A Brooklyn School’s Curriculum Includes Ambition

Mott Hall Bridges Academy, a public middle school in Brownsville, Brooklyn, the poorest neighborhood in New York City, is seen by many as a safe zone in a crime-plagued area, and a gateway out of generational poverty.

Comments: 43

  1. Such school staff dedication is up-lifting. I am concerned, however, about the parents who do not bother to meet with teachers and fail to even pick up the annual report cards. Isn’t there anything that can be done to reduce this educational neglect?

    I cannot help believing that this is a form of child abuse that must be effectively addressed. This neglect may contribute to the poor performance in math and English at the school. I imagine that many of the neglectful parents are probably not seeing that their children are prepared each day and have completed their homework and study assignments. Children are not sponges; they will not get educated by simply attending school, they have to do the hard work of engaging in the studies. Parents do not have to be well educated to get involved – my mother got only as far as the 6th grade, but she made sure the nine of us stayed up with our school work.

    Parents have an obligation to those they brought into this world to do what they can to help them take full advantage of the free public education they need to succeed in life. Compelling parents to stay involved with the school may have the additional benefit of nudging them further into the mainstream and to a more satisfying life.

  2. Parents failure to attend Parent/Teacher conference is a very big problem in not just NYC but across the country. As someone has a sibling who teaches at a public school in an underserved community, he often expressed frustration with parents who would not bother to come pick up a report card. I grew up in a low income household but education was paramount, unless illness intervened, school was an absolute must and although long working hours meant that sometimes school plays and other extra curricular activities were not always attended, attendance at every parent teacher conference was a must. I don't know how to solve that problem but it truly is a very big one.

  3. @Jim Darcy
    Easy for you to label as "child abuse" parents who don't attend school conferences. But what if employers actually allowed parents to attend school conferences with pay? A societal problem won't be solved until the whole society is involved in finding a solution.

  4. For some parents, it may be "not bothering"--for others it may be language barriers or scrambling to do any available work, make government appointments for food stamps etc, go to food pantries: what is necessary to keep their families housed. fed, and clothed.

  5. It is just impossible to make the parents attend the Parent teacher meetings.
    A better way maybe to have a mentor for every child through some voluntary organization. These mentors maybe able act as a link between the school and the parent. After all Knowledge gained through proper education is the greatest wealth and it is the fundamental right of every child. The latestNobel prize only reinforced this ancient Indian saying.

  6. Are you volunteering to mentor? Will your well educated friends also mentor?

    I teach in Los Angeles, and this year my school has money for extra social services. It's nice, but it still barely scratches the surface of what the kids and their families need.

  7. There actually is a nationally recognized mentoring program that pairs college educated mentors with students in low-performing schools (who live in low-income neighborhoods like Brownsville). Mentors are gender matched with their mentees and work full-time with their mentees, year-round. It's called Friends of the Children, and there are local chapters around the country. The organization recruits students and their parents in kindergarten and stay with the student through high school graduation. It's an incredible program that is trying to disrupt generational poverty in a way that empowers parents and communities. Google it. "Friends of the Children NY"

  8. I applaud the work but also believe the model is unsustainable. This is an important distinction: Ms Lopez is a hero, but if the model requires working 7 days per week without renumeration . . .

  9. Jim Darcy was fortunate that his mother was able to work at low wage and long hours and still find time to make sure her children made school a priority. Most Brownsville parents are barely making ends meet working multiple low-paying jobs at odd hours that don't allow missing work for attending meetings with teachers. Moreover, many do not feel they have the English language skills or education to check that their children have done the homework assignment. In these cases, the school has to work hard to show the students that school is important and the key to getting out of the neighborhood and into the world. I applaud Ms. Lopez for her efforts and wish her continued success.

  10. There is a lot of discussion about schools having to 'close the educational gap' between high income and low income students. While the efforts of schools such as Mott Hall are laudable, how realistic is it to expect any school to seriously close the gap between children who come from academically engaged and socioeconomically well off homes and those who come from, say, families of 9 children or those whose parents can't, for whatever reason, even meet once with the teacher during the school year? I do not think they system give up on these children, but perhaps money is better invested in family programs rather than in the schools?

  11. Alex, that's your takeaway from this uplifting article? That there should be some "either/or" decision about providing support for those mired in multi-generational poverty?

