the voice

Fariña sings praises of Queens charter school with a music theme

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Chancellor Carmen Fariña visits a third grade class. Early elementary years are where students are most likely to be in classrooms that exceed recommended sizes.

The fourth graders in Madolyn Accola’s class at the Voice Charter School on Thursday sat on a rug, slowly chanting sounds that made the room sound more like a monastery than a music classroom.

“Ta-tuuu, ta-tuuu, ta-tu-te-ta,” the students said in unison. “Ta-tu-te-ta-tuuu, taa taa.”

The sounds, known as rhythm syllables, are a part of everyday life for Voice students, who begin learning them in kindergarten and continue daily music classes through middle school. Reciting the syllables is a cornerstone of a Hungarian method, called Kodaly, that trains students to be able to perform music on sight.

The technique is also one way the school works to boost its young students’ language acquisition, especially among the English language learners who make up 18 percent of Voice’s student population, compared to 14 percent citywide. That’s what brought Chancellor Carmen Fariña to the Long Island City charter school for a 90-minute visit on Thursday morning.

“To me, it’s not just about the singing,” Fariña said. “It’s how the singing is used.”

Though the de Blasio administration has had a contentious relationship with the city charter school sector, Fariña has made regular visits to some of the city’s 197 charter schools. Voice represents the type of charter school that Fariña and Mayor Bill de Blasio have especially warmed to: usually small, unaffiliated with a large charter management organization like Success Academy or KIPP, sometimes unionized, and often operating in private space. The schools also tend to be on good terms with local elected officials and community leaders.

“They’re embedded into the community,” State Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan said of Voice during the visit, noting the school’s relationship with a service organization across the street serving incarcerated women and children.

The school is also performing well academically. Seventy percent of Voice’s students were proficient on last year’s math exams and 39 percent were proficient on the English exams, scores that ranked it among the city’s top-performing charter schools. Among more than 60 schools unaffiliated with a charter school network, Voice ranked second in math.

Fariña has said her school visits also serve as search missions for innovations that could be shared with other schools. After seeing six classrooms during her visit to Voice, she said the school’s approach to music instruction was a potential model for district schools.

“In some of our schools, we have music for two grades or after school,” Fariña said. “This is very much incorporated in the whole school day.”

But Headley, who was part of the city’s inaugural Teaching Fellows class in 2000, noted that he left the Department of Education after eight years as a teacher and assistant principal because the school he wanted to open wouldn’t have been possible as a district school.

“There wasn’t a way in the New York City district school schedule where it was possible to have music every day,” Headley said. The charter model then proved useful in other ways, he said, such as giving teachers more preparation time each day.

Still, Fariña believed that schools could learn from Voice, whose early grades are co-located in a school building with P.S. 111, and said she’d like the school to join her Learning Partners program. Officials have said that recommendations from a Fariña-headed working group tasked with coming up with recommendations for de Blasio to improve school space-sharing will be released soon.

“I think it’s really, really important that schools like this thrive and do well,” Fariña said after the visit.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.