Thursday, October 31, 2013

Scholar Ambassador Reflects on Experience as Founding Scholar, Looks Forward to Year Ahead

On October 22, a group of over 20 scholars met after school to kick off the year as BVP Scholar Ambassadors. Below, one of the club’s members reflects on her experience as a founding scholar and club member and previews what’s ahead for the school year. 


Marissa Kanakry, College Class of 2022

As an incoming fifth grader, I was really scared and nervous. I remember dreading attending the open houses, and I was really, really sad to leave my friends. Being a part of the founding class was really awesome now that I think about it. I was really scared at first because I knew "all eyes would be on us." It meant that there would be a lot of attention focusing on things we did wrong, but there'd also be lots of attention focusing on things we did right.  The first day of "Prep Academy" was in August, and we were learning more about the expectations for us as fifth graders at BVP. I came home after my first day of school to a phone call from my grandparents and balloons from my mom. I really didn't understand why everyone was so happy for me, but later it clicked: everyone was proud because I'd done something really amazing. I had tried something new. Life is all about taking chances, and those chances do something great for you in the end, even if you don't realize it in the beginning.

Knowing that many new scholars will be as nervous as I was, I want to help make their first year as easy and stress-free as possible. Being an ambassador lets me help those scholars, and it makes me less stressed to see that they are having/going to have a good time in school. Scholar ambassadors attend events like celebrations for newly accepted scholars and open houses. I really enjoy attending things like this because I get to meet the scholars and families that are joining our BVP family. When I was a fifth grader here at BVP, there were no other grades or role models to look up to. I love being the role model to those 5th graders, and that's why I joined Scholar Ambassadors.

In Scholar Ambassador Club we also give tours to scholars and adults. Many times, meeting with a scholar like me is the very first impression many families and scholars have of our school. One afternoon last year, I was giving a tour to three mothers and their scholars. I wasn't nervous one bit! I was SO excited actually. When I first introduced myself to them I said, "I'm like a golden retriever. I love meeting new people," which is true! After observing a class, I explained in the hallway that one of the special experiences here at BVP is getting a chance to have a relationship with the teachers. Teachers care about scholars academically and in life outside of school. You can even call teachers up until 9 o'clock at night with any problems that have to do with school or life at home. Nobody said anything, so I think they were stunned.  This is the education parents want for their kids. I think in that moment, it finally clicked for people about what was missing in their child's education.

I'm personally looking forward to this year as a Scholar Ambassador because I want to show people what BVP has to offer and how we are setting 100% of scholars up for a great future. I'm looking forward to sharing our culture and community with those who are just getting to know us and can’t wait until they, too, become part of our family. 

To learn more about how you can take a tour of BVP with our scholar ambassadors, keep checking our website at http://blackstonevalleyprep.org/enrollinscribase. You may also direct questions to Ms. Bunnell at jbunnell@rimabv.org or Ms. Sitkus at csitkus@rimabv.org.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Extending Learning Beyond the Classroom: Thoughts from BVP High School Designer Jonathan Santos Silva

When I was younger, the older folks would tell me things like, “Go to school so you can get yourself a good education.” School children today probably hear comments like that from time to time, and I have repeated similar things to the young people in my life. The intentions behind these comments are good, but what are the unintended consequences of using terms like “education” and “school/schooling” interchangeably? There are many, but the one that intrigues me most is the one where students begin to believe that the only valuable learning occurs within the walls of a school.

Across Rhode Island and the country, students, teachers, and community mentors are dispelling this erroneous notion with extended learning opportunities (ELOs). ELOs provide an opportunity for students to learn outside of traditional school constraints (time and place) to expand upon classroom experiences, pursue personal academic interests, and explore potential careers. Community mentors support students’ real-world learning while teacher mentors ensure ELOs are rigorous and standards-aligned. In communities like Central Falls, Providence and Woonsocket, students are earning credit for the following extended learning experiences:

  • developing strong critical thinking, public speaking, and debate skills with the Rhode Island Urban Debate League;
  • learning coding while creating applications for Android tablets and smart phones;
  • building research and laboratory science skills while assisting in graduate-level research at Brown University; and many others.


Creating, supervising, and evaluating ELOs is difficult work for schools, but the benefits for students are undeniable. Students who complete ELOs develop greater educational focus along with skills in self-advocacy, communication, and time management. That sounds a lot like the type of student we want graduating from Blackstone Valley Prep High School, ready for the rigors of college and the world beyond!


All in for Day 1!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

What being able to play the violin means to me, a BVP Fourth Grader!

Last night, BVP Elementary School 1 (ES1) scholars received the violins they will be playing all year.  As many of you know, every third grade scholar at BVP has a violin, and all fourth graders have the opportunity to play the violin, cello, or viola as part of their music class.  



