Reopening: Moving Toward More Equitable Schools
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EL's Curriculum Taking Hold In The Bronx

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    Alexis Margolin

Kendra Gardner, a 13-year veteran teacher at Baychester Academy in Bronx, NY, says that Expeditionary Learning’s (EL) English Language Arts curriculum has transformed her classroom.

“EL exposes the students to a variety of texts - fiction and non-fiction. Activities are hands on and provide opportunities for group work as well as independent practice. It has helped with the shift of providing the students with more rigorous instruction and lots of practice with text dependent questions. Students are able to articulate the learning targets and assess whether they have mastered them or not,” she says.

She adds that the curriculum meets the needs of both novice and veteran teachers, noting that the plans are very detailed and include mini lessons, independent tasks, resources and all the materials needed to cover state standards.

Baychester Academy is a pre-K through 5th grade school with a diverse, high poverty student population. Since Baychester started implementing EL’s curriculum in the fall of 2013, students have been performing at higher levels of achievement.

“The kids are involved in rich discussions and are assessing each other. They have access to rigorous texts and tasks and are having high level conversations,” Principal Cristine Vaughan notes.

On top of that, progress is being seen on other assessments. From 2013 to 2014, the school “exceeded targets” on state ELA assessments. The percentage of Baychester students who are performing at or above proficiency as defined by the state ELA exams climbed 8 points to 30% in 2014.

In a recent New York City Department of Education Quality Review, the school received the highest ratings on four out of five measures covering curriculum, assessment, school culture, teacher teams and leadership, and high expectations - a two level jump over the previous two years.

Also, parents love the curriculum. “They’re happy we chose it and know the kids are
getting rigorous instruction on important topics like human rights,” Cristine says.

The collaboration and growth mindset of the teachers at Baychester have been key components of the successful implementation of the curriculum. Cristine notes that teachers selected the curriculum after piloting it in the spring of 2012. “They had time to explore the materials and had a say in what was happening and were invested in the decision,” Cristine says. “They liked the rigorous text and the way the lessons aligned to New York State standards.”

This spirit of teamwork is part of the school year. The teachers have regular grade level meetings where they plan lessons together. “The curriculum is written as a guide. It’s up to us to make it work for our kids,” Assistant Principal Janine Lawrence says.

She adds that professional development from EL at Baychester has been invaluable. “Our EL school designer helps teachers align their lessons to the New York power standards through the
inclusion of questions designed for our students,” Janine says. “We maintained fidelity to the curriculum, but were able to make adjustments.”

Janine recommends the curriculum to any school looking to improve student outcomes. “It provides a clear guide to what’s needed to meet the standards,” she says.