the actors' studio

Broadway comes to a Brooklyn school looking for the spotlight

L-R: Kenny Leon, Samuel L. Jackson, Katori Hall, and Angela Bassett speak to students at Brooklyn High School of the Arts

On Monday morning, Brooklyn High School of the Arts teacher Camille Russ tried to be in two places at once.

In the school’s freshly painted auditorium she sat with theater students as they discussed a new Broadway play with two of its stars, Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett. At the same time, on the other side of the Boerum Hill school, she lectured her Advanced Placement English class about author’s voice in Jamaica Kincaid’s biography, “Girl.”

When Russ found out that the playwright, director, and cast of “The Mountaintop,” a new play about the night before Martin Luther King was assassinated, would be visiting BHSA, she used her brand-new MacBook Air to film herself delivering the day’s lesson. That way, AP English students who are not part of the school’s theater program could move on with the curriculum while their classmates enjoyed the artists’ surprise visit to the school that Principal Margaret Lacey-Berman calls “the best-kept secret in Brooklyn.”

In charge since 2008, Lacey-Berman said she encourages teachers to integrate arts and academic instruction whenever possible — something she hopes will boost achievement. The school received a C on last year’s city progress report, with a D for academic performance but higher marks for the progress students made over the course of the year.

Before the actors’ talk, students read the speech King delivered the night before he was killed, which tied into the school’s goal, set out in the new “common core” standards, of exposing students to more non-fiction writing, Lacey-Berman said.

During the talk, BHSA students lobbed questions about method and technique at Bassett, Jackson, director Kenny Leon, and playwright Katori Hall. Leon urged them to pick a passion in theater or outside of it and stick to it, even if they don’t immediately become celebrities.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, who introduced the celebrities and then watched the discussion from a seat behind all of the students, said producers of “The Mountaintop” had reached out to the Department of Education and asked for a school to visit.

“When this opportunity presented itself, it was a no-brainer,” he said, adding that department officials selected BHSA because it was “a little bit different” from other arts schools.

This year, BHSA was the only arts school accepted into the city’s “iZone 360” cohort, 25 schools that are trying to reshape their programs using new technologies. Students said they now use Google Docs, rather than sheafs of paper, to annotate scripts. Later this year, the school is set to start offering AP physics for the first time, using a teacher at another school who will patch BHSA students in by Skype, a videoconferencing program. And for a film project in Russ’s class, senior are Marquan White said he had already interviewed dozens of people about societal expectations of beauty.

Russ said she looked forward to finding more ways to use the school’s new technology to help her students.

“Any time you find resources that reinvigorate your teaching, you’ve got to hold on with everything you’ve got,” she said. “If [students] can get information from virtual me and I go around and help with real me, we can get through to everyone.”

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.