NYF charter school expands to middle grades

Children and teachers at the Mott Haven Middle School For Social Leadership cut the ribbon on Wednesday, August 30.
Photo by Silvio Pacifico

A charter school in Mott Haven is expanding into the middle school grades, and its leaders believe it will serve as a model to others working in the child-welfare space.

The New York Foundling’s Mott Haven Academy Middle School for Social Leadership launched at the start of the 2017-18 school year.

The school community celebrated with a ribbon cutting outside the building on Wednesday, August 30.

The opening of the school builds on a concept that the Foundling implemented at Mott Haven Academy for its younger children: integrating social services and a trauma-sensitive curriculum into traditional education for children who part of either foster care or preventative services.

Two thirds of the school’s seats are for children who are ‘child-welfare involved,’ with the remaining third from the Mott Haven community, according to Jessica Nauiokas, it’s principal.

Bill Baccaglini, NYF president, said the young people in the child welfare system often don’t fare well in traditional classrooms because teachers must teach to the ‘middle of the class’ and the children that his organization works with exist on the margins of the class.

“I am ecstatic about the ability to open up a middle school because that means I am going to be able to continue to educate these kids and move them further along in their educational careers,” said Baccaglini.

The president and CEO of NYF, a charitable organization that works with children in foster care and those experiencing various challenges, said the expansion into a middle school is not where their experimentation in new educational methods ends.

“We are not done here, I am going to soon start looking for a site to do a high school,” said Baccaglini, adding that he doesn’t envision growing into a charter school network.

He said that the school has experimented with different methods specifically geared toward the students it focuses on.

Baccaglini said he sees in Mott Haven Academy in the mold of the traditional idea of a charter school: a laboratory of testing new ideas in education that then can be brought to traditional public schools, as well as to schools working specifically with children in the child welfare system.

At the time of it’s founding (the school opened its doors in September 2010 in LEED-certified building at 170 Brown Place) there was no other school doing what NYF wanted to do, said the president.

“Because of the challenges that they’ve faced in their short lives, their educational journey is not a linear one,” said Baccaglini of the school’s children. “It is one where teachers have to be sensitized to the triggers in these kids lives.”

Nauiokas said that the building houses medical, dental and mental health clinics. Social workers assist the children as well.

The principal said that since the early days of the school’s founding, making the school K-8th grade was important.

“The main reason is these adolescent years are very tricky for kids to navigate,” said Nauiokas.

Navigating their adolescent years in an isolated middle school setting with new teachers and friendships isn’t the best timing for children, she said.

The children can now remain in a familiar setting with teachers they know, she said.

Reach Reporter Patrick Rocchio at (718) 260–4597. E-mail him at procchio@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @patrickfrocchio.

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