Ms. Sousa, music teacher at ES1, asked a group of fourth graders what playing the violin meant to them. Here is what they said:

"What violin means to me is being able to have the confidence in myself to be anything I want to be. It can lead you to accomplishing your dreams and knowing that you can get there no matter what." -Gianna

"What violin means to me is giving me the inspiration to push myself to be a better musician and scholar because I now know I can do anything I put my mind to." -Valeria

"What violin means to me is giving me the opportunity to do something that a lot of kids around here do not get to do and it makes my life interesting and unique." -Sofia

"What violin means to me is giving me the experience to be part of something, and that's an awesome feeling to have." -Maddox

"Violin changed my life because now my mom is more proud of me than she has ever been before. She really sees how important the violin is to me and how great I can be at it after all the hard work I have put into learning." -Nailea

"What violin means to me is giving me a journey into melodies and musical possibilities I never thought I would be able to hear or even play. It makes me a more creative person and I can share that with other people." -Daniela

"Playing the violin means experiencing my passion everyday when I pick up my violin. Being able to do that makes my life more exciting and proud of what I do." -Sreyas

"Playing the violin means always getting to do something fun and feeling good about what I am doing. It makes me feel accomplished and passionate about playing." -Bruce

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Updates from Innovation Powered by Technology 2013: Thoughts from BVP High School Designer Jonathan Santos Silva

Last week was an exciting one in the world of high school design! I spent Saturday, October 5th at Innovation Powered by Technology 2013, an education technology conference organized by RIDE. I was amazed by the work being done at Pleasant View Elementary School, a Providence school that is using technology to better serve students and build stronger relationships. Dr. Gara Field’s vision is an inspiration as we design a blended high school model. 

Another highlight of the conference was meeting exciting vendors from all over the United States. There were too many to list here, but my favorites were Ponder and Newsela. They are both dedicated to supporting non-fictional literacy (a biggy on Common Core-aligned tests like PARCC) and they are very scholar-friendly. Ms. Fagan at the Middle School is already using Newsela, and scholars are loving it! It’s great to see scholars personalizing their learning and enjoying it in the process thanks to innovative technology. Replicating this sort of high-engagement work at the high school is certainly a high priority. We have 322 days to get it right!

All in for Day 1!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Students from The Wheeler School in Providence Reflect on Their Visit to BVP (PART II)


A group of 10th grade students from The Wheeler School in Providence visited BVP to learn more about how our schools are providing a high quality public school choice to families in Rhode Island. Two students reflected on their experience for BVP Musings.  Last week, we posted reflections from Ariana Callender.  Today's post is from another student who visited BVP, August Kahn.  




Getting on the bus to Blackstone Valley Prep, nearly everyone had the same vision of what they thought the school will look like. Ignorantly, I imagined it to be something out of a public school that is portrayed in the documentary “Waiting for Superman”: peeling walls, outdated textbooks, dusty classrooms, uncontrollable students, and overwhelmed teachers. These images played over and over again in my mind. Walking in to the building, though, I saw how Blackstone Valley Prep truly redefines the skewed perception of a government-funded school, especially in Rhode Island, where the public, non-charter school system has generally become an environment that can be more difficult for students to academically thrive in.

Fascinated by the stellar achievement records, friendly teachers and smiling “scholars,” I wondered, “What is it about BVP that makes this community so motivated and enthusiastic?” It was clear that the emphasis on achievement, unorthodox teaching methods, and attention for each individual student is what makes BVP such a successful place for students. I noticed how the goal of going to college is ingrained in almost every part of student life. From the classrooms being named after a college or university to the use of phrases such as “raise a good college hand,” the plan of getting a higher education is etched in each scholar’s mind at an early age, which will make having this goal a fundamental part of their mindset as they grow older.

Inside of the classrooms, I observed how BVP's curriculum is somewhat different than what I had experienced in lower school. Exercises that provoked scholars’ critical thinking skills were taught while I was visiting. Scholars were given a moral problem, such as having a group that can only fit 4 friends, but 5 friends want to join, and had to decide how they could solve the problem in the most diplomatic way possible. I was fascinated by this exercise, because I have never heard of a school that would start developing students’ critical thinking skills at such an early age, but by speaking to a couple of scholars, I could see how advanced their thinking process is. From what I saw, BVP’s way of teaching and emphasis on achievement really makes the school stand out.

--
August Kahn is a 10th grade student at the Wheeler School and has been going there for two years. His favorite subjects are History, English, and Foreign Languages. Outside of school, he plays classical piano/harpsichord and loves to go running while listening to Al Green.

Monday, October 7, 2013

All in for Day 1! Thoughts from BVP High School Designer Jonathan Santos Silva

On Tuesday, October 1st, I was invited to visit three high-performing schools in Newark, NJ. These schools are regionally and nationally known for the success their scholars are having on state assessments, AP exams, the SAT, and in college. Below are some key takeaways from the visits, as well as some thoughts on how we can bring this same level of success to BVP High School.

