Shaliyah is an 8th grader at AF Bridgeport Academy Middle.
When I was growing up in New York, I saw only two black teachers the whole time. I remember both of their names. They stood out because they were the ones that I could look at and see myself. That helped a little in a school where I always felt like people were looking at me for my color and where I come from, and thinking I would never make it. They were wrong.
A few years ago, I moved to Bridgeport and when I was in fifth grade, I started going to Achievement First Bridgeport Academy Middle School. It changed my whole perspective. And that’s not only because we’re a school that does really well academically. It’s because here, I have teachers who are the same color as me. What does it mean to go to a school like that?
It means I have a black principal who will wear shirts that celebrate our culture. It means I have other teachers who will wear dashikis. There are quotes from African-American leaders all over the walls. My favorite is from Maya Angelou. Because of our diversity, all of our teachers, whatever color they are, respect who we are and bring such a positive energy. February is not really different here because we celebrate and learn about black history every month.
It means I have a teacher named Ms. Felicia Gee, who tells us about how she was born in Bridgeport and no one thought she was going to make it. We see her really making it big, and that inspires us when people say we’re not going anywhere because we’re from “the hood.” So does another thing Ms. Gee says when she starts each science class telling us about a leader of color in science—she says she will never stop showing her blackness, because at one point we couldn’t. That’s part of why I love to embrace who I am, and why I love science and math - even though they’re so difficult - because a lot of people don’t think people of our color can be good at them, and we can be.
I heard about the report from ConnCAN that showed AF Bridgeport Academy has the second-most diverse teaching staff in Connecticut and I felt so grateful, but also sad. I felt sad because that same report also said that barely any districts in the whole state had at least 15 percent educators of color.
Kids need more examples of what people my color can become. I am going to be one of them. First, I am going to be named an eighth-grade leader at my school. Then, I am going to take Advanced Placement classes in high school. Next, I am going to major in criminal justice and become a lawyer for people who have faced discrimination and don’t have a voice. I am going to help show the little ones that people who look like us can make it.
In the President’s FY19 Budget Request, we see both reasons for hope and areas of concern. We are pleased to see that Title I and IDEA are, at a minimum, maintained at their current level of funding, as these programs provide critical support for students from low-income families and students with disabilities. We are also thankful for the $500 million request to grow the Charter Schools Program – especially the Replication and Expansion Grant competition, which will allow for the much-needed expansion of high-quality charter schools with a proven track record of success.
At the same time, we are concerned with proposed cuts to federal programs that are vital for thriving public schools. These include programs like Title II’s SEED grants and AmeriCorps, which are vital for finding and preparing the next generation of public school teachers. And the budget proposes substantial cuts to social services that low-income families across the country rely on.
We also want to underscore the importance of increases to higher education funding for first-generation college students. We are grateful that the President’s budget request maintains the overall investment and maximum grant award for Pell Grants, however this amount still represents a small fraction of the average college tuition in the US. We also applaud that the President’s budget proposes common sense policy changes to modernize the Federal Work-Study by more closely targeting these funds to Pell-eligible students and ensuring that opportunities are career or academically relevant. And at the same time, we are concerned with funding cuts proposed to the Federal Work-Study program which prevent these much-needed reforms from being fully utilized by those same students. As the budget process moves forward we urge Congress to strengthen both programs through increased investment critical for ensuring that students from underrepresented backgrounds have a fair shot at a college degree.
The President’s budget proposal is a starting point, and we look forward to working with the Administration and Congress to enact a final budget that provides for the health and well-being of all young people.
Alliance College-Ready Public Schools
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Step into a day in the life of three Achievement First students, and see what happens when potential meets opportunity.
We'd love to have you join us in our Achievement First Schools!
More than a year ago, I wrote about the then-recent tragedies in Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, and Dallas and the need to affirm that white privilege exists, Black Lives Matter, and that organizations serving black and brown children should and must confront this all head on.
I wish I could say that things have gotten so much better since I wrote those words back in July 2016. I am an optimist by nature, but I can’t do that today. Since then, I’ve written similar words about Charlottesville, and about DACA, and spoken too many times to staff, families, and friends about how we can help our kids in the wake of police violence against unarmed people of color. (Jasmine Jeffers, a member of AF’s development team, wrote about that issue brilliantly here).
Another recent low point was when we heard our president refer to countries such as Haiti, El Salvador, and Nigeria as “shitholes” while saying that we should accept more immigrants from countries like Norway. I cannot imagine the pain that our students, families, or staff who are from those countries felt when hearing Mr. Trump use such racist and belittling language. And let’s be clear: These comments were racist. Haiti and Nigeria are countries with large populations of black people. The vast majority of Norwegians are white. Let’s also be clear that Mr. Trump has a long, documented history of racism.
This is not about politics. It is about white supremacy.
As I write critical words about the president, I know I’m wading into waters that are deemed political. While I have strong feelings about tax policy, health care, the environment, and a host of other issues, my critique has nothing to do with whether Mr. Trump is a Democrat or Republican. It has to do with the fact that he is supporting a doctrine of white supremacy.
