Rigorous New Bed-Stuy Charter School To Feature Yoga and More Work

By Paul DeBenedetto on March 14, 2013 10:46am 

BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — A rigorous new charter school opening this fall in Bedford-Stuyvesant will feature yoga and exercise programs as well as longer school days and mandatory community service, according to administrators.

Unity Preparatory Charter School, which will be housed inside of P.S. 44 at 432 Monroe St., will serve sixth grade through twelfth grade, and feature an average school day that ends at 5:30 p.m., mandatory club activity, an annual 20 hours of community service and an academic calendar that's slightly longer than a public school year.

The extended schedule will provide an estimated 30 percent more time for learning than the public school academic calendar, and will prepare students for a college schedule by making them both better students and better citizens, administrators said at a presentation on Saturday.

It's also designed to keep kids active, said school co-founder Joshua Beauregard.

"We went to school, and if you played in a sport or did some sort of activity, then you were in school until 5:30," said Beauregard, who also heads the school. "I'm hoping that we can kind of engage kids in enough opportunities."

The plan for now is to have long days on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays that start at 8 a.m. and end at 5:30 p.m. with time for clubs; a shortened Friday schedule that ends about 4:30 p.m.; and a shortened Wednesday schedule that starts at 9 a.m. and ends with a performance or presentation at 4:00 p.m.

A sample schedule presented at Saturday's meeting showed that a daily schedule would likely be broken down into two parts.

Before lunch, the day would start with exercise, and students would then focus on a classic liberal arts and sciences curriculum of math, english, science and social studies.

After lunch would be designated for language and cultural studies, as well as less-traditional courses, like design and technology, and a "youth empowerment seminar," which focuses on students' stress and emotional health by incorporating techniques like yoga and meditation.

In addition to the longer mandatory schedule, there's an optional Saturday Academy that students can use for extra help.

"The goal is not to be punitive," said Casey Burns, the school's curriculum director. "It's there for kids who want it and kids who need it."

P.S. 44, a pre-k through fifth grade school, is only 40 percent utilized, according to School Construction Authority records. Unity administrators estimated that the school will take up an additional 40 percent.

But despite the available space, Unity administrators said that some parents and faculty at the school had initial concerns about the colocation, including the addition of older kids to the elementary school and the adoption of P.S. 44 space.

The concerns were something Unity director Hemanth Venkataraman said the administration understood, and that they were willing to work with P.S. 44 to help assuage those fears.

"Everybody's kind of resistant to change at first," said Venkataraman, the charter school's director of culture and enrichment. "We would never have come into this building if there was even a quesiton of impinging on another organization's space. It would never have happened."

Parents at Saturday's sparsely-attended meeting were mostly receptive to the presentation. Alisha Patterson-Swaby, vice president of the P.S. 11 PTA in Clinton Hill, said that despite being "on the fence" about charter schools, she found the presenters genuine and was happy there were more options for children and parents.

"A lot of people feel liket there's not enough options," Patterson-Swaby said. "At the end of the day, people need to have choice."

The school will start with 128 sixth-graders in the fall semester, according to the school's website, and the school year is set to begin with an orientation on Aug. 5. The admissions lottery will be open to district 13 and 16 students, though preference will be given to district 13 — the district in which P.S. 44 resides — and children eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

Whoever fills those 128 spaces, the Unity team said they were confident they'd receive a well-rounded, if demanding, education.

"We're really excited about the model itself," said Beauregard, the head of the school. "If we implement as planned, I'm confident that the mission and vision will be achieved."

Applications to the Unity Preparatory Charter School are due by April 8. For more information on how to apply visit unityprep.org.

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