Feature stories

Three educators, one opening day

Allison Brown, community school director

Gotham Professional Arts Academy, Brooklyn, a Community Learning School

Allison Brown, community school directorJonathan Fickies

Morning meditation. I woke up at 6:30, exercised and treated myself to a bagel because Queens has really good bagels. Then I drove to work in Bedford-Stuyvesant early because we’re starting a new thing this year: We have a meditation room that just opened in June, the result of a Community Learning Schools grant. We want to open it up to parents and students and all school staff. I meditated with the theater teacher and the social worker, and that was a good way to start the first day of school.

A noisy reunion. At 8:45, the students arrived. I was here all summer with just a few other people and the janitor, so it was really funny to hear laughter and yelling and talking in the halls — you know, teenagers are so loud. I was passing out packets of information for students to bring home to their parents, including a consent form for our dental clinic because we have vision and dental services throughout the year. Students also had to make selections for their club period, which is another Community Learning Schools initiative; we have volunteers from the community who lead noncredit courses in things like yoga, chorus, computer programming, dance, cooking and more.

Bringing the outside in. My job is to help coordinate the school’s access to resources and partnerships that address our students’ needs. My three main areas of focus are the arts, mental health and health care, and sports and fitness. New opportunities pop up all the time. In the morning, I got an email about free tickets to a Broadway play, so we’re going to see “School of Rock.” Later in the day, I met with a new teacher who’s teaching a class on activism called Justice League, so I gave him a list of ideas for organizations that he can reach out to for guest lecturers and field trips. At a Community Learning School, it’s really important to have as much contact as possible with the world outside the school walls.

Restorative justice protocols. I scheduled a retreat for our new peer mentor group program, which is the result of another CLS grant. Our 11th- and 12th-graders will be mentoring our 9th-graders, which complements our school’s shift this year to a restorative justice framework. I had a working lunch with our guidance team about developing a protocol for responding to various student crises that may arise — that will arise. We’re putting together an on-call texting system so a member of the guidance team is always available to respond.

Evening adrenaline. In the first month or two, there’s a lot to coordinate and set up. At home, I couldn’t go to sleep right away because I was thinking about work and emailing myself things to do. But in a good way! Every year I’ve been here, we’ve added more programs, more community connections and a clearer sense of what it means to be a Community Learning School. So it just keeps getting better.

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