It would be easy or convenient to absolve myself of any issues here, to bask in allyship, and to assume I’m walking with the woke. As a white, southern, heterosexual, cisgender, tall, able-bodied man from a solidly upper-middle-class family, I am a walking embodiment of privilege. The reality is that like all of us, I’ve breathed in the smog of racism for a long time, and I have to work hard to be reflective and to ask others to check my blind spots. It is too convenient to peg racism as solely a problem of the KKK, the alt-right, or any other group. While these may be more overt, all white folks in America have a responsibility to actively push against racism.
What do we do?
As a white leader of an organization serving predominantly black and brown children, my first jobs are to listen and believe. While I am sickened by racist language and actions, I haven’t experienced them first hand. I need to ask questions, listen, and seek to understand.
And I need to believe—as do all of us who don’t experience racism in our daily lives. To believe that being followed around in stores is real, fearing for the lives of young black sons is real, being pulled over for driving while black is real, knowing it’s real that police officers can escape justice even with video evidence of unjustified violence, having your qualifications questioned because of your race is real.
It’s also real in this country that for too long, we have allowed housing patterns, school funding formulas, and teacher and leader assignment policies—all supported by government actions—to create an educational system where students of color too often get a vastly inferior education. When families chooses to send their children to AF, I believe we make them a sacred promise. We promise to provide a world-class education that, combined with a ton of hard work by students and parents, will help students develop the skills necessary to graduate from top-tier colleges and serve as the next generation of leaders in our communities.
As part of this promise, we need to see our students, listen to them, and understand the pain that they may be experiencing, especially from national leadership that traffics in white supremacy through dog whistles and outright racist comments. We also must express our deep belief in their potential and challenge them with a rigorous curriculum and incredibly high standards for behavior and academic work.
With all this, I remain an optimist, mostly because I see the beauty, brilliance, and resilience in our scholars. Our students show us every day a beautiful vision of an America where diversity is a strength, obstacles only make us stronger, and love trumps hate. It’s our job to help our students clearly see this future and to support them to be the next generation teachers and principals, mayors and governors, scientists and nurses, CEOs and small business owners. And maybe even presidents.
Doug McCurry is the co-CEO and Superintendent of Achievement First.
When Ashly first arrived at Achievement First Bushwick Elementary in kindergarten, she didn’t speak much English and had not yet learned to read. An English Language Learner whose family emigrated from Mexico, Ashly began meeting four times a week with an ESL teacher who spoke with her in Spanish and helped her learn how to read by sounding out English words. Soon, Ashly had found her favorite book, “Elephant and Piggy,” and was reading three English books and one Spanish book each day. By the end of first grade, she was reading on a second-grade reading level. This is Ashly now.
What are you working on in school these days?
I am in sixth grade at Achievement First Bushwick Middle School. My favorite subject is history, because I like learning more about the past. Now my favorite book is probably the one we just read in literature class, "Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry" by Mildred D. Taylor. It's about slavery and how specific characters face challenges. The best thing I get to do in school is learning new things. Right now, I'm mostly learning lots of new things in math. Today I learned about ratios, ratio tables, and diagrams.
What is it like being an English Language Learner? Being bilingual?
I don’t really remember learning English, now it's just something that I know. I think I learned English right around first grade, and I stopped seeing my ESL teacher after third grade. Sometimes being bilingual is hard, because you need to remember words in both languages. I speak Spanish at home. I know English really well, and in Spanish I like learning more words. Not just the words, but also what they really mean.
How do you describe yourself to people who don’t know you?
I am hard-working. There are a lot of challenges that students like me face in school. Sometimes I don’t understand things that other students do. But I always work hard and that helps me do well. I also really love drawing, it takes my mind off everything. I like to draw different types of lines, shaded in different colors.
What do you want to be in the future?
Right now, I want to be a teacher. I like the idea of teaching other kids things that they didn’t know about, or teaching them more things about what they already know. I feel like my teachers have really helped me. They are always coming to me if I need help, or I can go to them for help, too.
Amazing! Thanks for sharing, Ashly!
The perfect gift for the educator in your life. It’s the holy grail of gift-giving - the optimal present that lets a teacher know how much you appreciate everything they do without breaking the bank (and hopefully, it’s something they actually want, too!).
This year, you had every intention of finding that perfect gift for the teacher in your life WAY before Winter Break. But before you knew it, there was one day left of school, and you weren't ready. But don't panic! We've got your back.
Here’s the AF quick guide to some of the best, and most appreciated, teacher gifts for this year. And all can be ordered and shipped in no time.
A Seamless gift card. For hard working teachers, finding time to cook isn’t always easy. And in the high-sugar months of November and December, a seamless gift card lets teachers get some warm and healthy goodness.
A Spotify gift card. Because who wants to hear annoying ads interrupting your pump up jams? Or you could go the Audible route. A gift of music and audiobooks is always a winner.
School supplies. But not crayons and paper. We mean the good stuff. Sharpies, glitter gel pens, a new day planner, or really anything from Paper Source.
