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Students Demand Less Focus on Testing, More on Careers at New High School

By Alexandra Leon | January 25, 2016 10:38am
 Sixth-grader Jazmyne Niver takes questions from education experts at a high school planning session at Brooklyn LAB.
Sixth-grader Jazmyne Niver takes questions from education experts at a high school planning session at Brooklyn LAB.
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DNAinfo/Alexandra Leon

DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — First bell at 9:45 a.m.? A kid can dream.

Middle school students at Brooklyn LAB pitched their ideas for a new high school to a panel of education experts Wednesday, and aside from a unanimous petition for a later start time, the students proved they’ve got big plans for the future.

“My dream would be a school that focuses more on the dreams of students than the curriculum,” said seventh-grader Richardo Castillo.

For Brooklyn LAB students, the ideal high school would be highly career-oriented and emphasize each student’s individuality, while focusing less on testing and grades.

Students would use technology and learn hands-on how to be self-sufficient.

“When we get older, our moms are not always going to be there,” said seventh-grader Brandon Pickett, whose goal is to become an engineer. “We want to get ready to learn how to do things on our own.”

Students crafted pitches for their perfect high school — including mission statements, class schedules and testing policies — giving them names like “Dreamers Academy,” “Hope Academy,” and “Swag Academy for the Gifted and Talented.”

The charter school, which announced in November that it would expand its middle school and launch two high schools by 2017, is hearing out student proposals as part of the Opportunity by Design Initiative, a Carnegie Corporation of New York program that is looking to create new models of high schools.

Part of the new model for Brooklyn LAB students involves ending racial stereotypes. As part of their pitches, students demanded fair treatment for all students, regardless of race or family income.

At Brooklyn LAB, 60 percent of students live in public housing and 20 percent are transient or homeless. Many will be the first in their families to attend college, but that hasn’t stopped them from planning ahead.

School co-founder Erin Mote said the school is re-strategizing its budget and staffing plans for the high school after students and their parents requested college planning to begin at a younger age. Instead of hiring a college guidance counselor just for 11th and 12th grade students, the school is looking at starting college counseling in the ninth grade. 

The school is also considering starting an internship program in the 10th grade.

“I really like how much our students are pushing us into new ways of thinking,” Mote said. 

Brooklyn LAB opened last year and currently serves 245 sixth- and seventh-graders. With the expansion, the school will eventually serve 1,800 students. 

Administrators will continue to have planning sessions with students and their parents through February or March. 

Although the high school design means extra work for the students, who even had some planning assignments over winter break, they don’t seem to mind.

“Not many adults ask the kids what they want,” sixth-grader Malachi Foster said.