Enrolling our children at Success Academy Union Square last August meant moving my older son from a highly regarded private school, where he was comfortable, and declining a spot for my younger son in a gifted-and-talented class at a district school. We made this risky choice because we longed for a school that was truly integrated, both socioeconomically and racially, and committed to the intellectual flourishing of all children. After a few months at Success Academy, I am thrilled with the results. I am not talking about test scores. I am talking about the heartwarming transformations I have observed in my children as human beings since they became Success Academy scholars.
Success Academy is the best educational choice I have ever made for my children. Here’s why:
1. They read excellent books at school, which they love to read. When my son was at private school, I was disappointed with the low quality of books that were assigned. Classroom discussions focused on poorly written texts, and the school library was filled with the latest books based on commercial toys and Hollywood movies. At Success Academy, a team of people that is dedicated to children’s literature reads and carefully selects every book. Scholars read great literature with rich characters and plots, both classics and emerging authors. Content matters, and scholars must back up their observations with evidence. These books and analytical skills make my kids’ minds buzz constantly with new ideas and connections.
2. They have a healthy and confident attitude toward tests and quizzes. My children are becoming more confident and excited about what they know because they have regular opportunities to show what they have learned. Success Academy scholars take tests so regularly that tests are no longer stressful for them. This is totally different from the stressful high-stakes tests that many NYC children undergo for admission to (and exclusion from) gifted and private schools. Success Academy tests are a humane part of the learning process; they help the children learn content thoroughly, retain what they’ve learned, and refocus on areas of weakness.
3. They talk about what they are learning in class – especially science – all the time. My children love having science, with hands-on experiments, five days a week. Early in the semester, they had a heated debate at the dinner table about whether and how metamorphosis was different from evolution. Dinner conversations were not like this before.
4. They explore subjects in depth through field trips that are part of the curriculum. Several times a month, they get out of the building to do something that is closely connected to what they are studying. I enjoyed chaperoning a trip to a park in the East Village, where all the second graders were able to view the Williamsburg Bridge. They drew sketches of the bridge and answered geometry-related questions. Back in the classroom, they read a biography of Emily Roebling, a woman who made possible the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge.
5. They are learning good sportsmanship by playing chess, games, and sports during the longer school day. Success Academy integrates many enrichment activities like chess into the school day, because a great education goes beyond academic subjects. In gym, scholars learn sports and dance. On regular Gamesdays, they play Monopoly and Blokus. All these activities emphasize cooperation and teamwork. The scholars are experiencing the desire and strategy to win while developing the maturity to lose gracefully.
6. They do “no-hesitation math” in addition to “conceptual math.” Most public and private schools teach “conceptual” math, but many affluent NYC parents send their kids to Kumon after school because their children aren’t learning math facts. The comprehensive Success math curriculum teaches concepts as well as numerical fluency, rendering after-school supplementing unnecessary. This is a recipe for the onset of healthy math obsessions: My children identify the math problems in everyday situations with more excitement and confidence than they ever did before.
7. They have friends of different colors, creeds, and classes. These differences are enriching, not divisive, when all scholars wear the same uniform and are held to the same high expectations.
8. They eat free, healthy lunches and snacks every day. All scholars get free lunch, eating alongside their peers, regardless of whether the family qualifies for free lunch. This ensures a healthy meal and minimizes any class differences among the children.
9. They get regular feedback, as do the parents. At Success, my children frequently bring home classwork with the teacher’s written feedback, and I get a weekly email with all assessment results. I am in touch with my children’s teachers via text message, email, and cell phone. They respond within 24 hours and are quick to set up a meeting or phone call during prep times if I have any questions or concerns. I have not experienced this degree of communication and response from teachers at any other school I have encountered.
10. They reflect on how following rules and managing their own behavior affects the people around them. Success Academy’s discipline code brings out consciously considerate behavior in most children. On a daily basis, kids move colors from best behavior (orange) to medium (green/yellow) to worst (red) and back again. Because of the day-to-day enforcement of these rules, my children appreciate how even small behaviors, like ignoring the teacher’s instruction, can detract from the quality of everyone’s experience. They are motivated to manage their behaviors and are increasingly aware of what it means to be a considerate member of a learning community. This disciplinary framework empowers children to create the respectful conditions under which intellectual engagement and joyful learning can happen for all.
Success Academy is truly a free public school network that maintains high academic standards for a diverse student body and, most importantly, produces human beings who are intellectually engaged, confident, happy, compassionate, and ready to navigate the world.
Thank you, Success Academy, for renewing my hope in public education as a path to a more equal and excellent democracy in America.