By Ryan Velez
There’s a growing question as to whether or not a Black-run school can be a boon for Black children. In one opinion piece for the Hechinger Report, it reads that “A cursory study of black-led education movements—Freedom Schools and the East, among others—would have revealed that empowerment engenders excellence, not zero tolerance and shame employed in the ‘no-excuses’ model favored by white-led organizations.” Now, Black Enterprise reports on a school that is doing just that, led by a black and Dominican woman.
Alexa Sorden founded the Concourse Village Elementary School near Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York around 5 years ago, according to the New York Times. The school is just about entirely Black, Hispanic, and poor with many students living in a nearby housing project—but this is not a “no excuses” school. Sorden is a reading specialist, and the school blends “playfulness and academic rigor, close reading and classroom conversation, to impressive effect,” as the Times says.
For Sorden, this is exactly the type of school she would have wanted while growing up in Washington Heights, and she takes advantage of her autonomy to use some creativity. Here are some examples Black Enterprise shares on how the school differs from your typical lesson:
“The pupils are summoned to their places not by yelling, but by a 60-second audio clip of the theme music from Mission Impossible. They are surrounded by books and instructed to look for evidence in their texts. In every classroom, classical music or soft jazz plays quietly in the background as the children work, the Times reports.
Boys discuss books—one boy had put a Post-it note next to the word delectable because he couldn’t read it. Delectable! What a lovely four-syllable word to stumble over! He’ll be using it for the rest of his life.
Despite Sorden’s reading expertise, the school’s math scores exceed its impressive reading scores: 83% passed the math exam; 77% passed reading.”
Sorden has complete control over teacher hiring. She says in the article, “The most important thing I look for is good people who understand the importance of being in this community, which is something I cannot teach you. I don’t want you to come in here feeling sorry for anyone, because if you feel sorry for them, you don’t push them that hard. ‘Oh, they have a situation’ — no. I need someone with a strong belief that the kids can do it.”