    Lack of parental involvement is a symptom of poverty more than it's a cause of it. The "blame the victim" mentality has its place I suppose, but not as an excuse to de-fund schools such as this.

  12. With what the US spends money on, do you really think we have to choose between family programs and schools? Heck, we could save vast dollars by not incarcerating the largest portion of our population of any country in the world--right off by examining carefully what minor things so many are in prison for.

  13. Yes, I do think that often we do have to choose. While I agree that the US has PLENTY of money to spend on schools and social programs and that it could save a ton of money by not incarcerating for stupid infractions like possession of marijuana (i'm all for legalizing), in every city I have lived in there has always been a tug of war over money. If you put money into this, then you don't have it for that, we are always told. It may not be true, but that's the way it is right now. So by all means work on lowering the defense budget, decreasing incarceration, lobbying for more social programs, but until all those great reforms become reality and there is more money for social programs, I'll vote (when I can) for putting the money where I think it will be most useful, and often that isn't in the public school system.

  14. It's tough work, I know, but as the folks who created NYC small high schools of choice learned, "small and nurturing" is not enough. Academic rigor is #1 -- and it's barely mentioned in the story, except to say that kids scored "well below the citywide average" on their math and English tests. Ambition and grit, hugs and kisses are wonderful, even parent engagement is nice. But you won't do your students any favors if you're not delivering them a world-class curriculum in English, math, history, science, and the Arts.

  15. This is a great program. If we can only get the likes of Al Sharpton, Barack Obama, and our Honorable Mr. DiBlasio to promote these very important programs, they can become sustainable.

    Unfortunately Mr. DeBlasio would prefer to spend money on 10' fences to keep his privacy, and Mr. Sharpton prefers to hang around the Grand Havana Room smoking his $30 cigars way above the streets of where he is needed.

    Hopefully Mr. DiBlasio does get involved before he changes his name once again so we know its actually him doing something.

  16. This article says the school has low test scores -- I'm guessing that is because they are spending their time in much more valuable ways than drill and kill, teaching to the test, test prep that many schools with low income kids feel obligated to do.

  17. I believe that this school was called J.H.S 263 when I was a student. And the reading test scores were low in 1962, when I was in the 7th Grade. I remember that one day the students in my class, 7-22, complained about the lessons as not being hard enough. Then our teacher read out the student's reading scores, and only three people, including myself, were reading at or above grade level. The class size was about 30 people. The teacher wasn't teaching for the test,low test scores reflected the fact that most of my classmates didn't read much after the school. This school has being failing Black and Latino children for over fifty years, but the fault also lies with parents who aren't interested in their children's education.

  18. Contrary to what Ms. Lopez might think there are poor people in Manhattan. Not everyone who lives in Manhattan can afford to live in a luxurious high rise building or even work in one for that matter. There are housing projects in the city of Manhattan that don't get addressed because there in Manhattan. Sweeping statements like the ones made by Ms. Lopez in this article is one of the reasons this article lends a distorted view to the concept of living in poverty in New York City.

  19. It is amazing that the richest country in the world has so much poverty -- I am glad that young people are being helped, however the whole "village" needs help!

  20. Compare the work ethic and dedication of Ms Lopez to the hundred of lousy (or criminal) public school teachers awaiting their hearing to get fired who sit on their duff all day and draw a salary.
    The system needs more like Ms Lopez, but the system is broken. Fix the system and maybe Ms Lopez can take weekends off.

  21. Bad teachers didn't hire themselves, observe themselves, evaluate themselves, tenure themselves, and the can't fire themselves. Really bad (harmful) teachers are as common as really bad "any-worker"; that is, they are few and far between. Behind every harmful, incompetent teacher stands a truly lazy, incompetent principal. The existence of really bad teachers is a management (principal) problem. pure and simple, end of story.

  22. What would Ms Lopez, Mr Turner, other teachers and administrators want to see done to help their success? Are there things the rest of us could and should be doing? I feel much more in a position to listen to these people than to give advice.

  23. Why is it that people who grew up in poverty equally as bad as these kids, have succeeded? I'm talking about the days of the immigrants coming over from Europe at the turn of the century. Why? We're throwing so much money at this current situation, and it doesn't seem to be working.

