Alma del Mar Charter School in New Bedford, MA, is fighting for the chance to serve more students. It has applied to open two more K-8 schools that would educate an additional 1,188 students over the next five years. Alma del Mar students outperform their district peers on MCAS, and often score higher than the surrounding suburbs. In some areas they are even among the highest-performing public schools in Massachusetts. The school has relatively low attrition and suspension rates; and 500 students on its waitlist. Alma deserves the right to enroll more students! Read this op-ed in Commonwealth magazine and watch this video to learn more:
When state test scores come out each year, it is a big deal at our school. We celebrate our scholars, our families, and each other as a community of educators. We also take the opportunity to figure out what we, as a school, can learn about where our kids excelled and where they struggled in order to better support them this school year.
For us, MCAS is so much more than a test. As teachers at Alma del Mar charter school we treat this exam as an annual health check on our classrooms: are we supporting kids so that they can reach their full potential in reading, writing, math, and science? Of course a single test cannot tell you everything about what is going on in our school. Our work as teachers goes far beyond the problem sets covered in one assessment. But for us, MCAS provides a critical piece of data that indicates whether our scholars are being challenged and set-up for success when it comes to pursuing college and career.
We have a lot to celebrate at Alma this year. Once again, Alma’s scholars did better in math than the average student across the commonwealth. Our third graders showcased the same math abilities and knowledge as students in Wellesley and Newton. Alma’s middle school scholars were the highest performing students in the city in both math and English. African American and Latino scholars at Alma passed the MCAS at nearly double the rate of their statewide peers, as did our scholars who are English Language Learners and our scholars with special needs.
As our fellow public school teachers across the city know, none of these achievements came easily. Likewise, none of them are the result of just one individual’s labor. Our entire Alma crew, from our lower elementary school teachers to our phenomenal plant manager, works relentlessly each day to make sure our scholars reach their true potential.
Our work is never done. For example, we know we need to increase the number of hours that our scholars are reading if they’re going to truly catch up academically to their suburban peers. That’s why this year we’re increasing our efforts to ensure that every scholar at Alma falls in love with reading. In addition, data from last year’s scholar survey tells us that we still have a long way to go in making our classrooms as engaging as they can be. As experienced teachers, we’re working together and with colleagues beyond Alma to find more ways to turn the ownership of our classroom routines over to our scholars. The more they lead, the more our scholars will be invested in their own learning.
We teach because we believe in the potential of each child. We believe that the children of New Bedford can achieve at the same levels as children in any city. Don’t let anyone tell you that New Bedford kids, even those with significant challenges at home, can’t achieve at the same high levels as kids in the suburbs. Our crew, along with the teachers at several other New Bedford public schools, works hard every day to make sure that New Bedford kids get an education that is second to none. We are proud to be a part of the movement to improve education opportunities in the Southcoast.
Margaret Carvalho, is a fourth grade math teacher and math curriculum chair; Justin Edwards, is a fifth grade math teacher and middle school academic dean; and Brittney Sousa, is a seventh grade humanities teacher and middle school academic dean at Alma del Mar Charter School.
Did you know that Spittal Pond in Bermuda was the spot where an enslaved man named Jeffrey hid from his masters in a cave, on a cliff, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean? Did you also know that during that time he developed a romantic relationship with another enslaved woman who brought him food and other supplies and helped him survive exile until his unfortunate capture several days later? Were you aware that enslaved Africans hand-made every brick at the Oak Alley Plantation in Louisiana using mud from the Mississippi River, even during oppressively hot, dangerous conditions? Despite these tribulations,the enslaved gathered on Sundays to participate in church services and sing songs of hope and gospel.
As a teacher and a former student myself, I have come to realize that before you can truly understand and grapple with hard histories, you must understand that the people who lived them were more than victims and the places where these stories were lived, were more than the sites of grave violence. These people and places were the makers of life. These individuals had identities, families, hopes, dreams, and in many cases, created humanity at a time where conditions or the choices of others were inhumane. Additionally, they resisted both actively and passively for the life they knew they deserved.
Personally, this belief in the power of place and the power of individual stories has led me around the world to places like Navajo Nation, Ghana, England, and Canyonlands to name a few. Professionally, it has inspired me to apply this same lens in the classroom with my students. I teach humanities at Alma del Mar Charter Public School in New Bedford. Our school model is based on the concept of expeditionary learning, which means that I have the ability to help my students experience the power of people and place through hands-on-learning. It also means that the school values my own learning and exposure to the material that I teach. This past year, my school provided all teachers the opportunity to apply to a fund called the Alma-zing fund, which covered the costs of our summer travel to places that would deepen our understanding of the world and the topics that we would be teaching this fall. The idea that I could travel to Bermuda and New Orleans to learn on a school funded trip was incredible.
