Located in the poorest congressional district in the United States, this New York City community high school helps students succeed by, among other things, addressing students’ health needs. They are also expert at using alternative, authentic assessments to help students show what they know, while making wise use of technology.
Through a comprehensive partnership with Children’s Aid Society (CAS), Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School addresses student health issues by providing access to quality medical and dental services. CAS provides the school with a full-time medical and dental advocate (who is also a graduate of the high school). The advocate establishes relationships with healthcare providers, students, their families, and school staff. She also supports parents and guardians in navigating the complexities of the healthcare system and serves as a resource for a community that is commonly under-resourced and underserved.
This relationship with CAS also provides an Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program and a Sexual Education Program for all students. Through an additional partnership with CAS and Helen Keller’s Child Sight Program, the entire student body receives no-cost vision screenings and no-cost eyeglasses. During the 2014-15 school year, over 200 students received free eyeglasses from this partnership.
In addition, the school works to nurture students’ abilities to connect, to question, to innovate, and to communicate. Students, the school believes, learn best by investigating authentic issues in ways that require collaboration, personal responsibility, care for others, and a tolerance for uncertainty. Students investigate personally meaningful problems and are assessed using a performance-based system that ensures rigorous student inquiry. They create benchmark portfolios in each of their first three semesters. At the end of their fourth semester, they undertake a critical performance task of paneling in front a group of teachers.
In their 11th and 12th grade years, students create a mastery portfolio that is composed of seven pieces: Literature, Autobiography, History, Social Issues, Math, Science, and Art. Portfolios exhibit student work on time-intensive, in-depth, performance-based tasks and on classroom projects aligned to key learning targets. Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom students are assessed according to the rubrics of the NYS Performance Standards Consortium.
The high school supports its authentic assessment of student learning with technology. Through their partnerships with NYC Izone, Digital Ready and Apple Computers, the school leverages technology to cultivate asynchronous classrooms that allow students to pursue mastery. The school was also named 1 of only 6 New York City Schools to be designated as an Apple Distinguished Program, which allows Apple Computers to bring innovative educators from across the country to see the school’s technological practices.
For all of these reasons and more, Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School shows how to close the gaps in learning opportunity for students who live in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the nation.