Thursday, April 28, 2016

BVP Musings has Moved!

Hello, 

If you are trying to read our latest blog or re-read and oldie but goodie, you can now find BVP Musings at our new location on our new BVP website, blackstonevalleyprep.org.

Thanks for your interest and we hope to see you at our new site!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

BVP in Six Words

"Be proud of your difference."

"BVP has changed my whole life."

"Eight hours of school, worth it."

       If you've ever tuned in during a #BVPSnowDay chat on Twitter you know that we're fans of six word stories. On these days, we often ask staff to reflect on their work at BVP through a series of tweets using only six words, but our love of six word stories extends beyond snowy days at home. 

       In our schools, six world stories (or memoirs) are included in unit plans. Last year, scholars were challenged to write a Six-World Memoir about themselves and create a visual to go with it. After seeing the potential in the project, use of these memoirs was expanded throughout our 2015-16 curriculum. The results have been fantastic and we're happy to share that our work, specifically in our 6th Grade English Language Arts Classes, has been featured on the Six Word Memoir website. We invite you to take a look and learn more about how we built this activity into our lesson plans. Click here to view the feature

Friday, April 15, 2016

Playing with the Philharmonic

       It isn't often that a child can say they have played with the Philharmonic, but thanks to an amazing program called Link Up that was developed by Carnegie Hall's Weill Music Institute, 13,000 students in Rhode Island can now say just that. 

A musician showing her instrument to BVP scholars.
       Over the past two days, more than 300 scholars from BVP's Elementary School 1 and 2 took field trips to The Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Providence and participated in an interactive experience where they were guided through tuning, playing, and singing along with the Rhode Island Philharmonic. Now in it's fourth season of Link Up, the RI Philharmonic's show is high energy. Before it began, musicians walked up and down aisles with their instruments, playing short tunes for children up close. Our scholars "ooohed and aaaahed" over hearing the melodies so close and were full of excitement once the show began. 

       For weeks, our scholars, like many students throughout the state, have been practicing a selection of tunes to play along with the orchestra on their recorders. Under the direction of the conductor and host, both full of humor and making our scholars laugh throughout the show, the auditorium full of children moved from tune to tune. 

       The excitement and joy was infectious and as the children took in the opera, dancers, and energy you could tell that if the children attending didn't already love music, this was one of those experiences that would instill a life-long love of it. 

Dancers performing the can-can during the Link Up show
with the Rhode Island Philharmonic.
       Elementary School 2 music teacher, Raffi Rachdouni, has been looking forward to sharing this experience with his scholars. After the show he shared, "Whether it was singing along 'Ode to Joy' with the hundreds of other students in the room, playing Mozart's 'Nocturne' along with the orchestra or even just getting up and dancing to Rio de Janeiro's theme song, 'Cidade Maravilhosa,' our 2nd and 4th graders truly had a top-of-line musical and interactive concert experience."

       Thank you to the Rhode Island Philharmonic for including Blackstone Valley Prep scholars in this wonderful program!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Origami Bouquets for Rhode Island Hospital Patients

(Left to Right) Elementary School 3 Art
Teacher Kayleigh Smith, Artist Joyce Kutty,
and Art Director Michelle Turner. 
       Many of you may remember from attending or from reading our blog post about the event, that our recent For Art's Sake Scholar Art Show featured workshops presented by guest artist, Joyce Kutty (See the blog post here.) Throughout the day, Joyce lead groups of visitors through tutorials on how to make origami flowers. This alone was a great experience for art show attendees, but Joyce makes paper flowers for a deeper purpose beyond her love of origami.

       For the past 3 years, Joyce Kutty Designs has been crafting beautiful bouquets out of origami flowers for the patients at Rhode Island Hospital. While in school, she learned from a friend in the medical field that many patients, especially those with cancer undergoing treatment, cannot receive real flowers. Inspired to brighten the days of patients, Joyce started gifting her hand-crafted bouquets.

       The paper flowers carefully made by participants in her workshops were turned into 3 bouquets that were delivered today by Joyce, BVP's Art Director Michelle Turner, and Elementary School 3 Art Teacher Kayleigh Smith.

Joyce Kutty and Arielle Lee, nurse at The
Comprehensive Cancer Center at Rhode Island
Hospital.
       Arielle Lee, RN, BSN, and nurse at The Comprehensive Cancer Center at Rhode Island Hospital who has known Joyce throughout the three years she has been making these deliveries had this to say:
"The beautiful origami bouquets by Joyce Kutty, created in conjunction with the students from Blackstone Valley Prep, are such a wonderful and welcomed gift to our patients and The Comprehensive Cancer Center. We cannot have real flowers in our cancer center, so our patients who are facing difficult diagnoses and treatments especially appreciate this creative gift to brighten their days."
       We are truly thankful to have had the opportunity to contribute to Joyce's work and support her contributions to Rhode Island Hospital.




Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Head of School for a Day

Scholar, Savannah Benskin, acting as Head of School for a
Day at BVP's Middle School 1.
       As she did last year, Governor Raimondo invited young women in 5th through 8th grade throughout the state to enter an essay contest for the chance to be Governor for a Day. The contest, held in honor of Women's History Month, asked young ladies to answer the question "What would you do if you were Rhode Island's Governor for a Day?" Many of our scholars submitted essays. While we wait to hear who has been selected to act as Governor for a Day, we held a contest of our own. Mrs. Souza, Middle School 1's Head of School, and the middle school's deans reviewed the essays and selected a scholar to be Head of School for a Day.