Thanks to the Alma-zing fund, this summer I visited places and talked to people that deepened my understanding of slavery, the slave trade, the Civil War, and African Diaspora. This experience taught me the importance of teaching this history while keeping people, places, and their rich stories at the forefront of all lessons. One such story was about a man named Joseph Rainey and a place called The Tucker House.
Joseph Rainey lived in the Tucker House in St. George Bermuda before slavery ended in the United States. He fled with his wife to Bermuda, escaping his master and overseer. Upon arriving safely in Bermuda he styled and cut hair for the rich and famous to make a living. His success led him to move to the city of Hamilton. Eventually Yellow Fever broke out in Bermuda and he was scared for the safety and health of his family. He decided to take all of the money he had saved and move back to the United States. He joined the Republican Party and eventually was the first black person to serve on the United States Congress.
This story was inspiring, but it was not the only story woven throughout the contents and history of The Tucker House. The Tucker House was riddled with information that I never knew existed ranging from Spies and the experiences of the Bermudian enslaved. We saw the beds they slept in, the kitchens they cooked in, and the grounds they tended. At that moment Joseph Rainey and his wife became more than artifacts in a tangled history; they were flesh and blood, brought to life by the stories tucked into every corner of the place they inhabited. Thanks to this opportunity, not only do I have photos to share with my scholars of the places where this history came to life, but I have personal stories to share about the people who lived this history so that my scholars can begin their own journey to understanding the power of the places and the people that came before us.
ALMA DEL MAR SCHOLARS CLOSING ACHIEVEMENT GAP ON MCAS
NEW BEDFORD – Sept. 27, 2018 – For the sixth straight year, Alma del Mar showed strong performance on the statewide MCAS tests. Alma’s passage rate on MCAS significantly surpassed the state average in Math and nearly matched the state average in English. Alma’s middle school scholars were the highest performing students in the city in both subjects, while Alma third graders passed the Math MCAS at the same rate as students in Wellesley.
“We created Alma to be a game-changing school for kids from New Bedford,” said Will Gardner, Founder and Executive Director of Alma del Mar. “These results affirm that we are on our way toward that mission.”
This year’s data affirms that students with higher needs do particularly well at Alma. Most notably, Alma scholars classified as English language learners passed the MCAS at twice the rate of their statewide peers. In addition, students with disabilities at Alma passed the MCAS at nearly twice the rate of their statewide peers in math and at an 8% higher rate in English. Students of color, a group historically underserved by public schools nationwide, fare better at Alma, according to this recent data. Both African American and Latino scholars at Alma passed the MCAS at nearly double the rate of their statewide peers.
“I want to emphasize that we’re not the only public school in New Bedford that gets great results with a high needs population,” Gardner said. “We applaud the work of our colleagues at Congdon and Rodman, who are truly moving the needle for their students.”
Gardner added: “We’re also pleased to see our performance continues to improve, even as we grew our student population by an additional 20% this past year. This shows that our talented teachers are capable of leading even our new arrivals to significant gains in less than a year.”
Alma del Mar serves 440 New Bedford children in grades K-8. The student population is predominantly comprised of minority and low-income students: In SY17-18, 51% of Alma scholars were Hispanic, 13% African American; 72% met the “high needs” criteria as determined by the state. English Language Learners and Former English Language Learners make up 40% of the school’s population.
Other highlights of Alma’s 2018 MCAS performance:
50% of Alma scholars schoolwide passed the English MCAS, up from 45% in 2017.
76% of Alma 3rd grade scholars passed the Math test, compared to 50% of 3rd grade students statewide.
61% of Alma 5th grade scholars passed the English test, compared to 54% of 5th grade students statewide.
61% of Alma 6th grade scholars passed the Math test, compared to a statewide average of 48% for grade 6.
Scholars who are identified as economically disadvantaged by the state scored in the 87th percentile on the Math MCAS compared to their peers statewide.
Alma del Mar’s full MCAS results, as well as the statewide passing rates, are below:
Mr. Castro was born and raised in San Jose, California and went to school in San Diego at the University of San Diego. He majored in English, with an emphasis in Creative Writing and Economics—a double major! He enjoys reading, writing and economic analyzation in his free time. He tries to learn from everything! Why did you choose the Alma team?
I chose to join the Alma team because of how much I have heard about the community, in that it is significantly tight knit. I have always found great pleasure in working with people who care for others, and therefore I’m excited to work with the Alma team! What do you hope to contribute to Alma?
To Alma, I hope to openly contribute my opinions and perspectives. I hope to offer insights that could be beneficial for the community and development of all scholars. What is your top goal during your first year with Alma?
One of my top goals during my first year at Alma is to really immerse myself within the community in order to earn the trust and respect of everyone. I really look forward to doing home visits! What teacher made a difference in your life — how?
