When it comes time to apply to kindergarten in New York City, many parents are considering charter schools, and that often means exploring Success Academy’s well-known programs. While there is no single way to find the best kindergarten for your child, talking to the school and listening to parents are great ways to start. Kidz Central Station spoke with Success Academy and with Success Academy parent Alpa Patel to ask some questions you might have. So, if you are wondering, “Is Success Academy right for my child?” or “Should I apply to a charter school in New York?”, read on.
Kidz Central Station: What makes Success Academy different from other charter schools and from other schools in general?
Success Academy: Success Academy schools are distinct from other schools in our firm commitment to progressive pedagogy and to educating the whole child. We believe deeply that doing is at the core of learning, and Success scholars receive only 80 minutes of direct instruction (teacher up front) throughout the day. The rest of the day is devoted to discussion, small-group instruction, and hands-on learning — including inquiry-based science five days a week beginning in kindergarten (our students carry out more than 100 experiments each year!).
Our scholars explore and create through arts, chess, sports, recess, board games, creative writing, and project-based learning — and for kindergartners, blocks play and choice time. We believe that schools vastly underestimate the capacity of each child to think and achieve at a high level. Giving scholars the opportunity to do the “intellectual heavy lifting” as they grapple with challenging, complex problems and ideas makes learning not only engaging and appealing, but also deep and lasting. This progressive approach cultivates in our scholars a true zest for learning, and prepares them for the rigor and independence needed to succeed in college and in life.
Kidz Central Station: Why/how did you choose Success Academy for your child?
Success Academy Parent: This past year, we switched our son to Success Academy for 3rd grade. After attending K-2 at our zoned public school, he was unmotivated and disinterested in school and adopting lazy habits. We were frustrated with the lack of communication and feedback to parents. We had heard about Success Academy Union Square, which is in our neighborhood, from other local parents and knew of its reputation for academic rigor. At first, we were concerned that he might not be able to adapt to such a steep step up in standards, but we also knew he couldn’t continue on the apathetic path he was on. Kids accept challenges more easily than we think. Now, we wish we’d moved to Success Academy sooner
Kidz Central Station: Describe the typical Success Academy student
Success Academy: There is no “typical” scholar at Success. Our curriculum and instruction are very rigorous, and at the same time our schools are designed to ensure that every child receives the support and attention they need to meet their full academic potential. We provide individualized supports to scholars who need them, and acceleration for scholars who are ready to skip ahead. We celebrate, and work hard to cultivate, the “ACTION” values of Agency, Curiosity, Try and Try, Integrity, Others, and No Shortcuts. Our scholars tend to work hard, treat each other with great kindness and respect, and have a real enthusiasm for learning.
Kidz Central Station: What do you and/or your child like best about Success Academy?
Success Academy Parent: Our son constantly praises Success Academy when comparing to his old school. He enjoys being recognized for his achievements. He clearly understands what is expected of him and receives frequent updates on his progress. We like best that Success Academy has taught him to enjoy learning while understanding that school is important.
Kidz Central Station: We hear students take on advanced topics in early grades. Could you give some examples?
Success Academy: We introduce scholars to advanced ideas and concepts from a very young age through rich texts, complex problems, and purposeful discussions that help them make connections between their intuitive understanding and academic content. For example, any five-year-old can — with great precision — divide a cookie in equal parts to share with two friends. In kindergarten math, we introduce basic concepts of division and fractions through these kinds of real-world problems.
Our project-based learning (PBL) units use engaging topics to tap into scholars’ natural curiosity and push them towards advanced analysis and mastery. For example, during our second-grade Brooklyn Bridge PBL unit, scholars conduct experiments to learn the engineering principles behind bridge construction, build their own model suspension bridge, and paint the Brooklyn Bridge in art. In social studies, they read different historical accounts of the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, and debate the question of whether Emily Roebling was indeed the project’s chief engineer, as many historians now believe. They learn about labor and transportation conditions in New York City at the time the bridge was built, and write letters as 19th-century New Yorkers advocating for the bridge or for safer working conditions.
Kidz Central Station: What are kids reading in various grades?
Success Academy: Our approach to teaching literacy stems from our deep-seated belief that if children love reading and read exceptionally well, they can teach themselves anything. To that end, our literacy curriculum introduces scholars to great literature and emphasizes critical thinking, knowledge-building, and the thoughtful discussion of ideas. Kids read and analyze poetry, biography, history, fiction, myths, and fables, and write copiously in a range of genres.
In kindergarten, titles include The Story of Ferdinand, Caps for Sale, and Corduroy; in third grade, they might read My Name is Truth: The Life of Sojourner Truth, The Whipping Boy, and The Wizard of Oz. In fourth grade, titles include The Phantom Tollbooth, We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball, and The Rescuers. We are also passionate about poetry and by the end of fourth grade scholars have read poems by Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes, Robert Lewis Stevenson, Shel Silverstein, Maya Angelou, Victor Hugo, and many others.
Kidz Central Station: What is parent involvement like at Success Academy schools?
Success Academy Parent: If you have chosen Success Academy, then you will be involved in your child’s education. Many parents attend Community Circle meetings, volunteer as class parents, chaperone field trips, or meet with teachers to discuss schoolwork. We can text or email teachers and expect quick responses. When my son was sick one day, his teacher called and texted updates from the nurse’s office. Parents are accountable for their child’s homework completion and attendance. For example, my son’s class has been rewarded for 10 consecutive days of no absences or tardies a few times this year. And that takes dedication from parents.
Kidz Central Station: What is the one thing parents who are considering Success Academy should know, more than anything else?
Success Academy: Success Academy schools are truly joyful, celebratory houses of learning were scholars feel seen and loved. We place a huge emphasis on fun and silliness, and have regular, themed “spirit” days when scholars and teachers dress up as Dr. Seuss characters, superheroes, or 100-year-olds (to celebrate the 100th day of school). Days our peppered with dance parties, wiggle breaks, and celebrations of scholars who have displayed exemplary ACTION values like kindness to others and curiosity. Each class develops a strong identity as a team and community, striving to outdo other homerooms with class cheers, dances, and skits at Community Circle each week. This premium on joy and engagement informs our entire academic and co-curricular program. As our CEO puts it, “We believe that to fall in love with learning, schools have to be incredibly joyful places where kids are engaged, puzzled, and inspired every day. For that reason we prioritize things like chess, science five days a week, field studies, art, soccer, and music.”
Success Academy is currently accepting applications. The lottery deadline for the 2018-19 school year is April 1, 2018. Learn more and apply here.