Snacks. OK, so we know not everyone wants even more sweets this time of year. But some of us do! And for the rest of us, there's always savory treats. Here’s some inspiration for you:
Get crafty. A homemade cocoa kit goes a long way on a cold winter's night of grading homework (and if you include something to spice it up, we won’t tell!).
A teacher kit. Stuff it with wet wipes, band-aides, coffee, mints, etc and, of course, a sweet little note.
Fancy soap. Teachers wash their hands. A lot. Let’s make it special.
BONUS! If you’re a teacher, consider this one for your principal:
Whatever you do, make it from the heart. And don’t forget to include a handwritten note - after all, a “Thank You!” to acknowledge all their hard work and endless love might just be the best gift of all.
Marc Franzblau is the fourth grade social studies teacher at AF Bushwick Elementary. We sat down with him to learn more about his class.
Tell us about yourself and your background. What brought you to your current role?
After graduating from the College of Charleston with a degree in history, I joined the Peace Corps in Guatemala. I was a health and life skills teacher there, and that experience got me interested in teaching and social justice. Afterward, I knew I wanted to become a teacher, so I got my master’s in education at St. John’s University. I have been teaching for six years, with four of those at AF Bushwick Elementary.
I was a third grade literature and writing teacher for my first two years at AF, but I saw the amazing social studies curriculum and I thought it would be a perfect fit for me. I loved studying history in college, and I felt really excited about teaching it every day to kids. There was a time when I considered becoming a history professor, so this role is a perfect combination of many of my passions.
We heard you’re an expert on sharing historical context and making connections to current events during your lessons. How do you approach this intersection between past and present? How does that resonate with scholars?
I remember sitting in social studies class as a kid and desperately wanting to learn about what was happening in the present day, too. I was going home and reading the newspaper or watching the news every day, and I always felt dissatisfied that my teachers would never address current events.
Last year, in my first year in the role, I remember being particularly moved with the Terrence Crutcher police shooting, and I just felt like I had to discuss what happened with my students. Then, with last year’s election, my kids were eager to discuss what was happening in the news or ask questions about it.
I always tell my students that the first step to changing the world is to be knowledgeable about it. And in our current time, history is even more important. So, whenever something is happening in the news, I take a couple minutes from class to talk about it or take a whole flex lesson to fully study it if it is a big issue.
This focus has made a really big difference in my class. Students are more invested in the content and want to learn social studies and history because they see how it’s important to their life now.
Can you share an example of bringing history to life?
Our fourth graders went on an amazing field trip recently that I feel everyone should go on, especially all AF Brooklyn schools. Right here, in Brooklyn, was a very successful free African-American community that dates all the way back to the 1830s. Within this community, the residents established schools, churches and benevolent associations and were active in the abolitionist movement. The community has been preserved, and our students learned a lot about local history. It is called Weeksville Heritage Center, and I felt that students (and teachers!) really took a lot away from the trip.
You recently started a Student Government. Can you tell us more about that?
Last year, students took a survey, and many said they wanted to have more of a voice in our school. Students felt like they needed a way to share thoughts that might not otherwise come to the school’s or a teacher’s attention. Therefore, I wanted to create a student government that centered on making sure scholars had a place to share their voice. Each grade has a representative that students can sit with at lunch and talk to about ideas that they have for the school. Through this, they’re learning that a major part of their roles (and government in general) is constituent service.
The most important topic Student Government has been working on so far is bullying. Right now, our student government members are finding classmates we are struggling and finding ways to make them feel more included. For example, one student has pledged to sit with different students once a week at lunch. Another student has gone out of their way to make sure that a student with special needs has someone to play with at recess.
What about teaching makes you feel most connected to AF’s mission?
My dream is that my students will feel inspired about social studies and history and want to become a leader of our community. It is so clear that our world needs more elected officials of color. I hope that my class inspires an interest in government and public service.
Thank you, Marc! Hopefully, we’ll be seeing some of your scholars on the ballot or elsewhere in community leadership soon.
It's never too late for turkey!
Many of our schools hosted Thanksgiving meals to celebrate gratitude and thankfulness with each other.
Check out the gallery below for a peek at how schools across our network came together for food and fellowship.
Today, on Thanksgiving, and always - we're thankful for our entire Team & Family!
Jami is a 2016 graduate of AF Amistad High and a member of the Haverford College Class of 2020. We sat down with her find out more about the college leg of her journey.
What is your major? Why did you choose that major?
I am a newly declared political science major and history minor! Coming from a place like Amistad, and being a black female during such a politically provocative time, I am innately passionate about social justice. My first year of college, I had no idea what I wanted to major in, but I knew I wanted to get involved in the social sciences. In high school, I loved all my classes so that made it hard to choose. Since I knew I was a great writer, I pursued disciplines like English and art history at Haverford. After taking classes in various subjects, I realized my love for political theory and public policy. I took a chance on myself, and took an American Economics and Politics class and really loved it! I am a history minor because I've been a history buff since I took eighth-grade history with Mr. Widmeyer at Amistad Academy Middle school. It's key for political science majors to have a thorough understanding of contingencies in history to broker future policy.
