When students enter our Promise Academy® K-12 Charter Schools, we make a promise to help each and every one get to and through college. Everything we give our students—from world-class instruction and exceptional extracurricular activities to social emotional support and healthy meals—is aimed at fulfilling that promise.
Promise Academy I and II are unlike any other schools. Not only do our students receive a high-quality, standards-based education, but they and their families also have access to HCZ’s comprehensive network of supports, including counseling, benefits assistance, and other social services. Admission is determined by a lottery, which gives preference to Zone residents to ensure that we are supporting children and families with the deepest needs. Because early intervention and consistent support are critical, we first open admission to three-year-olds, who are then enrolled in our Three-Year-Old Journey program, followed by our Harlem Gems® Pre-K program, to make sure they start school ready to excel.
Promise Academy I and II have a longer school day and year, helping us keep our kids safe and engaged, ensure their success in core subject areas, and give them an immersive, well-balanced education that includes exposure to the arts, daily physical activity, and field trips to museums, performances, sporting events and, of course, college campuses. In addition, our Promise curriculum includes grade-appropriate character education, helping students at every level build crucial non-cognitive skills such as resilience, perseverance, grit, and curiosity. We also provide on-site medical, dental, and psychological services, as well as a healthy, freshly made breakfast, lunch, and snack each day. Plus, the vast majority of our students participate in our after-school programs, where they receive extensive academic support and engage in a wide range of recreation and enrichment activities.
Innovation and evaluation are hallmarks of everything we do at HCZ and Promise Academy is no exception. We meticulously track student progress throughout the year, holding teachers and administrators accountable for results, ensuring our teaching methods are data-driven, and leaning in as necessary to give students the individualized support they need. And, indeed, our students at Promise often face tremendous challenges. During the 2014-2015 school year, 87% qualified for free or reduced lunch—well above the national average—and many will be the first in their families to go to college. Helping them thrive is a round-the-clock, all-hands-on deck effort—though one that is also tremendously rewarding for our deeply dedicated staff.
Our Promise staff consists of a host of specialists committed to helping our youth succeed, including talented, trained teachers, teaching assistants, literacy and math coaches, special education coordinators, guidance counselors, social workers, tutors, and Student Advocates, who work with students one-on-one, oversee their individual academic cases, and provide a crucial bridge between parents, teachers, and other stakeholders. Engaging parents—a child’s “first teacher”—is key and our staff make every effort to keep our caregivers involved through regular meetings, group workshops, and a staunch open-door policy.
Central Harlem is a community long plagued by failing schools. At Promise Academy, we do whatever it takes to get education right for every child, every time. In 2013, 98% of the Promise Academy I seniors were accepted to college and received nearly $1 million in scholarships.
The success of our students has also attracted the attention of experts nationwide. Harvard economist Dr. Roland Fryer and Dr. Will Dobbie at Princeton have conducted a number of important studies comparing Promise Academy students to their peers who entered, but were not selected in the admission lottery. In one widely-discussed, peer-reviewed paper they concluded that our Promise middle-school students had successfully closed the black-white achievement gap in math and narrowed the gap by half in English. Their most recent study found that our students have a stronger tendency to avoid risky behaviors. Girls at Promise demonstrated a 59% lower teen pregnancy rate and the incarceration rate among boys had been lowered by “essentially 100%.”
In a community where the youth have traditionally been more likely to go to prison than to college, these numbers are definitive proof of the power of our pipeline and the incredible promise of all our students, both at our charter schools and throughout the Zone.
Our students start every school day with a recitation of the Promise Academy creed: “We will go to college. We will succeed. This is our promise. This is our creed.”
To keep our kids steadily progressing toward their shared goal, Promise staff work to foster depth and breadth of understanding across the curriculum. Rigorous instruction in math and language arts helps students build a strong academic foundation, develop crucial critical thinking skills, and prepare for the State’s new Common Core standards. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, teachers reinforce and complement basic math and literacy skills through rich and engaging introductory coursework in history, social studies, and the sciences. In the 2014-15 school year, the students at both Promise Academy I and II Upper Elementary Schools outperformed their district peers on the statewide English and math tests. Students in 3rd grade at Promise Academy I and II outscored the City and the State in English, and students in 3rd and 5th grades at Promise Academy I and II outscored the City and the State in math.
