Close Up

Why are these Bronx ninth-graders holding baby chicks?

Students at Equality Charter High School pose with their fuzzy friends.

In our second installment of “Close Up,” Chalkbeat explores the photo above in a conversation with Equality Charter High School’s science department head, Amrita Bhattacharyya. Remember to send your photos to [email protected] if you’d like your school to be considered for the column.

Tell us about this photo.

These are ninth-graders at Equality Charter High School. Last spring, the class received 20 fertilized eggs, which they incubated for 21 days to study embryonic growth and development, while considering the care and attention required to develop new life. During this process, the students discussed sustainable farming, waste management from animal products, and the humane treatment of these animals, drawing on a recent visit to Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture.

Why use chicks to teach students about reproduction?

First, their gestation period is only 21 days. You can actually see through the shells by using a method called “candling” where students hold flashlights up to the egg and see movement and growth. This also helps the students visualize and have a tangible example of cell processes like mitosis. They don’t have to trust my word to see that development is happening — they can see it for themselves.

These are city kids. How did they respond to the chicks?

Like any kid would! Who doesn’t love a newborn … anything? Some of them were afraid to hold them, but every single student was engaged and curious about the process. They self-corrected, helped their peers, and practiced working collaboratively and compassionately with one another. It was especially lovely to see some of the students who may give you a hard time in the classroom soften up around the chicks. Or to see the student who doesn’t speak much during class ask a question about them. The whole experience was just awesome for both the students and myself.

What happened to the chicks at the end of the school year?

We don’t keep the chicks for the remainder of the year. By that time, they would be fully grown chickens as their cycle of development is much more rapid than ours. After 10 days, we took them up to a farm upstate. Many students asked to take them home and in the past they would do so over the weekend, but this year I kept them at the school as we had weekend classes and I was able to come in and care for them. The chicks got tons of visitors over the weekend, too.

How does this class help your students?

Aside from the academic benefit of seeing lessons come to life, this experience is something students remember. Every year, they ask if I am doing the project with my new students. They ask to come in and teach a portion, or make sure the “newbies” are taken care of. I think sometimes when we are teaching, especially a course where there is a Regents exam or some state exam attached to the class, we forget how much the opportunity to “care” can draw out the most beautiful sides of students.

Finding a home

Denver school board permanently co-locates charter elementary in middle school building

Students and staffers at Rocky Mountain Prep's first charter school in Denver cheer in 2012. (Photo by The Denver Post)

A Denver elementary charter school that was temporarily granted space in a shuttering district-run middle school building will now be housed there permanently.

The school board voted Thursday to permanently place Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest charter school in the Kepner Middle School building, where it is sharing space this year with three other school programs. Such co-locations can be controversial but have become more common in a district with skyrocketing real estate prices and ambitious school quality goals.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest is part of a homegrown charter network that has shown promising academic results. The network also has a school in Aurora and is expected to open a third Denver school next year in the northwest part of the city.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest was first placed at Kepner for the 2015-16 school year. The placement was supposed to be temporary. The district had decided the year before to phase out low-performing Kepner and replace it a new district-run middle school, Kepner Beacon, and a new charter middle school, STRIVE Prep Kepner, which is part of a larger network. The district also temporarily placed a third charter school there: Compass Academy.

Compass has since moved out of Kepner but the other four schools remain: Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest, Kepner Beacon, STRIVE Prep Kepner and the Kepner Legacy Middle School, which is on track to be completely phased out and closed by June 2019.

In a written recommendation to the school board, district officials acknowledged that permanently placing Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest at Kepner would create a space crunch.

The Kepner campus has the capacity to serve between 1,100 and 1,500 students, the recommendation says. Once all three schools reach full size, officials expect the schools will enroll a total of approximately 1,250 students. Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest currently serves students in preschool through third grade with a plan to add more grades.

“DPS facilities staff are currently working with all three schools to create a long‐term vision for the campus, including facility improvements that ensure all three schools have what they need to continue to excel,” says the recommendation from Chief Operating Officer David Suppes and Director of Operations and Support Services Liz Mendez.

District staff tried to find an alternate location for Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest but were unsuccessful, the recommendation says. The district does not have many available buildings, and competition for them among district-run and charter schools can be fierce. In northeast Denver, seven secondary schools are currently vying for the use of a shuttered elementary.

Future of Schools

Indianapolis needs tech workers. IPS hopes that George Washington will help fill that gap.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

Indiana companies are looking for workers with computer expertise, and Indianapolis Public Schools leaders want their students to fill that gap.

Next year, George Washington High School will launch a specialized information technology academy designed to give students the skills to pursue careers in IT — and the exposure to know what jobs even exist.

“Half of what kids aspire to be is either someone they know does it or they’ve seen it on TV,” said Karen Jung, president of Nextech, a nonprofit that works to increase computer science preparation in K-12 schools. Nextech is partnering with IPS to develop the new IT program at George Washington.

For teens who don’t know anyone working in computer science, meeting role models is essential, Jung said. When teens see women of color or artists working in computer sciences, they realize there are opportunities for people like them.

“Once we put them in front of and inside of workplaces … it clicks,” Jung said. They believe “they would belong.”

The IT program is one of three academies that will open in George Washington next year as part of a broad plan to close nearly half of the district’s high schools and add specialized focus areas at the four remaining campuses. In addition to the IT academy, George Washington will have programs in: advanced manufacturing, engineering, and logistics; and business and finance.

The district is also moving to a model without neighborhood high schools. Students will be expected to choose high schools based on focus area rather than location. This year, many current high schoolers were required to reapply in an effort to make sure they enroll in academies that fit their interests.

The district will host a showcase of schools to help parents and students with their selections. The showcase runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Indiana State Museum.

Stan Law, principal of Arlington High School now, will take over George Washington next year. (Arlington will close at the end of this year.) He said the new academies offer an opportunity for students to see what they need to master — from soft skills to knowledge — to get good jobs when they graduate.

“I want kids to really make the connection of the purpose of high school,” Law said. “It is that foundation for the rest of your life, in terms of the quality of life that you are going to live.”

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Stan Law

When the IT academy launches next year, students who select the program will be able to spend about one to two classes per year focused on information technology, said Ben Carter, who runs career and technical education for IPS.

Carter hopes the academies will reshape George Washington and other IPS campuses by connecting potential careers with the work students do everyday at school. Students who share a focus area will be in a cohort, and they will share many of the same core classes such as English, math and history, said Carter. Teachers, in turn, will be able to relate what students are studying in their history class to projects they are working on in the IT program, for example.

To show students what a career in information technology might look like, students will have the chance to tour, connect with mentors and intern at local companies.

“If I’m in one of these career classes — I’m in software development, but then I get to go to Salesforce and walk through and see the environment, to me as a student, that’s inspiring,” said Carter. “It’s like, ‘oh, this is what I can have.’ ”

He added. “It increases engagement but also gives them a true sense of what the career is.”