What is your favorite thing about college?
My favorite thing about college is all of the friends that I've made here at Haverford, and the relationships that I've built on campus. Haverford is home to some of the greatest minds and kindest souls that I've met, and because of these people I don't think I will ever regret my college decision. Everyone here is always willing to help you, but most importantly make you a better person. Because of our Honor Code, people are incredibly honest and always have your best interest at heart, whether they are your professor or someone you sit next to on the Blue Bus to and from classes.
How did Achievement First prepare you for college?
I'll be forever grateful for the motivation and work ethic that Amistad has instilled in me. Sometimes when I'm over-analyzing something, or spending a lot of time ensuring a project is precise, I realize that my time at Amistad made me this way – and I am better for it. At Amistad I learned persistence, how to stay focused and how to self-advocate even when I may not want to.
The pre-college program at Amistad exposed me to a lot of different disciplines, and I was inspired to pursue them in college. My freshman year of high school, I attended the Bryn Mawr Blue Tree Summer Program, a writers workshop. Bryn Mawr is Haverford's sister college, and we have a consortium, so I love taking classes there now! Later in high school, I attended the Pennsylvania State University Science Leadership program where we conducted nanotechnology research, and there I stepped outside my comfort zone academically. During my final year of high school, I attended the Skidmore Pre-College Program, where I was able to do some Anthropology ethnographic research with a professor there, and I also was able to take a Social Theory course there that I really enjoyed.
What are you favorite activities at college?
I'm pretty busy here at Haverford because of all of the activities that I'm involved in. I am currently the Co-Head of the Bi-Co Women's Club Soccer Team for Haverford/Bryn Mawr. Additionally, I am the Outreach and Advertisement Coordinator of a religious group on campus called Firm Foundation. A lot of what I do is digital promotion and graphic design. I help the club get in contact with students who may be interested in working with us and bringing more attention to what we do.
I also work with the Haverford Department of Audio Visual Services. I really love this job because I not only get to set up for great speakers and performers that come to campus, but I get to meet and connect with them about opportunities as well! This job has allowed me to a lot of amazing writers, professors, and artists, and tap into academic conversations that I wouldn't normally have if I didn't have this job. I'm also a part of the Haverford College Democrats. Our aim is to get Haverford students more involved in local elections and democratic initiatives on campus. In the future, I hope to run for Student Council at Haverford, and become more active about making changes where they are needed.
What career/field do you want to pursue after college?
After Haverford, I plan to go to graduate school and get a master’s degree in public administration. My desire for public equity goes beyond my time at Haverford, so I would love to gain more education on how I can be a better asset to society, and what being a leader in a community looks like economically and politically. Though I cannot pinpoint my dream job, I would love to work in the public sector, lobbying, policy analysis, or go into non-profit management. Who knows, maybe you can vote for me for president in 2040?
Jami, you've got our vote! Thanks for sharing your story.
At Achievement First, our story is about our students, teachers, leaders, families and community members. It’s the story of first-generation college graduates and the children of college professors. It’s the story of what happens when potential meets opportunity. Above all, it’s a story of hard work, high expectations and radical love.
This is the story of all us.
To read more, click below to enlarge and view the digital version of Our Story, the 2017 Viewbook. You can also download a PDF version here.
In light of recent tragedies, both close to home in New York and across the country, we wanted to share some resources. These resources that have helped us start to process and fight the feeling of powerlessness, and we're posting them here in case you find them helpful, too.
- LiveFree - A campaign designed to minimize gun violence and incarceration in the United States. Donate, join, or just scroll through for more information.
- 30 Actions – A list of 30 things you can do now to combat gun violence, including donating to reform groups, calling your members of Congress, learning about current legislation and more.
- An article that highlights the main arguments used by pro- and anti-gun-control individuals.
- A Vox article from January about the effects of travel bans and whether they prevent terrorism.
- A profile of a New York principal working to keep students safe in the wake of violence.
Do you have any films, books, articles or other resources you’ve turned to recently for strength and motivation? Please feel free to share them with us.
It's an exciting time at Elm City College Prep, where we're just wrapping up the first round of Expeditions for the year. Expeditions are one of our favorite parts of the Greenfield model. Over the past two weeks, scholars have gone on 27 field lessons, learning from over 15 different professionals, working in teams of 3-5 to tackle real world problems and sharing their learning through 15 showcases. They are trying on and figuring out new roles - nutritionist, Mars rover driver, Instagram activist, bird biologist, as well as group leader, teacher, expert and team member. And we're blown away to watch them explore these roles as they tap into their passions and interests.
For a peek at what our scholars have been learning, check out this slide show. And you can also read on below to learn more about each of the Expeditions.
Kindergarten: Kindergarteners have been learning all about composting and garden work! They visited a Fair Haven community garden, where they tasted, smelled, examined and felt fruits and vegetables like collard greens, squash and tomatillos. At Common Ground Farm, students got an introduction to composting: they visited a 10-foot-long worm bin and learned how those worms break down food scraps into nutrient rich soil.