Students also engage in regular physical and nutrition education and enjoy exposure to the arts, music, and the vast cultural opportunities that New York City has to offer. Thanks to an innovative partnership with Jazz at Lincoln Center, students at both schools are getting into the spirit of swing—learning key musical concepts and instrumentation, playing in a beginning jazz band, receiving private lessons from professional musicians, attending fun, interactive concerts, and gaining a much deeper appreciation for the history and culture of Harlem.
Because non-cognitive skills are crucial to long-term academic and personal success, character development is a central component of the curriculum. Through book clubs and group discussions, students learn about and cultivate key traits such as integrity, perseverance, empathy, confidence, and determination.
Middle school marks a pivotal period of transition. In order to help our students navigate this tumultuous period and prepare for the increased responsibilities of high school, our dedicated, caring staff work to ensure that each student receives the wraparound support necessary to stay on track academically, socially, and emotionally.
Core training in math and language arts is coupled with deeper study in the humanities and sciences. Early exposure to literary classics by Shakespeare and Chaucer helps students heighten and refine their reading and analytical skills, while fully equipped science labs and expert instruction help them discover firsthand the rigors and rewards of inquiry and experimentation. Activities such as Model United Nations Summits further help our kids not only think through the real-world applications of their coursework, but also develop greater confidence and communication skills.
In addition to engaging in wide-ranging fitness and enrichment activities, students meet regularly in gender-based groups to discuss character and social emotional issues such as peer pressure, bullying, insecurity, and conflict management. Trained social workers and guidance counselors are also on hand to give students individualized support and to give both staff and parents the expertise they need to provide consistent, coordinated support at school and at home.
We are committed to giving our students not only an exceptional education that includes content mastery in key areas and strong cognitive and critical thinking skills, but also a safe, supportive environment in which to explore their interests and come to better understand the world around them and their place in it. In the 2014-15 school year, students in 6th, 7th, and 8th grades at Promise Academy I and II outperformed the district in math, and Promise Academy II outperformed the City and the State as well. In addition, students in 7th and 8th grades at Promise Academy had higher proficiency rates in English than both the City and the State.
College readiness is the keynote of everything we do at our two Promise Academy High Schools—and a rigorous, standards-based curriculum is just the beginning.
The Bard Early College Program, introduced at Promise Academy I in the fall of 2013, now offers intensive pre-college and college-level courses to a total of 124 9th-and 12th-grade students at both Promise I and II. In addition, we provide standardized test preparation courses and one-on-one tutoring as needed in a range of subjects. Students also engage in team sports, community service projects, and recreation and enrichment activities aimed at developing their skill sets, fueling their passions, and strengthening their character. And events such as debates and academic competitions build on coursework, while fostering determination, resilience, and critical thinking skills.
Many students also participate in pre-college programs over the summer to help get them ready intellectually, emotionally, and socially for the responsibilities, challenges, and culture of college life. Trips to college campuses further their excitement, while helping them make informed decisions about the kinds of schools that best fit their needs and career goals. Finally, career exposure experiences—from visits to local companies to workshops with successful professionals—expand their understanding of the various paths available to them in their fields of interest, as well as the practical steps required to realize their dreams.
In 2012, we celebrated the graduation of the first Promise Academy senior class. It was an extraordinary event, not least because 100% of our seniors were accepted to college. In 2013, 98% of our seniors were accepted to college, receiving nearly $1 million in scholarships. Plus, 97% or more of the graduating class passed the Regents exams in English, math, global history and U.S. history—well above the statewide rates.
These successes—like all of our successes at HCZ—simply would not be possible without the tireless, concerted commitment of our staff. From teachers to coaches to social workers, each and every member of the Promise team does whatever it takes to support the academic and personal growth of our students and make sure they are prepared to flourish in and beyond college.