The start of the new school year is a good time to reflect on one of The Foundling’s most ambitious initiatives, Mott Haven Academy, our charter school in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx which predominantly serves children in foster care and the child welfare system.
We’re very proud of the progress we’ve made at Haven Academy and we’ve learned a great deal along the way. Yes, even The Foundling, which has been caring for children and families for more than a century, can always learn something new about serving this at-risk population.
Simply put, kids in the child welfare system have some different needs than other kids. Nationwide, research has shown that children in foster care have lower attendance rates than their peers, are less likely to perform at grade level, are more likely to have behavior and discipline problems, are more likely to be assigned to special education classes and are less likely to eventually attend college.
When we first opened Haven Academy in 2007, we enrolled 90 students in the kindergarten and first grades in a space we shared with PS 43. In 2010, we excitedly moved the students and staff across the street into their own LEED certified building. In an effort to provide a comprehensive support system for the children and their families, trained social outreach counselors, community clinical programs and a medical clinic run by The Foundling are housed in the same building as Haven.
This year, Haven Academy has grown to approximately 265 students in grades K-5 – we’re well on our way to its ultimate capacity of 314 students in grades K-8. Throughout the past 5 years, we have also dedicated a significant amount of time to the development of our school culture and social curriculum as we believe both are important complements our educational program. In partnership with the Harlem YMCA, we also launched a summer school program, Summer Academy, so that the scholars who need additional academic support can continue working with their teachers on subjects such as math, reading and writing. A number of indicators show significant progress and Haven is quickly becoming a model for others venturing into this field.
All this success at Haven Academy hasn’t come without some challenge. Due to the nature of our programs and the different needs of the population we’re serving, we spend more per capita at Haven Academy than most other schools. Furthermore, while we have seen excellent attendance and some great improvements in our students’ social and emotional areas, there is still room for improvement on test scores. It is encouraging to note though, that children who started at Haven in kindergarten four and five years ago are doing better in their later years here – clear evidence that the earlier we get them and the more time we have with them, the better the result.
Ultimately, academic achievement will be the primary mark of our success and this year, we’re introducing more changes to our curriculum than ever before to help our students get there. These changes will improve our educational program in all grades to ensure each scholar can achieve passing scores on the NY State assessment and successfully master grade level expectations. We will not however, be satisfied with merely passing. We want our children to believe that working hard at academics is worthwhile because the outcome is not only success in elementary school, but a foundation for success in life.
We are also boosting our after school programs to include activities that reduce our scholars’ likelihood of interest in gang activity and other risky behaviors. Additionally, to boost school attendance and support high academic expectations of the more independent middle schoolers, we will be adding organized sports into our program. Children will be able to attend sports games and practices only with the understanding that their participation is contingent upon both good attendance and strong progress in their school work and assessments.
As you see, Haven Academy is still a work in progress and we at The New York Foundling are keenly aware of both our triumphs and the learning curve we are always on as an organization. We believe it is our obligation, as in any complex long-term project, to continue to improve we go. We are proud to report though, that our scholars are thriving throughout the process. Hundreds of children, who before Haven Academy would have been placed in schools that don’t fully understand or adequately serve their needs, now have the opportunity to be educated in a school that was built just for them. Haven Academy is truly a force working to level the playing field for these scholars in the child welfare system.