EXPLORATION, IN AND OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

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Brooklyn’s Outstanding Public Middle School

For more than a decade, Lisa Gioe-Cordi worked as a science teacher and science staff developer in Brooklyn’s District 15, an area that includes Park Slope, Boerum Hill, Carroll Gardens, Windsor Terrace and other fast-growing, family-friendly neighborhoods. Eventually, those families needed more middle schools, so then-superintendent Carmen Farina asked Gioe-Cordi to write a proposal for a new school. Drawing on her area of expertise, she founded M.S. 447, the Math & Science Exploratory School, in 2003.
“I really enjoy the adolescent population,” Gioe-Cordi said. “I feel like I really get kids.”
Five years into its existence, M.S. 447 has sent its first class of 8th graders to high school and become one of the most popular middle schools in the district. Frequent field trips to city parks and cultural institutions, like the New York Hall of Science and American Museum of Natural History, are incorporated into the science curriculum in an innovative, interdisciplinary “Exploration Program.”

The schools interdisciplinary Exploration Program exposes students to real-life applications of subjects they have studied in the clasroom. Photo By: Daniel S. Burnstein
The school’s interdisciplinary “Exploration Program” exposes students to real-life applications of subjects they have studied in the clasroom. Photo By: Daniel S. Burnstein

The program is arranged around a trimester cycle and exposes students to real-life applications of subjects they have studied in the classroom. As PTA co-president Amy Metroka, whose daughter is in 8th grade, described it, “I like that it’s planned to take advantage of the cultural resources of the city and give students hands-on exposure, integrated with the subjects they’re learning at school.” When Metroka’s daughter was learning about plant ecology, for example, her class visited the Brooklyn Botanic Garden; and for a unit on aquatic life, they visited the New York Aquarium in Coney Island.
An added benefit of the Exploration Program, Metroka said, is the insight it gives parent chaperones into their children’s lives.
“It’s very interesting to see a child and her classmates, meet the teachers and see their experience,” she said, “because at this age, when you ask them how their day was, they’ll say very little.”
To strengthen language skills and motivate students, parents sponsored a writing contest. Students submitted stories, and excerpts were published on the school’s website. Sixth graders also get to try out each of six talent specializations: they can choose among dance, drama, chorus, instrumental music, visual arts and technology specializations. Each “talent area” is studied for three periods a week, and if a student is interested in testing out multiple talents, he or she can pick one as an elective and another as an after-school or lunch offering. In the past, after-school enrichment programs were free; due to city budget cuts, there will now be a nominal fee.
Teachers at M.S. 447 have a reputation for being accessible and respond to email communication with parents. They often work with each other to coordinate homework assignments so that students are challenged but not overloaded with work.

Lisa Gioe-Cordi, Principal. Photo By: Daniel S. Burnstein

Lisa Gioe-Cordi, Principal. Photo By: Daniel S. Burnstein

Like many schools, M.S. 447 offers collaborative team-teaching classes, in which special needs and general education students are taught together in a class with two teachers, one of whom is certified in special education. But the school is also home to a novel program aimed at helping high-functioning students with autism develop much-needed social skills. In the program, called ASD-NEST, five children with autism spectrum disorder are placed in a class with 20 general education students. The students with autism have their own special education teacher, who travels with them from class to class and assists them with a range of therapies and support services. It’s the first middle school program of its kind in the city, Gioe-Cordi said, and M.S. 447 has had a lot of success with it. A withdrawn child, for example, might be awarded “points” to buy pizza if he or she successfully makes eye contact. The principal would like to expand the ASD-NEST program into a high school.
Families have taken note of M.S. 447’s success and are flocking there in droves.
“It’s exciting,” said Gioe-Cordi. “We grew this year by two 8th grade classes. We’re going through the growing pains of space expansion.”

M.S. 447 is growing, and added two 8th grade classes this year.

M.S. 447 is growing, and added two 8th grade classes this year.

The school currently shares a large 80-year-old building with the Brooklyn High School for the Arts, on Dean Street; middle schoolers are on the third and fourth floors in main building and annex. Corridors connecting the two spaces are decorated with brightly colored murals painted by members of the arts club. Purple lockers, science labs and doorways reflect the principal’s favorite color. “There’s a little touch of me,” Gioe-Cordi said.
In one recent 8th grade science class, students were preparing travel brochures on the planets to convince their teacher to take a trip to their assigned planet. One student, whose planet was Pluto, felt defensive, since her planet was being kicked out of the solar system.
Whether the destination is another planet, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden or freshman year, there is a feeling of confidence and preparedness among M.S. 447 families.
“We’re feeling pretty good as we apply to high schools,” Metroka said. “Parents with kids who have graduated and gone on to challenging high schools said they were well-prepared in math and science. And because of all the reports they had to prepare in middle school, the kids are doing very well in terms of writing and are well-trained for all the research papers high school requires.”

M.S. 447, the Math & Science Exploratory School
345 Dean St.
Brooklyn, N.Y. 11217
718-330-9328
www.ms447.org
Lisa Gioe-Cordi, Principal

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