In 2014, my wife and I went through a grueling process faced by many New York City parents each April: finding the right school for our son in Southern Brooklyn.
Like most parents, our first priority was finding a school with a rich academic program, but also the kind where kids have fun. Our son was passionate about math and science and had just qualified for the district’s Gifted and Talented (G&T) program.
A G&T program, I thought, was going to be academically strong. It had a lot going for it — positive peer pressure from high achieving friends, minimal behavioral disruptions and focus on advanced material.
On the other hand, advanced or not, my son would be stuck with the same curriculum as the rest of the school, and be surrounded by similar kids — mostly of middle or upper middle class, mostly white or Asian background — which may not fully prepare him for real life or provide rich social interactions. It is easy to make friends with those that come from similar circumstances, but I always thought that getting along with kids who are different in every way, would help my son develop emotional intelligence and character.
During our search, we visited SA Bensonhurst, a new charter school opening in our district that year. Now this was something we haven’t yet seen — an unusual combination of a progressive, rich curriculum, coupled with traditional, strict discipline. Success Academy took in a diverse group of kids and offered sky high test scores, two teachers in the classroom, a field trip every three weeks, daily science and more. There was an open door policy, where a parent can show up unannounced and sit in on any class, and constant parent-teacher communication.
But we also realized that when a school takes a very diverse, General Ed group of kids to a high academic level, it has to deal with a host of unique challenges, unheard of in the typically more affluent, academically strong settings of G&T programs. Academic diversity has its costs, like the extra intensity and drive that manifest themselves through strict discipline, long school day and staying on top of parents about the homework.
So there was the choice — should we send our son to a G&T program, that takes an exclusive group of kids and drives lightly, or to Success Academy, which takes all kinds of kids and drives hard? In the end, the rich curriculum of Success Academy won us over, though we were nervous about the discipline and the long day and prepared to pull our son out if he ended up not having fun or getting stressed.
Well, it has been over a year and a half since then, and I am happy to report that my son stayed at Success Academy Bensonhurst and is doing great. He loves science, field trips and dance and gets along well with other kids. And I like that the teachers and the principal are available and easy to talk to, and that the parents are involved, helpful and supportive.
Despite our fears, the discipline concerns turned out to be a non-issue, once our son got used to the rules. The long hours are a still a little hard, and we are looking forward to a shorter day next year, but, for us, these concerns are far outweighed by the rich academic and social environment at Success Academy.
I know that parents navigating the complex maze of G&T programs in NYC have a lot of choices — and not every school works for every kid. But I also know that my child is benefiting greatly from a charter school that offers a great education for all children, and I hope that other parents give it another look.
Yuri Nazarov, a father of three, is the founder of the Bensonhurst Parents and Schools Facebook group which offers detailed comparisons between local school options such as “BSI vs. SA Bensonhurst” or “Big Apple Academy (Bambi) vs. SA Bensonhurst,” as well as thorough reviews of many other District 20 and District 21 schools.