       Today, with a little support from Mrs. Souza, Savannah Benskin, a College Class of 2027 scholar, took the reins and acted as Head of School. Savannah spent her day experiencing what it was like being a leader at BVP. She met with staff, provided feedback to teachers, supported lunch duty and dismissal, and even greeted scholars with morning handshakes. Ms. Souza had this to share about Savannah and her day: 


I think what amazes me the most about Savannah is the level of leadership she shows among her peers. Today gave her the opportunity to take her leadership skills and apply them by participating in leadership meetings and even providing some of her teachers with feedback. Savannah is an amazing scholar destined for greatness. We’re all so proud of her and couldn’t think of anyone better for the job.


Scholar, Savannah Benskin, with Middle School 1 Head of
School, Joy Souza.
       Savannah's essay, which can be read here, spoke to a need to set up programming throughout the state to provide middle and high school scholars with the opportunity to experience or shadow professionals in order to become more educated about potential career paths to consider. When asked for her thoughts on the need for a program like this she said, “Young people need more chances to interact with different jobs and careers out there that they might not see in their day to day lives. I think if they had the chance to see what they could be it would be good for them.” We couldn't agree more. Congratulations to our Head of School for a Day! We're so proud of you!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

For Art's Sake 2016

BVP art teachers (left to right) Kayleigh Smith, 
Nicole Delanos, Michelle Turner, Whitney Bates, 
and Katelyn Guignard.
       This past weekend the BVP and friends gathered to celebrate our artistic community. For Art's Sake, our annual scholar art show and artisan fair, puts artwork on display for every scholar at BVP. Which means that this weekend we showcased over 1,400 pieces of artwork including photography, paintings, sculptures, and more. 

       The festivities began with our opening reception, held the evening before the scholar art show. This event collects proceeds to underwrite Saturday’s free scholar art show for families and the greater community through ticket sales, a silent auction, and in-kind donations. The evening was a great success thanks to the proceeds and items generously donated by area businesses, local artisans, and supporters.


A young visitor painting at a creation station.
       The next day, our scholar art show was bustling with scholars excited to share their artwork with family, shoppers visiting artisans selling handcrafted items, and guests participating in creation stations to make art throughout the day. Among the activities available were workshops presented by our guest artist, Joyce Kutty. Joyce taught participants how to make origami flowers that will be arranged into bouquets and donated to patients at Rhode Island Hospital.


Visitors enjoying our scholar art gallery.

       Overall, this year's art show was a success! Not only will proceeds support our ongoing art program, but this annual event helps us build community among our entire network and celebrate the hard work of our scholars and staff. Thank you to everyone who attended and showed support for this important facet of our programming and community.

To view more photos, click here for our gallery

Thursday, March 31, 2016

BVP's Chess Team: A Season to Have Pride in

BVP Scholars with their trophies!
By BVP Chess Coach, Stuart Pink.

       As you walk into a BVP school, you will probably start to notice a growing collection of chess trophies! That's because our chess teams and players have just had their most successful season ever. 2015-2016 marks the 4th year that we have fielded teams in the Rhode Island Scholastic League and we achieved our highest finishing positions yet!

       For the first time, we entered a middle school team and they finished very respectably as 8th in a tough league among outstanding chess players. The team of Liam Carroll, Sophia Lombardi, Will Barden, Jordi Lara, and newcomer Roderick Beaubrun all fought hard games and contributed many points to the team throughout the season.

       As our strength in depth increases at the Elementary School level, we had separate Elementary School 1 (ES1) and Elementary School 2 (ES2) teams this year that were very evenly matched. In fact, the individual match between ES1 and ES2 was a 2-2 tie! In the end, ES1 came 3rd in the league and ES2 came 4th in the league, just half a point behind.


Scholar Vaishnavi 
Vaijaeepay with her trophy!
       At the end of season state championships, our middle school team came in 3rd and a joint elementary team came 2nd in their respective competitions. Scholar Vaishnavi Vaijaeepay from ES2 also took an individual 1st in this event, too!

       Chess is a wonderfully inclusive activity that allows players of different ages, genders, and backgrounds to compete on a level playing field. It is exciting to bring scholars from 3 BVP schools together on a regular basis for coaching and chess events. Our tournament in December 2015 had 33 scholars from BVP participate! This year we have also started teaching chess at ES3, so we're looking forward to our BVP chess family continuing to grow.

As in past years, we have again been very fortunate to have parent volunteers (Lori Barden, Lisa Bowie, Melissa Lawson, and Erika Sanzi) who have invested an enormous amount of time and energy into chess at BVP. Our achievements would not have been possible without them.

If you or your scholar is interested in playing chess locally, click here for more information.

Friday, March 25, 2016

A Win for Equitable Education

       At BVP, we believe that all scholars can achieve. But, while the aspirations of students throughout Rhode Island are high, opportunity can be harder to come by. Thanks to the new Advanced Course Network, the students of Rhode Island are getting greater access to the kinds of coursework that will prepare them for college and work in whatever field their aspirations lie.