First Graders are learning all about forest animals and their shelters. The expedition kicked off with a visit from a hedgehog, a ferret, a great horned owl and an eastern box turtle. They visited the Bushy Hill Nature Center, where students searched a pond for tadpoles and went on a forest hike in search of burrowed amphibians. They used forest materials to build appropriate shelters for the newt and salamander that they found.
Second graders are becoming weather experts! In their Expedition on mountain meteorology, they participated in a series of investigations involving air pressure, temperature and wind. After experiencing storm-level winds in the Connecticut Science Center’s Tornado Capsule, scholars measured weather conditions outside ECCP with pinwheels and digital anemometers. Ask them what trends they found!
Mini Med School: The class is incredibly invested in becoming medical professionals! They learned best practices in doctor/patient relationships through role play, practiced suturing a wound on a banana and worked on cast making. They’ve loved wearing scrubs, face masks and safety gloves.
Bird Field Biology: Our bird biologists have been building their bird biology knowledge and identification skills in class and in the field. They’ve seen many birds appear on their “stealth cams” and are working on doing their first round of data analysis to help the New Haven land trust with a research project.
Band: The Wolfpack band is working hard to live up to their “one band, one sound” mantra. They’re focused on preparing a few songs for the showcase.
Photojournalism: Our photojournalists have been perfecting their use of their Canon cameras to take professional photos. They’ve visited Yale Art Gallery to take photos and met with a photojournalist from the Hartford Courant who shared about his work and provided feedback.
Healthy Living & Nutrition: The health and smoothie experts have progressed from tasting different foods in order to understand their taste, water content and texture, to learning how to cut, peel and chop as team to now being able to design and revise their own smoothie recipes that taste, feel and look great.
Dance: Dance students have been working intensely on their lyrical and contemporary dances. They’ve been working in small groups to develop their own choreography which is rapidly building dance, teamwork and leadership skills. Look out for them at the showcase in costume and professional lighting!
Mission to Mars: The Astronaut Scientists have been learning all about Mars, space and life in the beyond. They even went to the moon (at the Science center)! They learned how to program a Mars rovers, built rover replicas and learned a ton about what is required for life to help them in their mission.
Sports: Our soccer stars have been working incredibly hard on their skills for the showcase. They’ve really upped their game this week and have seen their kicking, stopping, passing and teamwork skills increase rapidly! They also made their own uniforms to wear as they play.
Acting & Theater: Elm Shakespeare’s actors are working hard to bring Shakespeare’s words to life and into the 21st century by turning them into short plays they are creating. They’ve worked on play fighting, using their full body in acting, voice and commitment to character.
Activism & Social Media: The social media activists are hitting their social media stride. Follow them @greenwolves407 to stay up to date on their discoveries and activism. Scholars audited paper use at Elm City and visited Cold Spring School down the street to get ideas. They then prepared a proposal on how to improve to their school's director of operations.
Coding & Robotics: Our Robotics students are focused intensely on preparing for their First Lego League Competition. They are working hard on programming their robots as well as learning about the context of the challenge this year, water, by studying water pollution issues on a national and local scale.
Special thanks to Rachel Kerner from Team Greenfield for collaborating on this post.
Great news! Finally, crisp, exhilarating, glorious fall weather has arrived on the East Coast. So let’s enjoy it while it lasts. This weekend, take a break from Common Core, rapid feedback and daily lesson resources. There are pumpkin-spice lattes to be ordered! Sweaters to be worn! And of course, apples to be picked.
Here are some of the best reviewed local farms where you can joyfully pluck said apples. And Brooklyn folks: no car is no excuses. Many of these places are a mere Zipcar or train ride away.
Bishop's Orchards Farm Market & Winery - 1355 Boston Post Road, Guilford
Family owned, environmentally friendly and simply adorable. This place also has wine tasting. Yes please!
Clark Farms at Bushy Hill Orchard - 29 Bushy Hill Road, Granby
Great place, great name. In addition to apple picking, there’s something called “Ice Cream Land." Sold!
March Farm - 160 Munger Lane, Bethlehem
Glorious landscapes and bountiful baked goods. Not sure what a “hayloft playscape” is but we’re in.
Jenkins-Lueken Orchards - 69 Yankee Folly Road, New Paltz
On public transportation: Take the Trailways bus from Port Authority to New Paltz bus (and taxi) station in downtown. Hop a 10 minute cab to the farm.
Apples and pumpkins, ripe for the pickin’. Plus, New Paltz has the best fall leaf peeping ever.
Wilkens Fruit & Fir Farm - 1335 White Hill Road, Yorktown Heights
On public transportation: Take Metro North to Croton Harmon. Call a cab in advance.
Need evidence that apple picking isn’t just for kids? Look no further than the winery at Wilkens.
Fishkill Farms - 9 Fishkill Farm Road, Hopewell Junction
On public transportation: Take the Metro North’s Hudson Line to Beacon. Then take about a 20 minute taxi ride.
