The New York Times has an article today about Haven Academy, a new charter school in the Bronx. It’s specifically designed for kids from broken homes (in foster care or under the supervision of a social worker). There are lots of attempts to create charter schools for inner city (read: poor) kids, but what impresses me about this school (at least according to the article) is how deeply the staff seems to understand the real needs of their student population.
“Higher standards” is currently the buzzword in education–especially around education in underprivileged communities–which basically means more drilling, more homework, more grades, and more rules, and this has always struck me as a subtle way of blaming the victim. (You can’t meet our standards, so we’ll up the ante by keeping a closer eye on you and pushing you harder so that you won’t be lazy.) Here is a school, though, that realizes that not everyone comes to school equally able to attend to school. If your dad beat up you and your mom last night, practicing multiplication tables is probably not your first concern. If you’ve lived in six different homes in the last 18 months, you probably haven’t had any consistent role models for how to behave. The school approaches discipline by considering each child’s situation and background, and designing a plan that makes sense in that context. What a sane way to do things! This school is not a Montessori school, but what could be more Montessorian than putting each students lives and needs ahead of any canned curriculum schedule?
Of course, having two teachers in each classroom is not cheap. Sending a van out to pick up all the children who have been moved to foster homes far from the school is not cheap. Keeping extra social workers on staff is not cheap. You might argue that this is a great opportunity for the few hundred kids who get to go there, but it’s too expensive to educate all children from broken homes this way. But aren’t these the kids who are most in need of our resources and most deserving of that extra investment?
I hope Haven is successful and becomes a model of respectful education for children who desperately need respect.