       The program, pushed forward by the Rhode Island Department of Education, is a statewide initiative that will provide thousands of students with advanced courses, many at college level. Partnerships between private and public colleges, community partners, and among high schools throughout the state will make courses available online and in-person. For the first time, hurdles such as the size of schools, facilities, and resources available within a community will be removed. Opportunities that were available in the past based on zip code or a family’s ability to pay for extra enrichments will be open to all. Thanks to the Advanced Coursework Network, Rhode Island is one step closer to a system where education is equitable.

       As BVP High School enters its next year, we will have 11th graders for the first time. With a crop of students looking to expand their learning by integrating advanced and AP courses into their program of study, the timing of this program couldn’t have been better. We are excited to have our scholars join the thousands throughout the state who will now have the ability to enroll for free in any advanced coursework offered by participating schools and organizations around the state. This program will also provide our scholars with tuition-free access to dual enrollment courses at local colleges and universities.

       To prepare for our involvement with the program we recently surveyed our sophomore class to gather information about their interests. We plan to use this data along with support from our College and Career Counselors to provide each and every scholar with personalized counseling to match them with the opportunities available to achieve the best fit. Thinking long-term, we will also use this data to proactively seek new partnerships with members of the Advanced Coursework Network who can offer courses that our scholars are particularly excited about.



       Next year, there will be AP Chemistry and AP Spanish classes at Classical High School in Providence, Community Development courses with Roger Williams University for aspiring community leaders, Oceanography from West Bay Collaborative, and so much more. The potential for this program has us truly optimistic for the future of education in Rhode Island. Earlier today, an opinion piece co-written by Jeremy Chiappetta (our Executive Director) and Victor Capellan (Superintendent of Central Falls Schools) was published by The Providence Journal. To read more about their take on the Advanced Course Network, click here.

To read more about the Advanced Course Network from the Rhode Island Department of Education, click here.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Music In Our Schools Month

By Piera Leone, Music Director and Elementary School 1 Music Teacher.

       As Music Director for Blackstone Valley Prep (BVP) Mayoral Academy, I think March is a great month. All across America it’s Music in Our Schools Month (MIOSM)! At BVP, in addition to making music with scholars multiple times per week through our regular curriculum, each campus celebrates MIOSM in different ways:

  • At Elementary School 1 and Elementary School 3, we’ve been opening our ears by listening to world music and parading around our schools with instruments. 
  • At Elementary School 2, teachers and scholars have been coming together to create and perform songs during their morning huddles and community circles. 
  • At the middle school, teachers were surveyed about what music means to them and what they listened to when they were in middle school. By diving into the results, scholars have able to connect to their teachers’ personal music experiences. 
       Let’s focus on those italicized words above: opening our ears, listening, coming together, create, perform, community, and connect. 

Elementary School 1 scholars during a violin lesson.

       These words are not only used during MIOSM and within our four National Core Music Standards (Creating, Performing, Responding, and Connecting), but they are also used daily when discussing relationships with one another, building strong communities, inspiring children to achieve their dreams, and uniting our nation. America formally recognized this in July of 2015 when the United States Senate passed its bipartisan Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization proposal, the Every Child Achieves Act (S. 1177). Since then, music and the arts have been core subjects via the Every Child Achieves Act. Fortunately for our scholars, BVP has recognized music and the arts as core subjects since beginning in 2009.

       For us, music and the arts are just as integral to our mission of preparing our scholars for success in college and the world beyond as academic subjects are. So while MIOSM is only 31 days long, our dedication to these programs is prioritized every other month of the year as well.

       Would you like to show your BVP Music Program Pride? For the remainder of the month you can support our music programs by purchasing a limited time BVP #gotmusic? t-shirt! Click here to purchase.

Happy Music in our Schools Month!
For more information on MIOSM, click here

Thursday, March 17, 2016

BVP Hosts Community Breakfast

Executive Director, Jeremy Chiappetta, addressing
guests at last week's community breakfast. 
       On Friday, March 11th, over 35 community stakeholders, including business owners and elected officials, joined parents, teachers, and scholars at Blackstone Valley Prep for a morning of networking, learning, and a taste of Elementary School 2's Community Circle!

       The majority of our guests were with us for the very first time. They had the opportunity to hear BVP's Executive Director tell our story as well as hear direct testimony from parents and scholars about their experience as members of the Blackstone Valley Prep family.

       While it was great to be able to share BVP's
BVP High School parent, Ruth Lincoln sharing her
personal experiences with BVP.
accomplishments, it was just as important to create a sense of urgency around the state of RI’s education and how critical it is that we all work together to improve Rhode Island's educational landscape, which is an important part of BVP's vision statement.


       Shortly after the breakfast, we received a note from one of our attendees, Paul Martineau of the Employers Association of the North East, 

“I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and was inspired by all areas of the experience…the students are remarkable, the faculty conveys total dedication to success, and overall, Blackstone Valley Prep demonstrates how 'Great' education can be!”
Community Circle at Elementary School 2. 
       We hope this is the beginning of many more conversations and we value the willingness of any and all community stakeholders who engage with us in discussing the future of our small, but mighty state.