Two words: Birthday parties! Come for the hayrides, stay for the cake.
Pippin Apple Orchard - 751 Pippin Orchard Road, Cranston
Picking apples for your homemade apple pie is great. But you know what’s better? Buying a pie at the orchard farm stand. Life hack!
Steere Orchard - 150 Austin Avenue, Greenville
Go ahead, pick yourself some apples. But don’t even think about leaving this place without getting on a hayride. Treat yourself!
Knight Farm - 1 Snake Hill Road, North Scituate
In case you get peckish from all that pickin’, this orchard even has it’s own down home restaurant.
And there you have it! We expect to see copious amounts of Instagram Stories (and we wouldn’t mind if you brought us back some apple-based treats, either!).
Happy Fall, y’all!
We are thrilled to announce that we've selected the next cohort of leaders for the Charter Network Accelerator! We feel honored to support our networks in their efforts to provide an excellent education for students in communities across this country. This cohort joins a national network of Accelerator leaders from three previous cohorts. With all four Accelerator cohorts combined, we are serving nearly 60,000 scholars!
Our vision at the Charter Network Accelerator is to increase the number of top quality school seats available to parents across the country who are seeking an excellent school for their children. As part of that vision, we also aim to increase the number of prominent, high-performing charter networks led by leaders of color, so that the leadership of the charter sector more closely resembles the communities we aspire to serve. The Cohort 4 leaders listed below - like the leaders in our previous cohorts - bring with them deep dedication to improving education and each have extraordinary stories of achievement. We are excited to learn from their accomplishments so far and to support them in getting stronger as they grow their networks to serve more students.
Congratulations to Cohort 4!
Amethod Public Schools (CEO: Jorge Lopez)
Bright Star Schools (CEO: Hrag Hamalian )
Envision Education (CEO: Gia Truong)
Ewing Marion Kauffman School (CEO: Hannah Lofthus)
Gestalt Community Schools (CEO: Yetta Lewis)
Henderson Collegiate (CEO: Eric Sanchez)
LEARN Charter School Network (CEO: Greg White)
Navigator Schools (CEO: Kevin Sved)
Neighborhood House Charter School (CEO: Kate Scott)
New Beginnings Schools Foundation (CEO: Michelle Blouin-Williams)
RePublic Schools (CEO: Jon Rybka)
Village of Excellence Academy (CEO: Cametra Edwards)
We are so proud to welcome these organizations to the Accelerator!
To recommend a network for future participation, please email LainaVlasnikYip@achievementfirst.org with your referral.
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Anthony Rosario is a member of our External Relations team at Network Support.
When I was younger, Hispanic Heritage Month meant taking out the flags of the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. I’d tell my classmates all about where my family is from, the food we eat, speak some words in Spanish and play music “we” like to listen and dance to. That’s what I thought I was supposed to do, and so I did it. Over time, I realized that my parents and my extended family in the Caribbean don’t celebrate this month, and they didn’t get why it exists “aya fuera” (“out there”—AKA, the continental U.S.). As I’ve grown older, I have thought about the meaning I give to this month. I have learned through school and lived experience, that Hispanic Heritage Month is more than just about flags, food and celebration.
I was born and raised in New York City. I have an American passport. I speak English and Spanish fluently. I have attended public and private schools. And yet, I am different from other people who have had those same experiences as a United States citizen/resident. I feel like I have been existing in two distinct worlds all my life. In one world, I have grown up as a U.S. citizen that has had a pretty privileged life, relatively speaking. In the other world, I have lived an immigrant experience with extremely strong ties to people outside of the U.S. mainland. I felt like I didn’t totally belong in the U.S., and I didn’t totally belong in the island nations that my parents and extended family called home. This month has helped me appreciate my roots and also the complexity behind identities.
Regardless of how complex this identity is, I feel myself identifying as Latino/Hispanic, and I carry that with me everywhere I go, including work. I bring my heritage with me when I talk about my large family of close to 200 including aunts, uncles, and first cousins, when I translate a student recruitment document into Spanish, and when I speak to AF families in Spanish on the phone or at school. When I can help a family understand admissions at AF and talk to them in Spanish about the questions they can’t explain in English (or that they are shy to ask in the presence of English-only speakers) my identity shines through. I can show them that I “get them,” and some families find comfort in that. I also bring my identity to work when I care for my coworkers like they are extended family. Sometimes it’s challenging to work with people that don’t totally understand you and your experiences. You don’t always speak the same language, and you have a multitude of differences between you. There comes a point when you finally understand each other, and you find commonality. When I find comfort, trust, and joy with my coworkers, it's like they are finally part of the extended family.
Recently there has been a unifying force outside of shared identity—the natural disasters in Mexico and the Caribbean have brought many people together to help others recover. I was emotionally affected by the news, but I was most personally affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Hurricane Irma was the first to pummel through the Caribbean. I was concerned for my family because it grew into a Category 5 storm and there wasn’t a way to get them out of Puerto Rico. Luckily Irma wasn’t a hard hit to the island. But it still knocked out water and power to my family and to many on the island. I talked to my family every day to see how they were doing and if they had the necessities. They were OK and mostly annoyed that it took them almost a week to get power and water restored.
