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Great Oaks Charter School Welcomes First Class on Lower East Side

By Serena Solomon | August 26, 2013 1:51pm
 Great Oaks Charter School is operating out of a now-shuttered Catholic School building.
Great Oaks Charter School
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LOWER EAST SIDE — A new charter school that focuses on preparing kids for college welcomed its first students on the Lower East Side Monday morning.

Great Oaks Charter School opened with 104 sixth-grade students in the former St. James & St. Joseph Elementary School at 1 Monroe St., which shut down in June.

The New Jersey-based charter school plans to stay on Monroe Street for two years, adding a seventh grade next fall, and then officials hope to move the program to Governors Island in 2015.

"I am getting to learn things I have never learned before," said Armani Estevez, an 11-year-old from Greenwich Village who said he was  "excited" about his first day at Great Oaks. His first task was programing a lock for his locker.

Armani said that so far he liked wearing a school uniform, which was different from P.S. 20 on Essex Street, where he recently finished elementary school.

"It is preparing me for my older jobs, for job interviews," he said.

The school building, which Great Oaks is renting from the archdiocese for $200,000 for its first year, had been brightened with a fresh coat of white paint.

Banners from colleges including the University of Florida and Boston University hung from the walls between inspirational quotes from Martin Luther King Jr., Winston Churchill and Walt Disney.

Students spent their first day in their advisory classes, a single-sex group that meets three times a day with a teacher who will follow the students through their time at Great Oaks, according to staff member Allison McCaffrey.

"This really helps to build a constant presence in their life," said McCaffrey, 23, whose role is to mentor 20 tutors who support the five core teachers at the school.  "One thing we are concerned with is consistency in their education."

The educational philosophy of Great Oaks is based on the high-achieving Match Schools in Boston, with all students receiving two hours of individual or small-group tutoring every day.

In her advisory class, Priscilla Sintim-Danson, 11, learned the Great Oaks policy of greeting visitors, a task designed to teach students how to converse with adults, according to McCaffrey.

"I didn't know anybody," said Priscilla, who lives a few blocks away from Great Oaks and previously went to the nearby public Shaung Wen School.

"This is a new life," she said. "I am starting over."