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A model for co-locations
One building divided by four schools equals success in the Bronx
Long before co-locations became about squeezing scores of new schools — many of them charters — into already occupied school buildings, the Twin Parks Campus in the East Tremont section of the Bronx grappled with the issue of sharing space.
At Twin Parks, at least four schools have been cheek by jowl in one large building for more than 14 years. How they make it work could serve as a model for the now hundreds of co-located schools throughout the city.
Which is not to say it’s easy: The staff says it requires monthly meetings to discuss the use of shared space (and other issues that arise) as well as a great deal of flexibility and generosity on everyone’s part. Moreover, the schools have invented ways to integrate some of their educational programs to take advantage of having kids of different ages and varying needs in such close proximity.
“Bottom line, we’re here for the kids and whatever we have to do to make it work for them, we do,” said Chapter Leader Keriann Martin of CS 300.
CS 300, an elementary school that is the largest school on the campus, shares the building with P 10, a District 75 elementary school, and two middle schools, IS 129 and Kappa III.
The two elementary schools share one half of the building and the middle schools share the other. Each half has its own cafeteria. Generally, the two middle schools share the gym, and they and CS 300 share the recently renovated auditorium. There is a busy schedule of shifts for all the shared spaces — as one group leaves, the next group arrives.
Non-classroom space is used to the max so that students and parents have the room they need. Offices are subdivided into cubicles and shared by multiple staffers. Assistant principals give up their office space for occupational and physical therapy services when needed. And the CS 300 teachers’ lounge is used for parent meetings.
“We use every little space as creatively as possible,” says Martin.
Space is at such a premium that the English as a second language teacher at IS 129 uses the hallway for her classes and occupational and physical therapists at CS 300 do therapy with their students in the hallway when necessary.
“Even when there are frictions, everyone is always polite,” said Mark Anderson, a teacher at P 10, a special education school serving students who are medically fragile, which has five classes for a total of 60 students with a range of abilities. “I’m treated with great respect — there’s a high level of cooperation running from the top to the bottom of the building.”
Decisions on space sharing and other issues are made at monthly meetings by administrators from all four schools.
The schools’ faculties have also knocked down some of the barriers between their respective student bodies. Students from CS 300 and IS 129 regularly come to read to and with students from P 10 classes. CS 300’s after-school girls empowerment and conflict resolution program called SISTAH (Sisters Inspiring Sisters to Achieve Higher) builds such strong relationships among the 60-plus 4th- and 5th-grade girls who participate that many continue coming to help out even when they have moved on to IS 129 and Kappa III. The middle school kids get community service credits for helping the program, says guidance counselor Tawana Dimanche, the program’s founder.
Even the parents from the different schools are mixing with each other. Parents from the other schools come out to CS 300’s monthly parent workshops and parent book clubs, says Chapter Leader Martin.
Twin Parks Campus was founded in 1970, and originally housed two different schools: an upper school and a lower school. Since then, schools have been added, changed names and added grades; there even used to be a fifth school in the building, says IS 129 Chapter Leader Lauren Council.
Reflecting on the shared space, Anderson said, “We have a lot of reasonable people here, trying to do their best for kids. There’s no magic bullet: You can choose to get along or not.” At P 10, which has eight sites throughout the Bronx, he said, “we’re all experts at living in other people’s houses, but this one is exceptional.”