When my family had their power and water back on, they thought things going forward would be business as usual, but they were wrong. About two weeks later, Hurricane Maria finished the destruction that Irma started. At 9:30 a.m. on September 20th, I had the last conversation with my family before hearing on the news that Maria as it entered the island, knocked out the weather radar, power to the majority of the island and all telecommunications. I found myself inconsolable knowing that my mother and the majority of her large extended family were now in the middle of the worst hurricane the island had seen in almost a century. The island has been slowly recovering since Maria left both Puerto Rico and my emotions in shambles. Since the Hurricane hit, I’ve finally contacted my family. I was able to bring my mom and pregnant niece to the mainland to live with my sister in Florida. All of my family members are working together to provide family in Puerto Rico with money and the things they need to get by. For those that can no longer safely be on the island, we continue to try to get them safely to the mainland where we will have to adjust together to a new reality. I am beyond grateful for my large extended family for support during this recovery period. It will take time to rebuild but we know we are in this together. I no longer celebrate this month by waving flags and showing off all the wonderful things that make up my culture, I celebrate this month knowing the strength of my family and the communities that surround us—here in New York and in the Caribbean.
Jennifer Efflandt is a founding teacher at Achievement First Providence Mayoral Academy Elementary and English Language Learner (ELL) Coordinator for AF’s Rhode Island schools.
Why is Hispanic Heritage Month meaningful to you?
Throughout the year, and particularly in this month, I think it’s really important for our scholars to not lose who they are and to honor their identities—it is my biggest push. At AF Rhode Island, our population is heavily Hispanic and about 25 percent of our scholars are English Language Learners. I know what that’s like. Growing up, I was an English Language Learner myself.
I didn’t learn to speak English until I went to school. Despite being in a bilingual program, I found that as a college student, my Spanish wasn’t at the same level as my English and that I still had much to learn about my Guatemalan heritage. I had to be intentional by taking college/graduate level courses to increase my Spanish language skills and learn more about Guatemalan history. If I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t be the bicultural and biliterate adult I am today. It's important to me that scholars understand that you don’t have to choose between identifying as only “American” or only “Guatemalan.” You can actually be both!
We try to reinforce this at AF Rhode Island. Every day this month, teachers have shared a PowerPoint with a specific Latin American person throughout history, allowing scholars to learn more about who they are and where they came from. We’ve also celebrated Hispanic cultures by having scholars bring in cultural artifacts to school, come to school in culturally representative dress, and by hosting an end of month celebration dance for families.
How else do you make sure our school honors students’ cultures?
We have such a diverse population here—I can tell you off the top of my head I have a lot of students who are Dominican, Puerto Rican, Guatemalan, and El Salvadoran—and I want to make sure that’s acknowledged throughout the year. As the ELL coordinator, I always want people to keep in mind native Spanish speakers. I’m also a teacher, and I feel it's important for teachers to constantly ask themselves, “What else can I be doing in the classroom to view my non-native English speakers as assets?” It’s more than just ensuring that translation or resources are accessible. It’s a whole mindset.
What are the biggest assets of having English Language Learners and students from Spanish-speaking homes in our school?
I have worked as an ELL teacher for over a decade. Learning a new language and meeting lofty end of year goals is never an easy feat for ELL students, but they are certainly capable and can add so much to a classroom! Several of our ELLs are actually newcomers who just recently arrived from other countries. Tapping into their world view is so rewarding for all of the students and staff, because they bring rich experiences that we may not be able to identify with. They can teach us firsthand about the world.
How do you think your heritage and your experience informs your work and the way you see the world?
When I was young, I lived in Guatemala. I moved to Providence when I was 5 and actually lived in the neighborhood AF serves here. I grew up knowing many selfless, hardworking immigrants. Seeing them make sacrifices every day to ensure their children would have a better future fueled my work ethic and desire to also give of myself unto others. My experiences have also made clear to me that by valuing our scholars’ identities and native languages, we can help them become highly educated change agents in multilingual communities and areas of the world.
I also know that fostering native languages and cultural identities also helps parents stay engaged in their child’s lives and learning. Growing up with a family who couldn’t communicate with my teachers, my parents were still really empowering to me because we maintained a common language and heritage at home. Despite not being able to help me directly with my English language, they pushed me to be my best self, and challenged my thinking in Spanish. I think about that when I work with our parents and try to empower families so they also feel that they can be partners in their child’s education, regardless of language barriers. Everything I do in my work with non-native English speakers, I do based on my own experience as an ELL.
On this year’s state test, Zada made the most progress of any Achievement First Connecticut student, growing at least 2 proficiency levels in both ELA and math. We sat down with Zada, now a fifth-grader at AF Hartford Academy Middle, and her mother Symanther, to learn more about her and her success.
What did you think when you heard Zada’s results?
