Society of Illustrators hand raisingLogoHarlem Link celebration
Harlem Link Ink Title

April 2009

Things are busy as always at Harlem Link.  We appreciate you taking a moment to read The Harlem Link ink, our small bimonthly newsletter.  Please pass it along to those who might be interested! 

Founded in 2005, Harlem Link is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, public school.  Students are admitted by lottery, we collaborate with the New York City Department of Education on a number of issues and policies, and the demographics of our student population closely resemble the district public schools in our neighborhood.
With each passing term, we come closer to meeting our mission of graduating articulate scholars and active citizens.  We hope you enjoy reading about what we are doing to achieve that mission.
Margaret Ryan and Steven Evangelista
In This Issue
No Fooling on Read Across America Day
Annual Student Lottery
Social Studies: Our Hub
No Fooling on Read Across America Day
On March 2nd, the snows came down and in a cosmic twist, Harlem Link's first planned celebration of Dr. Seuss's birthday was postponed by the school's first-ever snow day.

But the snow couldn't dampen the enthusiasm for the National Education Association's Read Across America Day at Harlem Link.  The school simply rescheduled for the next appropriate Seussian date on the calendar: April Fools Day, of course.

And so it was that on April 1st, in our Upper School's shared building library, a diverse cadre of professionals could be seen, after a brief tour of the school, reading Dr. Seuss books and talking in small groups with student ambassadors from Board members at Read Across Americaeach of the second through fourth grades. Several board members were on hand among the guests; John Reddick and Kesha Young are pictured at right. After a catered lunch together (with 25 minutes to eat - same as the students normally have!) and some summarizing schoolwork together, the student ambassadors led their distinguished guests to their classrooms for whole group reading and discussion.
Harlem Link welcomes the opportunity to bring positive role models into the classroom for any reason, and celebrating reading and the wonderful wordplay of Dr. Seuss was an excellent one.  In the fourth grade, school board chair Jonathan Barrett led an intellectually stimulating debate of Seuss's famous The Sneetches.  The conversation had one fourth grader saying, "There's nothing wrong with making money; he [the protagonist, Mr. McMonkey McBean] was just giving the people what they wanted," and another countering, "He was wrong because he took advantage of the people.  He knew about their prejudice against each other and made money pitting them against each other."  A middle-school level discussion in fourth grade was exhausting for students and adults alike.  But as one teacher later remarked, "It was so wonderful to have such a professional spending quality time with our students!"
Jennifer 8. Lee at Read Across AmericaIn third grade, New York Times editor and friend of Harlem Link Jennifer 8. Lee (left, reading with her ambassadors) enhanced the third grade study of Chinese culture by showing slides and sharing information about her research for her acclaimed book, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles.  The book is an exploration of Chinese food and its place in American and world cultures.  JR & JMAnd in the second grade, JP Morgan Chase Bank Harlem branch manager Jeffrey Covington (right, with his ambassadors) continued his commitment to the Harlem community he has served for many years by bringing his unique mix of humor, enthusiasm, knowledge about Harlem and perhaps most importantly, fiscal responsibility to our youngest Upper School Linksters.
We at Harlem Link know that meanwhile, perhaps somewhere over his home state of Massachusetts, Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, was smiling and tipping his Cat in the Hat cat and thinking about our Linksters, "Oh, the places they'll go..."
Annual Student Lottery
Harlem Link held its annual lottery for fall enrollment on April 7th, a "Super Tuesday" when a number of New York City charter schools held lotteries.  Our application is a simple one-page form, requesting name, birthdate and address.  The application is available in Spanish, and the only admission criteria for prospective students is their age for kindergarten, pursuant to state education law.
This year, an incredible 768 applications were submitted in time for the lottery, the most in the school's history.  About half of the applications were submitted for kindergarten alone--over 330 applications for only 54 available seats.  Pursuant to a 2007-2008 change in the state charter law, students who live in the district of the school's location were given automatic preference in the lottery.  
