Roosevelt High School
"Anonymity is the power to rebel.
So says Janice Young, a teacher in a small learning community at Roosevelt High School in Yonkers, New York. "When you're not known to anyone, who's there to hold you accountable?"
Young teaches English in the Academic Improvement Magnet (AIM) program, a self-contained community for students repeating the ninth grade. Students remain together for all academic courses and occupy a separate wing of the school, with about 30 pupils on each team. "The difference is the personalization factor," she says. "The same teachers are teaching the same students. It builds in some accountability."
Roosevelt High School is a magnet school in Yonkers, NY. Its 1,600 students are drawn to the school's many specialized programs, including a computer track and a public safety track. With the district's only bilingual high school program, Roosevelt receives all of the city's English language learners in that age group. Nineteen languages have been identified at the school, and 71% of pupils receive free or reduced-priced lunch.
In the year 2000, the state of New York designated Roosevelt High School as a School in Needs of Improvement (SINI). This designation pushed staff to closely examine what was not working at the school and to consider new ways of doing things. To create a new program, a Design Committee composed of teachers, administrators, and students came together in spring 2001. It quickly became clear that opportunities for parent involvement were low, as were test scores. Also, in reviewing school records, staff found that the Roosevelt school had particularly high rates of suspensions and tardiness.
Based on the needs identified at the school, the Design Committee determined that teaming might help. This model, through which students are assigned to small learning communities and share teachers in common, was implemented in the fall of 2001. The school also placed parent and community involvement at the top of their agenda and made technology a central focus for improvement. The staff understood that professional development would need to be ongoing and responsive to what they were learning about student needs.
"We had to ask ourselves, 'What can we do to make it work?'" says Principal Bill Moore. "How can we adapt things according to the needs of the kids? Because when you start a program, nothing works the way it is supposed to at first. You have to make it work."
As a result, adjustments have been ongoing. At the program's inception, Moore regularly sent 45 teachers out to observe programs at other schools that were socio-economically similar. Staff members were able to bring back best practices that they believed in. (Those visits were funded through a Smaller Learning Communities grant from the federal government.)
Moore cites three main goals for teaming at Roosevelt: (1) promoting personalization at the school, (2) using data to make decisions, and (3) teaching "out of the box."
Personalization is built into the school's program via frequent student-teacher contact and ambitious approaches to parent/community involvement. The Data Committee has begun to analyze data for school use, considering such things as success rates in specific subjects based on gender or race. As an example of "out-of-the box" teaching, Moore refers to Young's use of old-time radio shows like "The Lone Ranger" and "The Shadow" to teach listening skills.
While the school has the curriculum of a high school, it also boasts the social supports of an elementary school. Teachers and administrators have put in place outreach programs that have significantly increased parental involvement. They have also helped the school adapt to a multilingual population and the community's transportation challenges.
On the walls of the school are welcome signs in multiple languages. Stationed throughout the school are guides who wear buttons that indicate their native languages. Teachers make it a point to keep each other and parents apprised of student progress. They contact parents when a student is doing well, not just when things are going poorly.
Weekly progress meetings are held among teachers to make good and critical comments about the development of students. The principal personally schedules all of his appointments with parents.
Parent-teacher meetings are designed to be welcoming and conveniently located. Although the school is located on the east side of Yonkers, off-site meetings are held at an elementary school on the west side of the city, home to a large portion of the student population. Parental guides act as cultural liaisons between the school and community, and parents are trained in English and computer skills at student-taught classes on Saturdays.
Administrators also addressed the issue of chronic tardiness, and ultimately determined that it stemmed from problems with public transportation. Students who had difficulty arriving on time now begin their school day at the start of the second period. This has dramatically decreased problems related to punctuality.
To Young, the English teacher, all of these adjustments have added up to a change in the overall climate of the school.
"For kids who are coming from unstable backgrounds, the stability of the school and our program is something they instinctively crave," she says. "The school almost becomes a second home. It's the one constant in their lives. If you create a safe haven, you tend to get better results academically."