A teacher that has made a difference in my life would be one of my first economic professors at the University of San Diego, Professor Deborah Kelly. She encouraged me to try many things and always pushed me to do my best. Even though I moved across the country, she still continues to support me! Why did you become involved in education?
I became involved in education because I discovered how much I enjoy seeing my time and effort take the form of a student’s learning and improvement. It brings me great joy to see a student achieve something they have been earnestly striving towards. Where did you go to college? What did you like about your college?
I went to the University of San Diego (USD) for college. At USD, I really liked how close the community was, in that they were very supportive of whatever ideas anyone had. Most people would provide constructive feedback and freely offer their opinions or perspectives when asked.
What is your favorite place / food / book / music / art? (choose two)
My favorite place is a table where people eat! It’s a place where there’s usually food and where people come together to share stories and create memories. I believe food can be a great medium to building community.
My favorite book is A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park. It’s my favorite book because I read it when I was in middle school and it had a significant impact on my development as a person. Even to this day I still enjoy reading it!
Seven years ago, we made a promise to families in New Bedford that we’d create a school that would put their children on the path to college. We’ve created that school, and the success of our young scholars after just a short time is remarkable. In many grades, Alma scholars outperform their peers in nearby suburban districts. Children who came to us knowing little English now outperform their peers statewide in both English and math. Alma scholars with disabilities passed the English MCAS last year at a nearly 50 percent higher rate than their peers statewide.
We’ve worked hard to successfully close the achievement gap that historically has denied New Bedford youth the opportunities they deserve.
Today, we’re making another promise. Give us the opportunity and in five years we will triple our impact. This week, we submitted an application to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to expand our enrollment by more than 1,000 scholars across two additional campuses. Our schools will graduate a cohort of rising freshman who will be prepared to make a stronger New Bedford High School and a much brighter future for the whole city.
We appreciate the formidable challenge that the mayor and New Bedford Public Schools have ahead of them. Too many people expect them to turn around an entire district at once. Five years ago New Bedford High was ranked by DESE as performing among the bottom 4 percent of all high schools in the state. Its most recent ranking put it in the bottom 2 percent. Given that its freshman class is made of rising 8th graders who passed the MCAS at rates 20 percent below the state average, however, one cannot lay blame at the feet of the high school alone. New Bedford needs a strong pipeline of high performing K-8 schools that will provide its public high schools with well-prepared incoming freshmen and lay the educational foundation for this city for years to come.
Great K-8 schools like Alma and strong elementary schools like Carney Academy need to be replicated throughout the city to ensure more children get a fair shot at success from the start.
Right now, there just aren’t enough high-quality schools in the city to meet that goal. Families do not care about the governance model of their public school, whether it be a traditional district school, a charter public school, or the regional vocational technical school. They just want it to be a good school. Creating these good schools is urgent work. With this growth effort, Alma is answering the call of families who for too long have been told to wait.
It’s only fair that state education funding follows the student to whichever public school their parents choose for them. It’s also understandable that local political leaders want to keep all students, along with their per-pupil funding, in the district. Resources are scarce, especially in Gateway Cities like New Bedford. Leaders have to make tough decisions all the time about how to allocate those resources. As a public school, we experience the realities of tight education dollars alongside our colleagues in traditional districts. That’s why in collaboration with members of the New Bedford School Committee we’ve supported efforts to increase state education spending for all public schools, including full funding for the charter school reimbursement fund, which provides six years of additional funding to districts whose parents choose to send their children to charter public schools. In some years, the Legislature has not fully funded this program. Alma is committed to the fight for adequate funding for public schools for the long term. In the meantime, however, we must all use the resources we have to create the schools our families deserve.
Anyone with real experience in urban education learns to approach this work with humility. We know that it will take more than just our own efforts to lift up education in New Bedford. That’s why we celebrate the success of like-minded school leaders, teachers and champions of education throughout the city. Our teachers are inspired when they collaborate with district peers and we always look forward to running open professional development sessions when we welcome area educators for training, food and camaraderie. We look forward to the day when Alma is one among many options in a vibrant portfolio of successful schools that New Bedford that parents have to choose from.
August means the start of school at Alma. All of our teachers are in the building this week preparing for our first day of the school year on the 20th. Like all talented and dedicated public school teachers, each of them is hard at work planning a year that will open new doors for their children and shape the habits and character of each scholar in addition to growing their knowledge of the world. Each name on each desk represents a sacred promise that we’ve made to a family. It’s a promise that we’ve delivered on up to now, and one that we’ll keep in the future.
Will Gardner is the executive director and founder of Alma del Mar and Jan Baptist is the chair of the Alma del Mar Board of Trustees.