The Pawtucket Times published an article about this event on Tuesday, March 15th. Click here for an excerpt or see Tuesday's print edition for the complete story. 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

A New Outlook

By Michelle Turner, BVP Art Director & Middle School 1 Art Teacher
     
       Recently I had a lovely visit from a former art teacher colleague that I haven’t seen in close to 15 years. Naturally, we spent some time sharing our current teaching practices. As we talked we quickly realized that we’ve both made similar philosophical shifts in our teaching since we began our careers. (I’m talking about a shift so completely opposite from what we were taught in our undergraduate art education programs.) This shift to valuing process over product has made our work new and exciting for everyone!

       Simply put, we value the process (steps of thinking and planning) one goes through to get to the end result and understand that it is often more important than the product (art piece) itself. For our scholars at BVP, this is what the Artistic Process looks like:

A scholar's work plan in
progress.
1. First, scholars come up with an IDEA (teachers supply various types of inspiration - through books, artistic challenges, the art of others, current events, themes, etc.) and expand on it through written statements, practice sketches and media planning. These comprehensive work plans are created before scholars even utilize art material. This allows teachers to “get into their heads” a little bit and provide additional guidance and suggestions to their plan.





A work plan in use.
2. Once a plan is complete and approved, scholars can begin to MAKE the actual artwork. During Art class you’ll often see teachers providing mini lessons to support scholars trying new techniques or demonstrating new media to the whole class. Scholars even teach and coach one another! 





A scholar's Artist Statement.
3. Finally, when the project is complete, scholars gets the chance to REFLECT on their experience. This takes the form of writing Artist Statements that give scholars a chance to really think about and articulate the process of making their art. Here, they get to be honest about their effort, their design and media choices, and sometimes about what they would do differently if they were to do the same project over again. We teach them to accept that the artistic journey can sometimes be a struggle, but, with perseverance, they will grow to be innovative and critical thinkers. Whether a success or failure, we teach that each art piece is crucial to their journey of becoming a better artist, reflector, and thinker.

       This exciting shift in teaching art is sweeping through our nation’s art classrooms as we now understand that this process plays a critical role in preparing our students to become true THINKERS in the 21st century. We’re excited to be part of this shift and truly believe that it is part of the work we do to prepare our scholars for the world beyond.

       We will host our annual “For Art’s Sake” Art Show April 2nd and every BVP scholar will have a piece on display. Because we celebrate ideas and the process our scholars go through, this year we’re letting scholars choose work they feel best represents their artistic journey. As it has been in previous years, this event is free and open to the public, so we invite you to join us and embrace the Artistic Process with us. When you visit, if you come upon a scholar we invite you to ask them HOW they made their art, WHY they made it, and WHAT have they learned from their process. I promise, you’ll be impressed with what they can explain to you.

       On behalf of the BVP art team and our scholar artists, we invite you to join us on Saturday, April 2nd, for our free art show and creation stations, including one with guest artist, Joyce Kutty. We hope to see you there!

Our free scholar art show is made possible thanks, in part, to the proceeds donated at our art opening reception and silent auction. This year’s reception will be held at Mad Dog Art Studio & Gallery from 6-9 pm. Tickets are available with a minimum donation of $35/each and the evening includes food, wine, and a brief program. For tickets or inquiries as to how to donate to the auction, please e-mail Jen LoPiccolo at jlopiccolo@blackstonevalleyprep.org or purchase online.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Your Voice Matters

By Teague Shosh, BVP Parent

I am learning that my voice as a parent of a public charter school student matters.

My name is Teague Shosh and I am a mother of an Elementary School 2 scholar and an active participant in the Parent Advocacy Fellowship that was launched for parents who send their kids to BVP. Since September, the group of approximately 17 parents has been meeting to learn about the state of education in RI, the legislative process, and effective ways to advocate.

BVP Parents listening to Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea
while visiting the Rhode Island State House
Most recently, I visited the State House for an intimate conversation with Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, Lieutenant Governor Dan Mckee, and other elected officials. I’ve always known that government is complex--the legislative process is difficult to understand, the State House can feel like an intimidating place to be, and decisions made can sometimes make us feel defeated.

My biggest takeaway from the conversations with state leaders that night is that our work as parent advocates is ongoing and requires persistence. We must continue to show others why protecting high-quality schools like BVP matters to us as parents, to our scholars, and to our state.

I’d like to personally invite all BVP parents to get involved in advocating for our schools. Sometimes it feels like our advocacy efforts are not working, but if you’re feeling that way now, I invite you to reconsider and email me at teaguem1210@yahoo.com to learn more about how to get involved.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Building a Community of Learners Committed to All Voices

Melitzi Torres and Becky Thibeault, second grade teachers at Blackstone Valley Prep Elementary School 2, share their insights on finding space in everyday lessons to build a community of practice committed to diversity.

Intentional diversity is an organizational priority and a core belief shared across the Blackstone Valley Prep network. Building a community where conversations about equity are held openly and safely requires thorough planning and lots of self-reflection.

Before any of us can embark on such powerful discussions we focus on finding our voice and place in the conversation. Both of us are second grade teachers and while our intentions are the same, our perspectives and experiences are different.

