Autonomy at Oakland International High School

This week’s blog post is written by Toby Rugger, a founding teacher at Oakland International High School. Toby writes about his interdisciplinary teaching team – which consists of an English, a math, a history, a reading, and an Arts/PE teacher – and both the decisions they make as a team and the decisions the whole faculty makes together.

Team Autonomy: Team meetings

7mzr7wlyWe always start our Tuesday after-school interdisciplinary teacher team meetings with “The Good, the Bad and the Personal.” In this ritual, before discussing serious issues on our agenda, the teachers on our teaching team check in with each other about something good happening in our classes, something bad happening in our classes, and something personal that’s happening in our lives. I like this ritual because taking time to reflect on the positive and building inter-personal relationships with other teachers are two things that enable me to get through all the “bad” things we face when teaching. The fact that we created this ritual ourselves just serves as a small example of how teacher ideas are heard and incorporated into our school on many levels. After this ritual, our team leader asks for items for our agenda; when the agenda is set we often have conversations such as this one:

Teacher 1: “So, what are we going to do about Frank getting out of his seat all the time? It’s really distracting other students and is driving me crazy.”
Teacher 2: “Call his mother and have her come in.”
Teacher 3: “I think we should have a team meeting with him.”
Teacher 1: “In my class, I already told him he needs to ask for permission before getting out of his seat. I think we should all tell him that.”
Teacher 4: “I agree, I’ll tell him that we spoke and that all teachers expect him to do that.”
Teacher 2: “Sounds good. Is that all? Great. Now, the next student we were going to talk about was….”

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Studying Seagrass: Learning by Doing

Specimen of seagrass collected from the ocean is photographed and documented to preserve a piece of the original plant that provided each DNA sample

Last summer Anthony Finney, a living environment teacher at The Flushing International High School, went to Australia to work with scientists from James Cook University’s Waycott Lab on extracting DNA from seagrass. In the Fall of 2009, the members of Science Challenge Club, which he co-mentors with Jordan Wolf, began a project to extract DNA from seagrasses collected in Tampa and San Diego. The goal of the project is to assist in the creation of an international genetic database of these ocean plants. Their first samples were recently shipped to a collaborating university in Australia. This spring, club members will extend the project to study the genes of trees planted around the school. A tenth grader, Cristy Linares, from El Salvador, describes her experiences in the first phase of this effort.

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The Interdisciplinary Team at the Internationals High Schools

The fourth core principle of Internationals Network is Localized Autonomy. By linking autonomy and responsibility at every level within a learning community, all members of that community can contribute to their fullest potential. This week’s entry, written by Daria Witt, the Director of Academic Affairs at Internationals, describes the interdisciplinary team, one of the key aspects of localized autonomy in our schools.

Teachers at an Internationals High School work in interdisciplinary instructional teams. Each team has four to six teachers who teach a group of 75-100 students throughout the day and week. In the same way that students are heterogeneously grouped to work on collaborative projects, teachers are grouped heterogeneously in terms of experience, discipline, language background, and gender so that all bring different perspectives to the table. Teams meet regularly to plan, to do case management for individual students, and to provide feedback on one another’s curriculum.

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Content Based English as a Second Language

This article is written by Nancy S. Dunetz, Ed.D., a founding teacher of The International High School at LaGuardia Community College, who now mentors and coaches at a variety of Internationals.

Language is a medium for communicating, for learning, for thinking. When youngsters are taught a second language without purpose, it is unlikely that the language will be learned very well.

Students need to be able to do more than greet people, negotiate their way through the supermarket, write and produce skits, and leave messages on answering machines. The cognitive/linguistic demands on students include analyzing data, making inferences, comparing and contrasting, predicting, drawing conclusions, and all the other linguistic tasks we require of mainstream students in content classes. Without the opportunity to engage in these tasks, students cannot develop the skills.

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Learning English through Internationals’ Approach to Education

This week Fior D’Aliza Rodriguez Quero, who graduated from The Brooklyn International High School in 2005 and from Brooklyn College in 2009, writes about learning English through content and the effect it has had on her life.

Linda Darling-Hammond once said, “A democratic education means that we educate people in a way that ensures they can think independently, that they can use information, knowledge, and technology, among other things, to draw their own conclusions.” I couldn’t think of a better quote to describe the style of educating and learning of the International high schools in New York City and California. As Ms. Darling-Hammond stated in the quote above, democratic education requires that both teachers and students learn; that is, teachers are not the ones who controls what they are teaching, but rather teachers encourage students to think on their own and to use the information around them to question it and keep searching for more. My experience at The Brooklyn International High School (BIHS) can be described as a never-ending one because, even after graduating from high school and going through Brooklyn College, I am still thirsty for knowledge.

