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Brooklyn International High School at Water’s Edge

For many of its students, Brooklyn International High School is the first school they attend in the United States. All of Brooklyn International students are non-native speakers of English who, at the time of enrollment, have been in the United States for fewer than four years. They represent nearly 40 nations and speak 30 languages; many students are refugees. Such cultural and language barriers pose a tremendous challenge to the school’s teachers who strive to prepare each of their students for higher education.

In 2008, Brooklyn International was one of only three schools to receive a score of over 100 points on New York’s annual public school progress reports; it received the highest score in the city. In 2010, it was one of 15 New York City schools declared by the New York region’s Anti-Defamation League to be “No Place for Hate,” an initiative to celebrate diversity and combat bigotry. It was one of five schools to receive a gold star for “exceptional commitment” to the program.

Brooklyn International fosters a collaborative environment; teachers and students are organized into interdisciplinary teams. Classes travel together throughout the day, and students remain with the same teachers for two years. This arrangement maintains continuity and allows students and teachers to become comfortable with each other. Perhaps even more important, teachers can understand the academic needs and abilities of their students more fully.

"We work together on everything," Erin Collins says of the school’s teachers. Collins, who has taught history at Brooklyn International for nearly four years, participates on a professional development committee that meets weekly with the principal and assistant principal. The committee decides what kinds of professional development will work best for the school. The committee recently had teachers meet to discuss strategies to help struggling students. For instance, Collins says that teachers discussed one student who tends to take notes in class but only to make it look like she’s paying attention. Minutes later she will erase her notes, Collins says, as part of an avoidance technique. Teachers were able to alert one another about the student’s problem so they could help her. With this kind of professional development, “we have an opportunity to talk about kids and how they learn,” Collins says. As a result, the knowledge that teachers gain about an individual student doesn’t get lost when the student moves up to the next grade.

The school’s students are not separated or grouped based on knowledge, demonstrated ability or background; and they are expected to help one another to account for individual weaknesses. School employees believe Brooklyn International’s interdisciplinary, heterogeneous approach is a large part of its success in helping students develop academically and socially. In addition to project-based instruction that culminates in oral and written presentations, students get practical experience in other ways. For example, each student must complete a career internship to graduate. Also, each Brooklyn International student is expected to pursue postsecondary education. In recent years, 72 seniors have been awarded more than $2 million in scholarships.

At Brooklyn International, teachers receive the tools and professional development they need to succeed. Teachers meet weekly to discuss individual students, analyze data and share best practices to inform instruction. In addition, teachers visit one another’s classrooms to learn different strategies and offer feedback. Through these interactions, teachers reflect on their practices, provide meaningful feedback and make appropriate adjustments in their own classrooms.


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