We have a good starting point in the curriculum that BVP’s network team has developed. Our current 2nd grade ELA unit introduces scholars to the true stories of the heroes who catapulted the Civil Rights Movement into America’s consciousness, including Martin Luther King, Jr., the Greensboro Four, Rosa Parks, and Ruby Bridges.  We read biographies and memoirs, investigate photo archives of civil rights protest and segregation, consider the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling, and spend several days carefully picking apart the original text of the “I Have a Dream” speech. Along the way, we write about Dr. King’s dream and our own for America, and debate whether his dreams have been realized today.   There is so much to work with in this unit to build skills and knowledge and to also encourage our scholars to think critically about the world around them.  Exciting stuff!

Keep reading below for our individual reflections about this collective journey we are taking with our fellow 2nd grade teachers and our amazing scholars.


Becky:
I admit that looking for my voice in civil rights discussions created an internal sense of nervousness. To host deep discussions about race and equity I needed to first become comfortable with myself and comfortable with uncomfortable conversations. As a white educator in an urban school setting I have come to understand the power that many voices within a classroom holds for closing achievement gaps, resolving inequities, and becoming comfortable with discussing racial issues.


Melitzi:
As a first-generation college graduate, and as a Latina, I knew I wanted to be able to discuss topics to build a sense of activism in every scholar. What I wasn’t so sure on was how I could find time to lead these discussions as the second grade math teacher. I decided to introduce historical events in problem solving and create story problems that would have scholars not only dig deep into their math brains, but also be able to relate to the characters in the story problems on an emotional level.

Topics from the ELA curriculum (such as MLK, Ruby Bridges, Rosa Parks, the Little Rock Nine, and more) become the content for math story problems as they are discussed as part of the broader units of study.  The discussions that occur involve real character emotions, and situations while also focusing on the skills we are working on as part of our math units.

After working on this project for a couple of weeks, Becky and I realized that the problem solving block wasn’t enough time.  Our scholars were becoming more and more comfortable and engaged with the discussions.  Now, conversations extend into our community circle/morning meeting time too.


Becky:
It was important for me that I set up an environment where my scholars felt comfortable speaking about issues related to struggle and to inequities, both in our history and today. To do this it took much reflection and planning in order to facilitate meaningful discussions.

To start off, there are simple rules or norms for discussion in our room: we sit in a circle and make eye contact with each other and listen to each other’s ideas by agreeing, respectfully disagreeing, and adding on to what each other says. Scholars know this culture has been established in our room so that all of our voices are held equal in the conversation.

Establishing these norms were crucial for our success. They have allowed us to really focus on the topics at hand.


So what have we learned?
This work is ongoing. We have begun to foster a culture where important conversations are being held every single day by all of us. This isn’t easy, but it’s not supposed to be. Our hope is that by facilitating opportunities for our scholars we are supporting their growth into citizens that not only care about each other and about the bigger world around them, but also feel educated and empowered to take action. It’s working too.  Just this week, scholars asked if they could write letters to Detroit community leaders after reading about some of the physical conditions of the Detroit public school buildings. Examples like this make us hopeful for our collective future and for their futures--today we learn, tomorrow we lead.

(Scholars working collaboratively to write thank you letters.)

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Commended (times two!)

Today, the Rhode Island Department of Education announced that Blackstone Valley Prep (BVP) High School, Blackstone Valley Prep Elementary School 2, and fifteen other schools across the state are Commended.  

But there is more.  BVP is also home to the only high school and to the only two high poverty schools that received a Commended rating.   
Why does this matter?

  1. BVP staff, scholars and families are once again proving that demographics do not define destiny, that a zip code need not determine one’s educational opportunities.  The other Commended schools are overwhelmingly suburban, white and more affluent. BVP is intentionally diverse by design.  BVP is a mixed-race, mixed-income network of schools focused on proving what is possible for all kids. Just today, this feature in The Atlantic serves as important context and as a reminder that integrated schools are gaining (promising) national attention.

  1. BVP’s successes are not without challenges.  Public funding for the nearly 1,400 scholars BVP serves has been constantly under attack since our opening in 2009.  Moreover, adequate facilities for our scholars to grow and develop into their best selves continue to be a challenge.  Several efforts to share unused public school seats have been rebuffed; our efforts to rehabilitate vacant buildings have been stymied; and our efforts to lease excess capacity from private and parochial schools have been received with mixed response.  

News like today’s announcement reminds me and all of us what our work is about - proving what is possible for all kids. Despite obstacles, or perhaps because of them, BVP is committed to solving the challenges that come our way. We are committed to supporting the success of our scholars, both today and tomorrow.  

Our work is urgent. Statistics like this show that closing the achievement gap, which we know becomes a lifelong opportunity gap, is absolutely possible, but we need dedicated people to work together to continue driving this hard work forward.  If you are reading this and thinking about what is next in your life, please know that BVP is actively accepting applications from professionals ready to teach, lead, and take on the challenge to rethink what is possible in public education. Advocates for educational equity are strongly encouraged to apply at www.blackstonevalleyprep.org. Click the “Careers” tab to view BVP’s full list of openings.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Our First #BVPSnowDay's of 2016

At BVP, we have a snow day tradition of hosting Twitter chats using #BVPSnowDay. With two back-to-back snowy school days ending last week and staring this week, we kept with tradition and once again had our Twitter chats.

On Friday, February 5th we asked our staff & friends to participate in a discussion answering the question "Why BVP?" using 6 words.