  24. "'Why can't African Americans act like immigrants, who come here with nothing, work hard, and succeed or at least make sure their kids succeed?' That's the familiar refrain. The answer is that a group that is not a immigrant group cannot adopt the mentality, the 'culture,' of an immigrant group. ... [T]his whole way of looking at African Americans in relation to immigrants is wrong. The story of African Americans and the story of ... immigrants are two different stories. And immigrant success does not in any way diminish the responsibility American society as a whole has to rectify the historical legacy of injustice from which African Americans still suffer."

    From the chapter, "Reflections on Immigration and Race," in the book: High Schools, Race, and America's Future: What Students Can Teach Us About Morality, Diversity and Community (Lawrence Blum, Harvard Education Press, 2012)

  25. Simon, the article is about a school which is working. Read it before you start talking about how it is a waste of money.

    You also mention the success stories of immigrants. That's a pretty blanket statement. What about the immigrants who died in the trenches building our railroads for example, or miners, or poor WHITE sharecroppers stuck with nothing during crop failures? Do you really think every immigrant in this country has been a success story? It's such a lazy thing to say.

    And what is the "so much money" comment about anyways? How much money are we throwing away on subsidizing corporations with minimum wage workers because the minimum wage is too low and they still need food stamps, or giving taxpayer guarantees to derivatives traders in the current budget? You think that's a better investment?

  26. Look around you, Simon. What do you see?

    People. Other people. Some older, many younger. These are the resources available to build and run the world you live in. Without them you would have nothing. Nothing except a few berries to eat and a tree branch to sleep on above the wolves pacing below.

    We are not wasting money, Simon, throwing it at schooling for the children born into poverty. We are investing in the workforce who will make up the staff of all your tomorrows.

  27. "the course in entrepreneurship — required for seventh graders — encourages them to take ownership of their ideas as they develop business plans for a class contest" could this be why students still aren't doing well on math and reading tests?! A class in enterpreneurship might be good for high school; it's ridiculous for middle school. And running a franchise, I'm sorry, is not entrepreneurship.

  28. Wouldn't developing a business plan be a good exercise in writing and in using math?

  29. A class that encourages youth to think and excites them to learn is far superior to a traditional math or English class that just turns off their brains and teaches to the test.

  30. What a relief to read an article where school administrators and teachers are actually talking with children, experimenting with course content, and using terminology like holistic --refreshing. So different than the Brooks/Friedman/Times educational writers infatuation with zero-tolerance, no excuses, test prep boot camps that are more focused on raising a score than raising a child.

  31. Reading this stuff is so depressing. Mr. Lopez is to be admired. However, the public school bureaucracy and the unions have no interest in encouraging more of this sort of thing. And I read about no parents being involved, one of nine kids, wants to play professional basketball....all an uphill battle. Ugh.

  32. How about mandatory school trips? (altho I was NOT all that pleased with the trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art- studying three works of art was really NOT appropriate -- I have my PhD in art history!)
    American Museum of Natural History, Guggenheim Museum, Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, Chinatown, the Cloisters -- are all appropriate for school trips -- as are Historic Richmondtown (Staten Island), the Bronx Zoo, etc.

    Maybe instead of $$ for all day universal pre-K (I am against fencing in little ones -- they need to run and climb... if possible OTOH if the parents are taking less than adequate care of their off-spring), there can be more funding for trips and maybe it should be mandatory that every class takes at least one trip a term. (I loved my school trip to the sewage treatment plant (Ohio) and there's the airport.)

  33. This is what we need - more Mott Hill Bridges Academies. All this hand wringing about low grade schools with low grade teachers in poor neighborhoods,not getting enough funding, churning out kids not being able to read or write, susceptible to a life of crime and being incarcerated at a young age can be put to a stop emulating a simple model that IS working. Why not put our taxes to meaningful use and prevent these young minds to wither away! Let's not douse potential. Applaud it,nurture it and let these minds take wings and fly high to realize their dreams.

  34. Reminds me of the industrial education provided to the Plains Indians a hundred years ago; Reformist progressive nonsense trying to convince kids that they too can be rich if they adopt certain practices. Nothing against the teachers. In many respects they are victims in this mess as well. It's an experiment on the most vulnerable, imho. If I were a school parent, I would be demanding a return to basics.

