, RELEVANCE and RIGOR.” This starts with a belief that strong RELATIONSHIPS are the most fundamental part of a successful school. If students do not feel supported and cared for when they are on campus, then their academic and social-emotional success in school is compromised. Also, if students feel that what they are learning does not matter to them and is not being taught using RELEVANT pedagogy, they are less engaged and less likely to have a positive academic experience. Finally, if students have a positive relationship with their teachers and staff members and they enjoy a relevant learning experience, then the school can provide them with a RIGOROUS curriculum and expectations. In this respect, the school’s behavioral focus is to encourage students to be positive and free-thinking about their future, to model respect and empathy, and to value equity. The Academy’s small school setting allows its teachers to create an effective learning environment by working closely with students and their families in building a strong community. Within this community, teachers are able to give more individual attention to students and communicate regularly with parents.
The school also has a unique Wellness Center and Program whose goal is to provide support for students so they may succeed academically and be healthy in body, mind and spirit. To accomplish this, the Wellness Program coordinates and provides non-judgmental, student-focused health, mental health, and substance abuse services and programs for students on campus.
Whereas I spoke at the Academy one year ago, this time I noticed two changes. The obvious one was that the school was undergoing major reconstruction, and at least one of the photos below shows the large wooden cases stacked with books, the temporary storage in the library where our event was held. Next, the students seemed more knowledgeable and involved and asked very good questions, including some that have not been asked before in the approximately 100 talks I’ve given so far, with focus on improving their future. I was especially pleased with the students’ response and enthusiasm as shown in the photo session after the talk.
My audience was the 10th grade classes of World History as organized by history teacher Claire Darby and arranged by Sarah Altschul of Facing History and Ourselves. Also present were teachers Daniel Javitch, Daniel Alves and Patricia Mott, librarian Micah Melton, student teacher Samantha Broussard-Wilson, and paraprofessional Lorraine Flores.