Symanther: I was not just surprised, I was shocked. Zada always said to me, ‘Mommy, I am going to do better, I’m going to push myself.’ At first, I thought she wasn’t going to be pushed too hard because she has a disability. When she was born, the doctors told me she wouldn’t walk, and she would have a learning disability, because she has cerebral palsy. There is stuff she doesn’t get, and she’ll get mad, but we push her. I always tell her not to let it deter her, and that it won’t pull her down. She walks, she does lots of things, and she made the most progress. I am so proud.
Zada: It was great. I was surprised, because usually my brother (twin Zane) gets the best scores. I was really excited to talk to my mom about it. I hugged my teacher and said, 'Thank you for pushing me.'
What are Zada’s favorite parts of school? How has she changed during her time at AF Hartford Academy Elementary?
Zada: I like ELA, but I also like math because my teachers make it fun to learn. They teach me division and multiplication. It's challenging to me, but I get through it. My teacher, Ms. Ewing, would go around the class helping people. She gave me the confidence and feedback to keep working which makes me stronger.
Symanther: I am so proud of how far she has come. From her first day at AF in kindergarten, she was behind, she felt left out, and I would be asked to come to the school because she was misbehaving and not listening. She started to get better and better, and in second grade, she really came into her own. I started noticing that there were no problems with her behavior. Now to see her recognized – not just for the state test, but she got an award at fourth grade graduation - I don’t want it to stop there. I want to keep pushing her in middle school and high school and college. This is the first step to the rest of her life.
What’s next for Zada?
Zada: When I grow up I want to be an artist or a cook. I help my dad bake bread, and I help my mom get ingredients and cook a meal. I also like being an artist because it takes a lot practice to figure out how to make art, but when you get the hang of it, you feel success. I like to draw all different kinds of things, and then paint my drawings after I finish them.
Symanther: Right now I am trying to figure out my career—I am studying nursing—and I want my kids to do better than me. I have seen big progress in Zada’s reading, and that’s a big priority in my house. She’ll learn new words and through reading and education, she’ll have a better life. This is just the beginning. We are going to continue to push her and tell her she can do even better.
Joey is a seventh-grader at AF Summit Middle School. This Hispanic Heritage Month, we sat down with him and his mom, Sunshine Ortiz, to talk about the importance of culture.
Why is Hispanic Heritage Month meaningful to you?
Sunshine: We came from Puerto Rico, and not many people know the struggles that my family went to just to get here. I am Puerto Rican and proud. This month means a lot to me.
Joey: I think of it as a special month, because I’m Hispanic, and the things I hear about Hispanics on the street isn’t always good. It’s nice to have a positive focus. It makes me think about how I see myself in a couple of years, being a Hispanic man and coming back to help out my city or help animals.
What does it mean to be from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria?
Sunshine: We are really involved with family because family is very important in our culture. We like to gather a lot. So many people in Hartford, it feels like 80% of us, we all have family out there in Puerto Rico. So right now, with the hurricane, everyone is really worried and trying to be OK, but without communication it’s hard. But it helps because a lot of people gathered in front of one of our local clothing stores—they had a big gathering just collecting donations to send out to Puerto Rico. People are also wearing red to show our love. Times like this one show you how much we can come together.
Joey: I think about it a lot and want everyone to be OK.
Can you tell us more about how you feel about your heritage?
Sunshine: I think it’s a little more difficult for us than it is for the average American to move forward in life. People can look at us differently, or in a negative way – because a lot of times being Puerto Rican means coming from struggle. I can find it quite challenging, but also inspiring. There are quite incredible Hispanics who really move forward and help out in the community.
Joey: When I think about being Puerto Rican I think about our language, Spanish, and just how nice and welcoming everybody is. We’re really easy to interact with, and we’re always making new friends and meeting people. I also think about how nice it is in Puerto Rico. I like the beaches there.
And what about food and music?
Sunshine: My favorite thing about the culture is our food. Our food is the best. I can’t pick one favorite food. I could never stop talking about this. As I talk to you right now, I am cooking some white rice, white beans with potatoes, chicken sautéed with onions and peppers, plantains and a salad. In my family, we also like Spanish music—salsa and merengue. We like to dance and have a good time and forget our worries.
Joey: I love the food. We eat rice and beans and chuletas, which are like pork chops, and all sorts of different things.
What do you see for Joey’s future? How does his heritage influence who he is?
Sunshine: I want Joey to always be proud of who he is, and I know he is going to be successful. So far AF Summit has broadened his horizons, and I know he has the motivation and ambition in him to succeed in whatever he wants to do.
Joey: I don’t see too many Hispanic heroes and that’s one reason why I want to succeed. In my old school, my teachers thought I wasn’t on the brighter side—I was always under reading level, not having good grades. But I have always put in effort. Now I’m at AF Summit, I’m always on reading level, I’m getting good grades, and I’m on the honor roll, the Principal’s List and the Dean’s List. It’s really opened my eyes that I’m smarter than my teachers at my old school told me. And I know I will always put in effort. I’m going to succeed either by being a veterinarian, or doing what my uncle does, which is helping out people in Hartford and helping people get into good schools.