Student LotteryNicole Moultrie, Harlem Link's Administrative Secretary and a founding parent, was on hand to pull the names out of the box along with Office Assistant Theresa Clayton.  One observing parent even volunteered to pull some names (she's reading a lucky name at left).  Proving her impartiality, she didn't pick her child's name! 
At Harlem Link, we inform all parents that the lottery is public and they should feel free to stop by to see what is going on, but we discourage attendance because for most families, the lottery is an occasion not of celebration but of anxiety.  For kindergarten families in particular, the lottery is sometimes a moot point because there are now so many charter school choices available in Harlem.  We have always encouraged families to visit and apply to many charter schools; therefore parents should have many different opportunities to enroll if they don't receive a favorable number in one particular school's lottery.  Thus, as some families ahead of them on our list will gain entry to multiple schools we hope that students with those numbers in the high 200s and 300s will hold out hope that they will gain admittance to our school!
Social Studies: Our Hub
Teach to the test: Pound those Math standards, pound those English Language Arts standards.  Cover poetry for the test.  Remember that there will be at least one non-fiction passage. 
At Harlem Link, we feel the same pressure that every other public school feels.  When the general public and state and city authorities alike want to evaluate student and school performance, they look to those No Child Left Behind-mandated core assessments in literacy and math.  But we didn't found our school as an education alternative just to recreate the mad frenzy that is test prep fever for too many students across our country.  At Harlem Link, now more than ever and in fact increasingly so each year, real, relevant content forms the core of what we teach.  In our curriculum, Social Studies is the hub.
We have arranged our curriculum this way, and put in countless hours struggling to build a content-centered program, because focusing on teaching content that is either relevant to children's lives or put in an appropriate context is the only way we believe we can meet our mission's strict mandate of graduating articulate scholars who meet or exceed state performance standards and active citizens who learn and serve in their communities.
Columbus Study ChartSo it is in the fourth grade, where students are studying early American history and are putting a series of people on trial to determine why the Taino culture no longer exists.  Based on the content-focused work of folks from Rethinking Schools, the students are putting on trial, Columbus, his men, the King and Queen of Spain, the Tainos themselves, and the very empire approach that spawned the Age of Exploration.  When it's time for Social Studies, our fourth graders aren't giving a characteristic yawn and resignedly thinking, "When will I get to go outside?"  They're pumping their fists and saying, "Yes!" under their breath.  Finally, we will get a chance to tackle this question again.  Who really did kill the Tainos? 
The point is not to push one ideology or another.  (A casual visitor Columbus Study Chartwill certainly find a diversity of viewpoints on empires in a charismatic discussion of, "Can you even put a system on trial?")  The point is to bring these historical figures to life.  Columbus, 1492, Isabella and natural resources in the New World aren't simlpy abstract names and dates to be memorized and repeated on a test; they are players and factors in the grand drama of real life that we know is much more fascinating than any fiction humans have produced (except maybe some of the fiction produced by fourth graders!).  If a child is a candle to be lit and not a cup to be filled, then these kinds of dicussions are the spark that can light that candle.
So it is in the third grade as well, where videos and field trips do the best we can with our resources to transport our students to China.  Consider this question: Wouldn't life be better for you if you had a chance this week to add to a "Great Wall of China vocabulary"?  Each word or phrase representing a cultural artifact of China is a brick, and what a mighty wall our students have built. 
And on through the grades, all the way to kindergarten, where the concentric and overlapping circles of community begin to be explored with "me," then "my family," then "my classroom."  In accordance with our mission mandate that family, staff and students join together, family research forms the beginning of the study of what it means to be part of a community, eventually leading to the unfolding grand sweep of human history and American civics.