  35. This is year 31 for me in the classroom; (Harlem for 27 and the South Bronx for two…)

    1. Snap a twig off of a high branch of a tree, and make the argument that it has no connection with the trunk. Difficult, no?

    2. Start in 1619 with the introduction of Africans to these shores, and explain to me how 2014 is totally disconnected from that "root experience"

    3. Examine a school of predominately African-American students and make the case that other "immigrant groups" overcame similar injustices and prospered.

    4. Choosing to come and being dragged are two different topics.

    As far as schools of promise are concerned, I will tell you that as a classroom teacher in high poverty neighborhoods my whole life…all that can be done is whatever you have in your power to do.

    All of you commenters that are so concerned should drop everything, and put yourself in the ultimate position of change: a classroom.

    I have no answers, that I why I go to school each day to find them.

  36. "Start in 1619 with the introduction of Africans to these shores, and explain to me how 2014 is totally disconnected from that "root experience""

    Well its not, but explaining blacks predicament today by slavery is phony. How do you explain the better results for blacks from 1870-1965? Marriage rates were much higher. Poverty was decreasing, crime rates were low. The black middle class grew right through the 1980s and 90s. Sorry, slavery, while important, is not keeping the black community down today.

  37. I so admire these administrators and teachers, but how to improve the quality of neighborhood life is still a sore difficulty.

  38. Seeing this kind of school in the poorest part of NYC is very encouraging. I lived in NYC during the late 60's and got to know a bit about the underclass by participating in the Big Brother program. The problems were so huge I tried to act as a consultant for small minority businesses and did have some success.

    I now live in a lily white suburb of Atlanta and the schools here are great but there are problems. I know a Deputy Sheriff and he has told me the problems range from drugs to abused children. So there are ever present problems even in a relatively wealthy suburbia in which I live.

    IMHO parental involvement is key although mine were always busy working, they wanted me to get a university education and I did just that and graduated from Purdue with a Applied Math degree.

  39. Bravo to all these hardworking teachers and their students!!! Thank you for not setting the bar too low

  40. As a teacher in the inner city (not this one), I read this article with mixed feelings. I was pleased the Times was reporting positively about a public school. But it made it sound as though this school were an anomaly. It's not. Close to 50% of our nation's schoolchildren are in poverty & a very large proportion of them fear for their lives because of gun violence, whether that violence be on the streets or from a stranger breaking into the school. In countless schools across the nation, teachers and administrators forge on. This article presents what is quite commonplace & ordinary in every inner school school I've worked in - teachers caring deeply, administrators going above & beyond, many sadly disconnected parents - as something unusual. If our media actually spent time in our nation's schools rather than picking up sound bytes from billionaires & their allies who want to privatize our schools, the media would see this dedication every single day & the critical importance of public schools.

    Long term career adults MUST mentor these precious lives, instead of the charter & hedge fund model, which promotes high turnover & youthful inexperience & treats teachers as contemptible low level workers.

    Our society is sick & the only hope is for committed, empowered adults to be in these kids' lives. Endless shallow corporate testing - pushing out committed teachers - is disastrous, even more disastrous for these kids than for the wealthy families who exempt themselves.

  41. I'm disheartened by the high-handedness and social Darwinism of many of the comments here. Ms. Lopez is doing an extraordinary job, and shows how important a principal, and her vision, are to a school. She knows that the real enemies of are poverty and hopelessness. While she may not be able to do much about the former, she can do something about the latter. Every child deserves hope, and the classes in entrepreneurship, and field trips across the bridge let these kids know that the city and it's promise also belong to them. The test scores will improve over time, I'm sure. What these kids need to know is that they count and someone besides their family cares about them.

  42. As an inner-city middle school teacher I admire the accomplishments of the teachers and administrators at MHBA, however in my opinion, the success rests primarily in the low enrollment. Working in a school with over 1,400 students (rather than 191), I spend much time and effort dealing with crowd control instead of meeting individual needs.

  43. Great example of tackling generational poverty... I agree that some parents struggle with having time for their kids due to working 2 or 3 jobs, so that comment bothered me at first, BUT emphasizing the importance doesn't hurt the parents it's just reminding them of the importance... Sometimes we let ourselves off the hook too easy.... either way, the holistic approach is an excellent idea, everything doesn't work for everyone, but hearing about the success of this program is good; hoping other programs can do the same