Then on Monday, February 8th we asked staff & friends to read and share out links to interesting articles and blogs relating to our work.

As always, the musings and stories shared were inspiring. Take a look below to see where our heads were during the first (and hopefully the last) snow days of 2016.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Our Staff and Intentional Diversity

By Osvaldo Jose Martí, Middle School 2 Founding Head of School. 

       Blackstone Valley Prep (BVP) Mayoral Academy is an intentionally diverse network of public charter schools. When you read that statement, it’s safe to assume that you are likely thinking of our student body. Nationally, while our student population becomes more diverse, our country's teacher and administrative workforce remains remarkably stagnant. In Rhode Island, we are no exception and mirror the nation in terms of this gap. Meanwhile, research has shown that teachers of color produce more favorable outcomes for students of similar backgrounds. Additionally, there is an emotional and social need that teachers of color can provide while serving as role models to scholars who share racial and ethnic identities. Moreover, the Atlantic reported on the importance of a diverse school not just for students of color, but also for white students.

       For these reasons and so many more, I believe it’s important for our BVP school staff to reflect the communities we work with. As we strive for this, we work to build robust talent pools, with a focus on candidates of color and varied backgrounds. As an incoming Head of School and person of color, it goes without saying that our commitment to diversity is important to me. Even so, the urgency of this work was underscored for me one early morning at Elementary School 2.

       On this particular day, I had spent the morning doing instructional rounds, popping into classrooms and providing feedback to our teachers. As I walked the halls I came upon a teacher with a 2nd grade scholar who was walking to their classroom. The teacher cheerfully introduced me to the scholar, “In three years, Mr. Martí will be your principal just like Ms. Colarusso is now.” Full of innocence, the scholar looked at me and said,
Wait, how can you be a principal? You’re black.
       The comment shocked me. This young, African-American boy had not yet encountered a leader who shared his background and so the idea of someone who looked like him rising to a leadership position was impossible to him.

       I explained to the scholar that I was black and Dominican. I also explained to him that I was fluent in Spanish, but that those details did not mean I couldn't be a principal. I then told him that he could be anything he dreamed. This interaction has stayed with me since then and reminds me why we focus on intentional diversity. A general lack of diversity in schools can manifest itself in many ways. For the little boy I met in the hallway, a lack of diversity meant he couldn't see a black man be principal and likely also meant, as a black boy, he couldn't see himself ever being principal either.

       Conversations about race are not comfortable or easy, but they must be had if we are going to help our scholars see their potential and understand the world around them. It’s our responsibility and part of our commitment as educators who strive to thoroughly prepare children for their future.

       I am committed to this work and if you feel as passionately as I do, I invite you to consider joining me. Be a role model. Be the reason a scholar believes in himself or herself. Be part of a team that makes a difference. To see our current listing of open positions, click here.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

National School Choice Week Series Part 4: Who We Serve

       Every child is different. We think everyone can easily agree with that statement. Every child is a unique combination of traits including heritage, likes and dislikes, learning styles, and so much more. It is our belief that truly embracing diversity means not only building a community that is racially and socioeconomically diverse, but also building one that allows scholars to grow into their individuality, take in information in the way most natural to them, and supporting social and emotional growth along the way.

       So when we are asked who our scholars are and we broadly answer “all kids,” we truly mean it. Finding innovative ways to support every child’s education is a top priority for us, including those with clearly defined special needs as well as those who may need additional supports from time to time. BVP's dedicated team of educators is deeply committed to 100%.


*Graphics reflect statistics for the 2014-2015 school year.


       One of our parents had this to share:
I have an older son that has Autism and has been in the Public School system. I fought with special education programs for too many years. That's why school choice is so important to me, I have two children in BVP and I had the opportunity to choose them as the best option for my children’s needs. One of my younger children is now being tested and may be on the spectrum. I find comfort in knowing that whatever happens, I have the right to find a program that will fit him and choose where he will go to school.” - Kelly Foley
       Long after National School Choice Week is over, we hope that parents throughout Rhode Island and the U.S. remember that it is their right to seek out the best school environment for their child. In the end, that’s what school choice is all about.


 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

National School Choice Week Series Part 3: Parent Satisfaction

      School choice has enabled families to consider their options and ultimately decide if one school environment will suit their child’s specific needs better than another.

       Current BVP families take it upon themselves to do informal outreach and share their testimonial with family and friends, and we are immensely grateful to our families for doing so. Year after year, families who attend open houses and tour BVP for the first time tell us they first heard about our schools through a neighbor or friend whose children already attend BVP. Truly, it has been families who are our biggest cheerleaders. 

       Family voice is also a critical piece to BVP's desire to constantly reflect and improve our practice.  We survey families up to three times yearly and take feedback very seriously. Happily, we found that 93% of families who completed the survey shared that they were “extremely” or “quite likely” to recommend BVP to a friend. We’re proud of this statistic and even more proud that this result has never been below 90% in all the years we have conducted surveys.

