sizing things up

New Dorp students redesign their campus for small communities

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
In students' rendering, a freestanding Law and History Institute at New Dorp High School would have the Constitution emblazoned on one outer wall.

If students at New Dorp High School could redesign their campus, the interiors would feature theme park-sized slides instead of stairs and glass and movie screens instead of walls and ceilings.

They would make those changes to reflect the themes and character of the school’s eight “Small Learning Communities.” SLCs — essentially small schools-within-schools with different academic focuses —  are gaining traction as a model for structuring large high schools, and the city is laying groundwork to introduce the model to several of those slated for “turnaround” this year.

Proponents say breaking the schools down into smaller units gives them a small-school feel without requiring closure or more drastic changes. But the small learning communities can struggle to define themselves in a space that often looks and feels just as it did before they were created.

This issue has been the focus of a collaboration between architecture students at the Pratt Institute and a handful of students from New Dorp High School, which restructured its classes into Small Learning Communities in 2005. Students from several SLCs joined up with teams from Pratt this year to imagine how each SLC might look if they were redesigned as standalone wings of the Staten Island campus.

The joint project began this year, through a partnership between New Dorp teachers and Radhi Majmudar, a structural engineering professor at Pratt and a 1986 New Dorp graduate. The partnership was organized by PENCIL, a growing non-profit that facilitates relationships between principals and local business leaders.

The building designs, which the groups presented to teachers and peers last week in New Dorp’s auditorium, ranged from fantastical — a building with colorful slides that students could take to move from floor to floor in lieue of stairs — to practical: glass walls and doors that would increase light and ventilation, in contrast with the school’s dark hallways.

Some of the groups designed their buildings to reflect the academic subjects that would be taught within. For example, some students suggested plastering the Institute for Health and Nutritional Careers with images of diseases caused by smoking, which they said could discourage students who sometimes smoke near New Dorp’s entrance. The Law and History Institute could have a copy of the United States Bill of Rights etched into its glass façade, and the Math and Science Institute could be shaped like an atom, they said.

“It came out looking like a flower, but it’s really supposed to be an atom,” Steve Mathai, a tenth grader in the Health Administration SLC, said as he waved at a slideshow of design images for the Math and Science Institute. “It has the nucleus, the DNA helix as a staircase and we put that into a concept for each floor.”

Pratt Institute and New Dorp High School students share their designs for a hypothetical Math and Science wing.

Edward LaForte, a ninth-grader in the Academy of Fine and Dramatic Arts, said he wanted to create a Law and History Institute with entrances so students could pop outside for fresh air between classes, and special iMax-inspired classroom environments.

“This is a dome-like structure that would be right in the middle of school. It could project anything you want for that subject whether it’s a science ecosystem or a law room,” he said, pointing to a drawing. “And the hallways would more have ventilation and more room just to move around.”

The school has no plans to expand its campus or fund new building projects. But Angela Carannante, a longtime assistant principal, said the projects still raise interesting ideas for improving the school environment.

“My favorite was the slide — we could expand it with extensions that go right into the classroom,” she said, to laughter from the auditorium. “There are so many ideas that we can get from this with really not going to that level. Seriously, this makes the kids realize that dreaming is the first step.”

Enes Sinan, a junior in the Math and Science Institute, said the project deepened his interest in engineering and architecture.

“This helped me understand civil engineering, how to work with people to design schools,” he said. The SLCs “Segregate kids, but not in a bad way, it’s in an influential way. Our curriculum is based around what we want to do.”

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.