Miracle in Fort Greene
first thing you notice is the silence. This is one of the hallways
of the Benjamin Banneker Academy, one of New York’s public high
schools. The second thing you notice is the attention. It’s bright-eyed,
avid, curious, evincing a genuine interest. These kids want to
Roaming Benjamin Banneker–located in a one-time Drakes cake factory
near Fort Greene’s notoriously tough projects–four simple words
can’t help but run through your head.
It can be done.
This five-story schoolhouse with the small classes and the carpeted
library is without metal detectors–just a single kindly receptionist
lady at the door. The halls are so clean you could eat off the
It can be done.
it can,” said Daryl Rock, Benjamin Banneker’s Principal for the
last four years. ”And it doesn’t take a miracle, either. But holding
faithfully to a few strong principles helps.”
First, the admission: “Kids need good teaching.” Sounds simple,
doesn’t it? “But it’s not,” the dreadlocked young Principal said
with a smile. “I’m sure you’re familiar with all the excuses used
for kids not learning in schools: it’s the parents, it’s society,
it’s rap music, it’s racism, it’s the negative impact of the media.
The fact of the matter is that those outside influences apply
equally to all kids, the ones that learn and the ones that do
not learn. And this, of course, means that there is no reason
why all kids can’t learn.”
that requires teachers who deeply believe that they can make a
In order to acquire such teachers Rock is willing to be different.
“I go into colleges to find students interested in teaching,”
he smiled. “I use word of mouth, I go on line. The teachers’ knowledge,
while obviously important, is not the only thing – most of that
can be acquired, anyway. I look for a rapport with the students.
I look for people who can communicate with the kids on a level
that is real to them, people who can get them interested.”
The second thing is to create a culture where people treat each
other a certain way. ”I’m talking about a culture of peacefulness
and mutual respect,” Rock said. ”It’s discipline and tough love,
but it is love nevertheless. So many kids come from an environment–whether
it’s at home or on the streets–where there is a lot of anger.
In this school, we want them to experience just the opposite kind
To accomplish this, Rock believes that role-models are very important.
“Not just the teachers, but the older students as well,” he said.
“We want students to see firsthand that studying hard and possessing
a demanding work ethic leads to success.”
To engender that work ethic, the young Principal promotes creative
teaching plans. “It’s not just the substance, it’s also the delivery,”
he said. “Do everything you can to make the lessons interesting.
Obviously, if you get the kids interested they’ll work that much
ýhe results have been dramatic. During Rock’s four years, Benjamin
BannekerĐa school of 600 students that has a 99.9 percent African-American
and Latino population–has jumped from a 60 to a 90 per cent passing
grade on the State Regents exams in Physics, U.S. and Global History,
and English–and from 40 to 75 percent in Math. “I’m proud to say,
this is better than most high schools,” said Rock. “And it’s still
going to get better. We are not nearly done.”
Obviously not: over 250 students participate in intense tutoring
programs or take classes on Saturday. The school also provides
advanced classes in English, biology, statistics, chemistry, and
calculus for college credits.
Yet, these hardworking kids remain well-rounded as well, participating
widely in intramural sports – a real rarity for a high school
anywhere – clubs for dancing and drama, and all kinds of workshops.
The 11th grade chess-team has emerged victorious in a recent citywide
tournament and the Banneker Warriors also won the New York City
Division B basketball championship last year. “What people must
understand is that sports and after-school activities do not take
way from education,” said Rock. “They add to it.”
Of course, resources remain a problem. The computers are aging,
but Rock–with the help of a very involved Assemblyman Roger Green–has
been creative in acquiring corporate donations as well.
So it can be done. If you don’t believe it, go down to the old
cake factory in Fort Greene to check out how.#
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