       It means the world to us that so many parents have so many fantastic things to share. As we celebrate National School Choice week, and we are reminded of the decision our families made to choose BVP and entrust us with their children, we would like to share some of these anonymous comments with you.
“I think the teachers and faculty at BVP are doing an amazing job. The school has exceeded my expectations and I consider my child very lucky to be able to be a student here.”
“BVP is doing great on every aspect, [I] could not have ask for a better school. BVP meets all the expectations a parent could [ask] for. Thankful for having my kids enrolled in such a great school.” 
“Love the school, love the teachers, and the expectations they have towards the students. I don't see my daughter in any other school.”
“My child has learned so many new things since starting BVP and he is only in kindergarten. I am amazed at how wonderfully his teachers work. I really like how they teach students current events because in today’s world, it's very important. I am excited to find out what else my child will learn in his upcoming years at BVP.”
“I feel the school does an exceptional job at preparing my children academically!! Both of my scholar's grades always exceed my expectations and I am so grateful to the teachers and staff for that!!!! Wonderful job BVP keep up the great work!!!!”
“My scholar has learned so much in such a short period of time everything she does at school she practices at home on her own! Love all the great communication and family involvement.”
“The PLP (Personalized Learning Platform) has been a blessing. Our daughter frequently got bored in school. Now she likes school. Motivated and excited about college.”
“I feel as though the PRIDE values are the core of BVP. We talk about those values at home. Not only are my children becoming prepared for the world intellectually, they are learning how to become good citizens through those PRIDE values. Thank you BVP!”
       While we still believe there are more innovations to make and even more goals to reach, these comments and others like them reaffirm for us that what we’re doing at BVP is making a difference. Thank you to everyone who took the time to share your thoughts as part of the trimester 1 family survey. Please know that your words have been heard and you have motivated us to keep moving forward.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

National School Choice Week Series Part 2: Our Results

       At BVP, we work hard. Families, scholars, and staff - everyone here puts in 100% (cien por ciento!) We believe that when you set high expectations and provide supports where they are needed, people rise to the occasion. Time and time again our results demonstrate this belief holds true.

We see it in our attendance* which is consistently higher than state averages:
*yellow denotes elementary, white - middle school and, grey - high school
       We also see it in how much lower our chronic absenteeism is than the state averages:

*yellow denotes elementary, white - middle school and, grey - high school
       More than anything, we see it in our scholar’s academic success. Recent PARCC test data showed that BVP scholars outperformed Rhode Island PARCC test averages in both Math & English Language Arts (ELA.)


       Even more poignant, data showed that BVP low-income scholars outperformed non low-income students attending traditional public schools in Rhode Island. BVP scholars also exceeded the weighted sending district average of the four communities we serve. 

       But, why? We believe that these results are achieved through a combination of rigor, high expectations, and innovative curriculum. One example of this is the Personalized Learning Model that is the foundation of our high school.

       Personalized learning is a model for learning created to provide an individualized environment designed to provide scholars the time they need to be academically successful while providing the support they need to get there. At BVP, we implement personalized learning with the use of one-to-one ChromeBooks assigned to every scholar, a self-paced personalized learning platform, and a team of dedicated teachers and staff who provide the content expertise and supportive environment necessary for success in this rigorous program.

       At California’s Summit Public Schools, the Personalized Learning Platform (PLP) was created with the help of developers from Facebook allowing students to visibly see the progress they make on their required coursework. Our scholars use this online system to track their individual progress through lessons, core content areas, and electives.

       Personalized learning is, without a doubt, different in comparison to the traditional high school model and, we believe, pivotal to achieving our goal of preparing every scholar for success in college and the world beyond. To share why that is, we asked a BVP High School parent and scholar to share their perspective on how the PLP helps prepare scholars for their future.

My son Elija previously attended a traditional public school and frequently tells me how much more he enjoys classes at BVP. With the Personalized Learning Platform he feels much more prepared for his future and is confident that having the opportunity to personalize his learning is helping him discover what type of a learner he is - a skill he will need to be a successful, independent college student. He feels that the dynamic, community learning experience he takes part in keeps him more engaged and interested in his academic progress. Knowing that this is the experience he is having in high school, and how inspired he has become to learn, I couldn’t be more confident that he will be poised to rise to the expectations of university life.” - Lisa Gomes

       Considering the numbers and what our parents have to say, we feel that thinking outside the box to achieve results has been the right approach. So, we’re going to keep pushing - because we’ve just gotten started

*All Graphs reflect data from the 2014-2015 school year.

Monday, January 25, 2016

National School Choice Week and the Next Generation of Learning

       Every year, one week in January has become known as National School Choice Week (NSCW). It’s goal is to “raise public awareness” for all educational options available to families including online learning, private schools, homeschooling, public school, and public charter schools.

       School choice is about parents having the opportunity to consider their options and seek out the best fit for their child. We know one size does not fit all, which is why schools offering unique methods and innovative approaches are so important. It is our responsibility as educators to step up to the challenge and develop methods for serving all children.

       This week we will be sharing a series of musings and perspectives from our community. As we move through the week, please also know that your voice is important to the school choice conversation. We invite you to join us on Twitter to share your thoughts by using #SchoolChoiceWeek all week long.
BVP High School Head of School,
Jonathan Santos Silva, with
high school scholars.
 

       To kick off the week, we invite you to read this opinion piece written by Richard Whitmire, author of several books on education and reform, after he visited BVP High School last fall. Published in The Seventy Four, Mr Whitmire highlights the next generation of high schools and his hope for the future of learning.

