Our unique Connections Class in grades 1-3 is a great example of how, starting at a young age, students bridge their content-rich studies with deep critical thinking skills, putting what they learn to the test in a scenario-based project learning block. One of the goals of Connections, which meets once a week for 85 minutes, is to literally “connect” the curriculum, showing how each subject relates to the other, even if it doesn’t seem to do so on the surface.
On April 20, 2015, the BASIS.ed network celebrated what we consider to be one of the most salient validations of our academic programs we’ve been honored with as a community to date: The Washington Post’s 2015 Ranking of America’s Most Challenging High Schools featured BASIS.ed schools prominently at the top:
A couple of days ago, the New York Times published an article about parent teacher conferences in New York City. These conferences, which one interviewed parent describes as akin to the "running of the bulls" in Pamplona, are worth really considering. Is the way most schools hold these conferences in the best interests of all involved? Here's the BASIS Independent take below:
BASIS Independent Schools do not hold formal Parent /Teacher Conference days. This practice can surprise some parents. What parent does not want the opportunity to talk with their child’s teachers about their progress, challenges and victories? What teacher does not want to reassure parents that their children are in safe hands?
It seems so simple: set aside a day and let the adults talk. But there, embedded in that brief injunction, lie the two major problems with Parent / Teacher Conference days.
The nightmare of the schedule.
I think of these formal days as a leftover from an era of one-size-fits-all education in which schools can seem to function like mid-twentieth century factories: “Dear Parent…you want to talk with your child’s teacher? You are welcome of course, but it must be on this day, at this time, and you will have 7 minutes before the production line moves to the next parent. The production line is sacrosanct and never stops.”
As for the teacher, consider that which is asked of them: “Dear colleagues, you will prepare to speak to all of your parents from morning to night about their children. We have provided breaks in your day, but of course parents will be late and conversations will run over the allotted 7 minutes, so bring some Kind Bars. Do not raise any genuinely troublesome or puzzling issues about a kid, as they require time. You have 7 minutes. Make it work.”
Behind the apparent openness of the Parent / Teacher Conference day is a subtle message from school to parent: “This is the deal: we hold this day for you and it is YOUR DAY! We all hate it as we are fried by lunch, which we never get, and there are hours more to go before we sleep. For the rest of the year try not to bother us too much as we are all very busy.”
During Prospective Parent Information Sessions, we are often confronted with a variety of questions that range from the more operational “easy to answer” questions like class size to those philosophical questions that give us pause, that stick in the back of our minds long after we’ve said goodbye to the last lingering few guests.
Today marks the first day of an important week in the life of a BASIS Independent Brooklyn Middle School Student. It's pre-comp time!
The first time a BASIS Independent student takes a precomp can be, well, scary (to all the parents reading, we promise they will get used to it!). Pre-comprehensive exams (pre-comps), taken by 6th grade and above, are cumulative exams that cover what the students have learned up until the mid year point of the school year.
Showing Support, BASIS Independent Brooklyn Style
It is a BASIS tradition to give students encouragement "goody-bags" on the school day before their first exam. Usually these goody-bags contain healthy snacks for energy, a little sweet pick-me-up, pens, pencils, and a stressball.
We decided to take it a step further at BASIS Independent Brooklyn and enlist the cheery support of our primary school students to 'adopt' a middle schooler and write them a heartfelt note of encouragement.
Each student in 6th grade and above received a note written by 1-2 students in grades K-4. The students were given minimal guidelines - only to write from their hearts.
What words would make you feel encouraged at a time when you really needed a little support?
Making the rounds right after lunch, students were given a pep talk from our Head of School, Mrs. Thompson, and then to their surprise and delight, given their treats.
Because of the reputation of our program and the national results and international recognition we have attained, it is only natural that families are curious for our take on balancing high expectations and support at BASIS Independent Brooklyn. Read on for my take below:
Schools with very high academic expectations can easily become dystopian, highly engineered obstacle courses that lay waste to childhood. “Childhood” can signify quite different meanings to us all depending upon culture and personal experience. For me, when I think about “childhood,” I do not dwell too long on notions of innocence, but more on a hungry openness to new experiences and a capacity to feel and think with an intensity that weakens with the passing of the years.
One of my favorite statements about learning was made by the Russian writer, Alexander Herzen: “We think the purpose of a child is to grow up because it does grow up. But its purpose is to play, to enjoy itself, to be a child. If we merely look at the end of the process, the purpose of life is death.”
Herzen is invoking here a conception of play as a profoundly empowering human activity, and warning us that if we do not learn the joy and force of such play as children, our adult lives will be the less for it. Play, not as distraction from more important tasks, but as an activity that involves a total engagement in the complexity and revelations of the moment, a mind and an imagination supremely preoccupied by the invention at hand.
Inspired by the blissful feeling of uncovering connections, our blog Eureka! Brooklyn is about sharing moments that capture the essence of what it is to be a BASIS Independent student, teacher, administrator, or family.