Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Williamsburg ties boost tiny El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice Read more:

Congratulations to the amazing people dedicated to the students at El Puente. They're doing wonderful job in educating future leaders!


BY Elizabeth Lazarowitz | DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Wednesday, June 24th 2009

A TINY Williamsburg school focused on social justice has made a huge leap when it comes to getting its kids to graduate.

At El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice on Hooper St., which has less than 200 students, the graduation rate jumped to 83.3% in 2008 from just 57.5% in 2007.

Linking what kids learn in the classroom to projects and activities in the community helps keep students engaged, said Principal Hector Calderon.

Students working on math, he said, have analyzed lending patterns at neighborhood commercial banks, and those studying science head down to the Williamsburg waterfront to check on particulates emitted by local power plants.

"They're applying what they learn in class to real issues that speak to their issues, their communities, their world," he said. "It's a great motivator."

Having classes that tie into the neighborhood hits home for the valedictorian of the school's 2009 graduating class, Karina Lopez, 17, who lives in Canarsie and will attend City College in the fall.

"As minorities, we go through struggles every day, and everything we learn here - whether it's science or math or history - comes back to the community," Lopez said.

The social justice idea even extends to art class, where students have made posters expressing their views on gentrification, said Alex Moronta, 18, a graduating senior.

Addressing current events in the curriculum "changed my high school experience," said Moronta, who lives in Bushwick and plans to go on to Lincoln Technical Institute.

"It gave me knowledge and enabled me to be more aware of what was going on in my surroundings."

Keeping students focused as the school moved through four different locations in nearly three years hasn't been easy, but frequent feedback from teachers helped keep them on track, Calderon said.

"That clarity allows students to know exactly what the expectations are."

Students at the school are exempt from state-mandated Regents exams, and instead have to present portfolios of their work to a panel, Calderon said.

"It's very reflective," he added.

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