Monday, January 18, 2016

BVP Scholar Reflects on the Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today is an important day. Today, we remember the legacy of a man whose impact on diversity and equal rights has a clear connection to BVP's mission. Here, we strive for intentional diversity and we often wonder about the perspectives of our scholars and how that mission resonates with them. So, we asked. Maggie Rodrigues is a 6th grade scholar at Middle School 1 who started at BVP this year. When we asked her to tell us what makes BVP different from her last school, this is what she had to share. 


By Maggie Rodrigues, College Class of 2026, Age 11

       See, I’m new to BVP and they were very welcoming to me. 

       It took me time to notice the wide variety of difference among scholars. We are white, black, Latino, new to this country, from different towns, and so much more. You might think I would notice this immediately, but one thing is for sure--it took me awhile because everyone treats each other equally, and that is a great thing. That is exactly the same thing that Martin Luther King Jr. wanted for our country. At BVP though, it’s not just with white and black students, but with every race and ethnicity you can think of.

       I feel like Dr. King would be so proud if he were alive to see our school and to know a place like this exists.

       Some benefits of attending this school are not being judged by your race, or ethnicity, or where you’re from. Also, there is a uniform to prevent any bullying because of what you wear or don’t wear. So, I think it’s safe to say that I, as a new student at this school, am so happy and proud to be a part of this judgement-free zone.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Adam's Journey

By Jill Klitzner, BVP Elementary School 1 parent. 

       Like most parents, my days are busy. With four children at four different schools, our day starts at 5:00 a.m. and ends...well it never seems to end. Two of my four children are BVP scholars with my oldest in 8th grade in middle school and my youngest at Elementary School 1. While he is still young, my son Adam’s long journey to Blackstone Valley Prep (BVP) Mayoral Academy is one of growth and perseverance. (Find a comfy chair, sit down, and grab a tissue.)

       Our journey with Adam started in September 2009 when we received a call from our social worker telling us about an 18 day old newborn that needed a home. Without hesitation my husband and I cancelled an upcoming vacation and immediately began the process of bringing Adam home. He had already had a rough start, having been born addicted to drugs and alcohol. We knew he might have some challenges ahead of him, but when the nurse wheeled him around the corner and I caught my first glimpse of little Adam, I knew he would be my forever baby.

       Adam met many milestones, with the exception of talking and walking. Because he was in state custody as a foster child, getting services for him was never an issue. With the resources available, we made sure he got to every appointment and took the time to work with him. But as Adam got older, more was demanded of him and he began to get frustrated. It wasn’t long before my calm baby became a tantrum-driven toddler. By the time Adam was three he was no longer receiving services from outside agencies, so he was turned over to our town’s school department. Adam struggled. We, as his parents, struggled. The next two years were a long and bumpy road. I kept looking for a fork in the road, but I couldn't find one. Before I knew it, he was five and it was time for kindergarten.

       His first week of school I was in the principal's office 3 times and almost every week we would receive a call about Adam’s behavior. Nothing seemed positive and it felt like we were failing our son. After an emergency IEP (Individualized Education Program) meeting, we knew the next step was to find Adam a program more equipped to handle his needs. My husband and I decided to admit him to Bradley’s 8 week Pedi-Partial program. When Adam was finished he was on a new path. He temporarily transitioned to Bradley School in Providence and for the first time in years, Adam went to school with a smile and came home with even a bigger one.

       At the end of the school year, we as a team decided that Adam would benefit from repeating kindergarten. Having one child already extremely successful at BVP, I knew it was an opportunity to consider for Adam. I entered him into the lottery and, to our delight, Adam was selected to attend BVP. With that, countless meetings between Bradley, BVP, my husband, and myself ensued over many months. After much deliberation, the team agreed that Adam would benefit from moving into the Transitional Learning Center (TLC) at ES1. I’ll admit, I was hesitant. At Bradley Adam was safe, happy, comfortable, and growing rapidly. I was comfortable, too. I questioned whether he was ready and worried if he would take a step backwards. I worried about the length of the day and if the homework would be too overwhelming.

       Through the worry and concern a calm, sweet voice began to speak.“I used to teach your son Jack when I was a student teacher and now I get to teach your Adam.” Like the moment I first laid eyes on my son, I knew when I heard Casey Rainha speak that she was the right teacher for Adam. For weeks after our first meeting, Casey continued to stay in touch, even visiting Adam at Bradley to meet his friends. Before we knew it, January 4th, Adam’s first day at BVP, had come and Casey made sure everything was perfect.

       At 7:02 a.m. he got on the bus and started his journey at BVP. Ms. Rainha was there to greet him as his bus arrived and took him by the hand to lead him into his new school - to lead him into the next part of his journey. Adam is safe, happy, and will continue to grow at a rapid pace. We all feel at peace with the road ahead for Adam and it’s all because we had the right to choose where he would go to school. We had the right to choose BVP. It’s only been a week and a half, but Adam is already at home at BVP. I can only imagine where week three will take him, and four, and all the rest . . . . .

       Adam’s journey has just begun and I’m thrilled with where he’s headed.


For more on BVP’s TLC program, click here to view our annual report. (Navigate to page 8)

For more on Casey Rainha, click here for our recent blog post on her becoming a recipient of the Golden Apple Award.