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The Arts: Expressing Oneself Without Words

This week’s post is written by Ann McCormack, the theater arts teacher at The Brooklyn International High School.

With all that our students have to accomplish before they can graduate with a New York State High School diploma, why even offer art classes? Why not double up on English classes? Or have special English conversation tutors?

Founding principal of BIHS, Sara Newman, explains her choice to include the Arts this way, “I wanted to have an art teacher because I wanted students to have a way to express themselves without having to use words.” Without a word of English, students could share their thoughts, their concerns, and their imaginations through artistic creations. Our current principal, Pam Taranto agrees: “…the arts give English language learners a practical and creative point of entry without having to rely on verbal language as the only mode of communication.” As an artist and a teacher, I have witnessed many moments of self-discovery and self-expression.

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Interns at Internationals

Every spring semester, Internationals has a student intern from one of our New York schools. This post was written by Sharon Lungrin, COO and CFO of the Internationals Network for Public Schools, who works closely with each year’s intern. In this post she talks about the internship program in general and one intern, Mariama Bah, in particular.

The ultimate goal of the Internationals Network for Public Schools is to ensure that all recent immigrant English Language Learners have access to a quality high school education. As a staff, each day we use our diverse expertise to work to this end. We organize professional development events for our teachers, maintain our knowledge management system and advocate for the Internationals approach at the district and national level. All of this work is rewarding but does not put us in direct contact with our ultimate customers, our students.

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Life-Long Learning through Internship

This week’s blog post is written by Ibrahim Diallo, a Posse scholar at Trinity College, who did his high school internship at the Internationals Network for Public Schools office. Currently at the American University in Cairo for a semester abroad, he writes about what he learned from internship and the affect it has had on him.

My time in The Brooklyn International High School was marked by the incredible people that I met, from students to teachers. One of the greatest elements of Brooklyn International is the internship program. At the age of 15 or 16, students have the opportunity to write their resumes, apply for a professional job, go through the interview process and finally work in a professional environment for a semester. This is often something done at the college level. As a junior in BIHS, I had the opportunity to intern at Internationals Network for Public School, an organization that I am still involved with today.

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Service-Learning: An Experiential Journey

Seniors at The Brooklyn International High School have the opportunity of being on the “Be the Change” instructional team which includes service learning as part of its program. This article about “Be the Change” was written by Margaret Price, Americorps volunteer, Laura Berson, social studies teacher and Shahzia Pirani-Mellstrom, humanitites teacher.

“Some people in my community they don’t even know how to vote, and where they can get the papers for voting and that’s what makes me want to do actions to make a difference…because by voting it make their voices heard and their feeling share with other people that they share their daily life with,” Ahmed.

Ahmed’s reflection came after service-learning projects were incorporated into his 12th-grade English, Government, Art, Science and Math classes at Brooklyn International High School two years ago, when students created bilingual newspapers to inform their immigrant communities about living and working in New York City. Ahmed’s Government and English teachers, Laura Berson and Shahzia Pirani-Mellstrom, conducted surveys of students before and after their service projects to determine the impact the projects had. They found that 68% of students felt they could make a difference in their communities after completing service projects, up from 39% before their projects began. This overwhelming response led the two teachers, along with Kia DeCou and Jason Fleischauer, to design a pilot program, for 12th-grade students, that builds service-learning into the team’s academic curriculum.

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The Business of Learning

During March, our writers will be discussing Internationals’ second core principle: experiential education. This week, Lara Evangelista, assistant principal of The Flushing International High School, talks about internship and its effect on their students.

r69lrcp5It’s that time of year again. Although I am no longer an advisor in an internship program, I can always tell when it is in the air. The first sign is the buzz in the hallway of the twelfth grade classrooms, the anxious questions, the eager faces, the nervous energy. Next I notice the unusually quiet classrooms, normally filled with twelfth grade swagger, which now have students listening intently as teachers tell them about the adventure ahead of them. Slowly, I start to see more and more of these students following around their advisors like puppy dogs, clutching an interview card with them. Soon after, the real transformations begin. The boy who I usually have to ask to pull his pants up or take his hat off appears one day with a fresh haircut and a shirt and tie. A young woman who is late to school almost every day tells her friend that she can’t stay in the lunchroom any longer because she has an interview and does not want to be late. The chronically absent student suddenly starts showing up. Internship has begun.

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