So please consider visiting our school.  Our first graders, experts on how a school functions and what jobs and resources are required to keep it running through their fall School Study, could show you around.  (Or they may already be serving meals in their classroom restaurants.)  Don't be surprised if Langston Hughes himself (or as close an approximation as our very own John Reddick can muster) has dropped by with you for an interview with the second grade during their community study of Harlem.
When educators visit, we love to talk about our Social Studies curriculum.  There's one element that feels a bit like showing off-when other teachers and school leaders see what's going on and how engaged the students are, and how making those links between facts and concepts build the schema on which children can hang other knowledge and ideas, they realize, "Wait a minute.  They're studying China by writing a travel brochure, but that means they're also meeting English Language Arts standards!"  Yes, with Social Studies at the hub, learning is still happening, but there's no reason on Earth why it shouldn't be fun.
In Closing
StudentWith spring in full swing (even if the weather isn't always complying), we are already heading down the home stretch of another successful school year.  There are more milestones approaching; National Charter Schools Week is around the corner, and our first administration of the New York State Science Test is also happening in May.  The Department of Education is holding public meetings and making final decisions about our space for 2009-2010, and our entire school community is holding its breath hoping to have all of our grades reuinted under one roof.  Finally, and most exciting, Harlem Link's fifth year of operation is on the horizon, meaning we are ready to make our case to the state authorizer for Renewal.  We have come a long way in a short time, and with board members, teachers, parents, partners, administrators and other staff poised to contribute to the strategic planning for the next five years, continued growth and a bright near term future is in our sights.
We hope you enjoyed a few stories about our school and would consider coming by to visit.
Director's Blog: 
In the past few months, I have had the privilege of attending a great deal of meetings in the two Community School Districts where Harlem Link is located, as we learn about our future placement location and get involved with all the very important political discussions that are germane to that decision. 
Time and again, I leave these meetings, which would leave Alexis de Tocqueville's head spinning, thinking one word: untouchable. 
I don't mean to liken our charter school to a gang of mobsters.  In fact, I haven't even seen the movie.  I think "untouchable," because after watching the crossfire, after hearing the ideas and conflicts bouncing around the room as community members stake out their agendas and express themselves democratically, I walk out of those meetings feeling like we are covered in a bulletproof vest.  At the end of the day, in the forums where decisions that shape the local agenda for public schools are routinely made and re-made, where policy is formed, where district priorities and mandates are issued, the core functioning of our school is untouchable.
To be sure, we have our own knock-down, drag-out internal battles in order to come to the best decisions about how to serve our children and families.  Decisions at our school often are the culmination of input from teachers, administrators, board members and not least of all parents.   But our core functioning is determined from within, not by 8 million voices around the city.
What is that core functioning?  At the end of the day, we have a charter agreement with the State University of New York that dictates - that is, where WE dictate - the most important things about our school: who we hire to teach and how we hire them; how we treat each other, codified in our core values and Discipline Code; and our curriculum, that is, what we teach and how we teach it.  Our commitment to Social Studies, for example, is protected by the charter law (see the article at left).  These things are untouchable at our charter school.  The SUNY trustees will judge us, to be sure, and whether we thrive or fail as a community is dependent upon their judgment, but they are not meddling with our core functioning.  
Playing in the playground
I can empathize with the frustration felt by district school folks.  As a former public school teacher and School Leadership Team officer, I have sat in their chairs in those meetings.  I know how it feels to have a clear idea in your head of what should be happening in the school, but to feel foiled by a grand, clunky bureaucracy, to know what's best for children but feel as if swimming in a sea of unresponsiveness.
That sea can't drown us at Harlem Link.  We feel pressure, no doubt about that, and there are major accountability trade-offs for the autonomy we enjoy, but at the end of the day, our heads are above water.  We can safely say that 100% of the time, we have the freedom to make the right decision by our children and families.  We make our share of mistakes, but we've got no one to blame.  The finger points right back at us--our entire school community together--because our core
functioning, it's untouchable.
National Charter Schools Week
In the first week of May, as part of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools' National Charter Schools Week, we will be hosting a series of roundtable discussions at our school about some of the provocative and compelling issues of the day surrounding charter schools.  Topics includ facilities, curriculum and community. 
Whom should a charter school serve?  Whom exactly do charter schools serve across the city? Ought the NYC Department of Education provide space to charter schools in its buildings?  If yes, why isn't this occurring across the state and across the country?  How fast should the charter movement grow?
These are some of the questions that will be explored during hte roundtables, which will include a guided school tour.  Contact us if you are interested in attending.
Support Our Cause
You can join our list of supporters.  As a charter school, we are our own, single-school public school district.  Because of the charter funding formula (and the mind-boggling recent decision by the state legislature to freeze charter funding while increasing overall public school aid), we depend on private donations to supplement our state tuition allocation.  In the coming years we anticipate raising as much as 25% of our budget in our Annual Fund.  Tax-deductible donations can be made to our fund by clicking here.
Title Art Credit
Harlem Link celebrationFourth grader Mark Griffith is making a splash at Harlem Link.  He designed the title art for this newsletter.
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