My first stop on the Newark trip was Rise Academy. When you enter the front door you are greeted by posters and banners celebrating great achievements, just like you might see in any middle school. Unlike most middle schools, though, there are more banners celebrating academics than sports! This is not because Rise Academy doesn’t like sports; on the contrary, scholars can participate in over 30 different clubs and teams. Scholars at Rise play hard, but they work even harder.  When compared to their Newark counterparts on the MAP assessment, Rise scholars score at least 10 percentage points higher in Reading and 15 percentage points higher in Math in every grade! The lesson learned is that as we look to expose our high school scholars to new opportunities, we must never forget the core of our work: preparing every scholar for success in college and the world beyond.

I was also lucky enough to visit two great high schools. Newark Collegiate Prep scholars have access to AP courses in English, History, World Languages, and Math. Scholars can also participate in a diverse portfolio of clubs and sports. The student ambassadors who guided me around the school were particularly involved. In addition to their responsibilities as ambassadors, they were co-captains of the Step Team, school store interns, and Supreme Court Justices (overseeing student discipline) in the Student Government. In addition to extracurricular activities, NCA college counselors host several college representatives for informational visits each week. At NCA, we learned that college prep doesn’t stop at providing students access to opportunities. Success in college and beyond begins with helping our students develop the prioritization and time management skills necessary to make strong decisions, especially when no one is watching.

The second high school I visited was North Star Academy College Preparatory High School. The most striking part of this visit was the joy in many of the classrooms. As we moved around the school we observed scholars practicing scenes from Death of a Salesman, debating the success of organized labor movements during the late 1800s, and joking about Calculus. Scholars did not need to be redirected for behavioral issues because they were engaged in learning that was rigorous, relevant, and fun. At North Star High, they do not leave great teaching to chance. Teachers use data analysis and regular feedback to improve instruction on a daily and weekly basis. This data-driven instruction has helped students achieve an AP pass-rate (scoring 3, 4, o5 5) of 80%!  This focus on constantly improving instruction underscores the belief that it takes a coachable mindset on the part of the teacher, a regular observation/feedback cycle, and responsive professional development to build a great academic program.

We have 330 days until Day 1 at BVP High School. On Day 1, we must be ready to welcome scholars into a school with a strong academic program that is aligned to AP and college-level rigor. On Day 1, we need to provide scholars with access to the enrichment opportunities needed to thrive in and beyond college. And on Day 1, we have to engage in the work of continuously increasing our effectiveness as scholars, teachers, and educational leaders. 

The biggest takeaway from my trip to Newark is that great schools don’t happen by accident. Rise, NCA, and North Star are successful thanks to the vision, hard work, and collaboration of scholars, families, community members, and educators. I am confident that we will build a world-class high school because we have each of those components within our network, but it will have to be a collective effort. Who’s with me?

All in for Day 1!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Students from The Wheeler School in Providence Reflect on Their Visit to BVP


A group of 10th grade students from The Wheeler School in Providence visited BVP last Thursday to learn more about how our schools are providing a high quality public school choice to families in Rhode Island. Two students reflected on their experience for BVP Musings.  Read below for an account of Ariana's experience, and be sure to check back here next week when we post August's, another student from Wheeler who wrote about his visit.  



In a country waiting for something to save their public education system, it seems as though a miracle might be necessary. However, this miracle may be coming in the form of a slight blessing: meet, the charter school. 

As our bus left Wheeler, none of the students aboard that yellow shuttle were entirely sure as to what to expect upon entering the Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy. Sure, we’d done our research, and tossed out a few questions per student, but we had not a clue in terms of where we were headed. Driving up to the building caused repeated exclamations of “how cute” the school looked, a far cry from the dismal image of traditional public education in America. Upon entering, we were greeted by a Mr. Chiappetta. Although we spent little time with him, one thing which he touched upon resonated in my mind throughout the entirety of our tour. In the words of Mr. Chiappetta, BVP grew from a question, “What if we could build great schools from scratch?”  

Our entrance prompted a breeze of cool air to fly through the school’s front door and timid glances of students followed. Yet, these students were not as timid as they appeared at first glance. These children were enthusiastic, engaged, and ready to learn. The teaching staff kept them on task, whether it be taking an assessment or reading along with the class. These students, “scholars” as they are called at BVP, were truly here to learn. The normal distractions of an elementary school were cast aside and each individual was successfully asked to focus. 

BVP does not have a facilities fund, this is money that they must raise on their own. With this in mind, classrooms were bright and airy, named after colleges, and inspiring places to work and learn. Teachers accommodated behavior and found ways to keep each antsy scholar in place. In my opinion, BVP is promoting hard work. BVP is showing students of Rhode Island new approaches to education. BVP is setting children up for success. BVP is bridging the chasm of separation that lies between public and private education. 

Blackstone Valley Prep may be bringing to the surface a new way to improve the schools of Rhode Island, if not those of the country. The motto plastered about the building read, “Today we learn. Tomorrow we lead.” If our tour was any indication of the incredible work that this school is doing, these children are indeed learning, and are well on their way to leading. 


--

Ariana Callender is a sophomore at the Wheeler School in Providence, Rhode Island. Originally from New Jersey, she has attended both public and private schools. She spends free time running, reading, and playing tennis and soccer. Conversational in both English and Spanish she enjoys writing in both.