Mr. Jacome (or Mr. J, as many call him) was born in Fall River, and lived in South Coast Massachusetts his entire life. He graduated from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth with a degree in History and Religious studies. Mr. J loves to travel and spends his vacations traveling the world, visiting museums, and looking for new destinations to visit. His best friend in the world is his dog Bubby, which he takes everywhere and does everything with. Before joining the Alma del Mar team, Mr. J was an AmeriCorps volunteer serving the scholars of New Bedford.
Why did you choose the Alma team? Alma was such a breath of fresh air and felt like where I belonged from day one. I can picture myself here for a really long time.
What do you hope to contribute to Alma? I have such a passion for working with scholars, either on or off the field. I am really looking forward to showing scholars all new experiences from athletics to card games.
What is your top goal during your first year with Alma? I am super excited for the opportunity to show my students different world cultures and have them experience all new things.
What teacher made a difference in your life — how? I actually thought about this for quite a while and I hope I can expand on this a bit and name four teachers. #1 Mr. Pacheco, my middle school science teacher who absolutely loved what he did, and took teaching into his own hands. He was one of the coolest teachers I ever had and the reason while I’ll bring my guitar to class to share. He showed me that teaching is about the passion. #2 Mr. Palmisciano who was my high school history and economics teacher, as well as my Mock Trial coach. He showed me that teaching is about the students. #3 Mrs. Bernier one of my elementary school teachers who stood in as my grandparent on “Grandparents Day.” She sat with me at the lunch table and shared her life with me when I felt pretty alone. She showed me that teaching is about family. #4 Mr. McCain my high school principle who no matter the weather (rain, snow, sleet, sunshine, etc.) would be waiting outside every morning to greet the students with a smile. He showed me that teaching is about the community.
Why did you become involved in education? Many of my family members were teachers, and from a young age I was exposed to the teaching world. I taught karate when I was younger, and volunteer teaching Catechism on the weekends during the school year.
Where did you go to college? What did you like about your college? I graduated from the University of Massachusetts, as did my: parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends. Many people like to complain about UMD and the architecture, but that is simply not the case to me it felt like home. The faculty was absolutely amazing (Shout out to the UMass Dartmouth History Department!)
What is your favorite book? I love everything Harry Potter (Go Slytherin House!), it was honestly the series that inspired my love of reading.
What is your favorite music?
My other passion is music, I’ve been playing guitar since I was ten years old and my collection includes about six acoustic guitars.
Attention families of new scholars in 1st-7th grade:
We would like to invite all new scholars to a Math and Reading screening on either Thursday, August 2nd from 2:00-5:00pm or Friday, August 3rd from 7:00-10:00am. Contact Ms. Teevens at (202) 802-5539 or firstname.lastname@example.org with your preferred screening day ASAP! Thanks!
This photo was taken at Silver Lake, New Hampshire this summer, where I am the director of Brantwood Camp for Girls.
Ms. Kozak grew up in Boston after immigrating from Poland at the age of six. She has spent much of her life teaching kids in outdoor settings, both as the director of an all-girls summer camp that serves low-income girls and as a facilitator with Outward Bound. She began her formal teaching career as a Teach For America Corps Member in 2013 in the Rio Grande Valley where she taught English Language Arts at Miller Jordan Middle School in San Benito, Texas. Ms. Kozak then continued her career as a special educator at Austin Discovery School in Austin, Texas leading general education classes and resource classes as well as co-teaching across content areas. She is excited to return to her home state and continue her teaching career in New Bedford.
Why did you choose the Alma team?
I love the idea of working in a community-focused K-8 school. I love boats and has worked on them in the past, so being part of the Alma “Crew” seemed like a natural fit!
What do you hope to contribute to Alma?
I hope I can be a positive team member that can also bring in a lot of team building strategies I’ve learned through my time in outdoor education. As I step back into a general education science role, I know my two years as a special educator will elevate my general classroom teaching to ensure all scholars are successful and that my English teaching experience will help ensure a literacy focus in science.
What is your top goal during your first year with Alma?
I am excited to really grow as a teacher. While I feel confident in my skills in the classroom, I have never had regular coaching and am ready to make serious growth in the classroom.
What teacher made a difference in your life — how?
I have been lucky. I have had many excellent teachers who strived to push me to be curious, make art, and become a better writer. My most influential teachers were two of my high school English teachers. They cared not just about my learning, but my emotional growth too. When I think about the type of teacher I want to be for my students, these two pop into my mind.
Why did you become involved in education?
Working with kids brings me a joy and zest for life. Watching them grow or figure something out on their own is invigorating. When I was in school, my teachers were instrumental in my development as a person, and I want to be this person.
Where did you go to college? What did you like about your college?
I went to UMass Boston. I was undocumented when I graduated high school, and I could not access many higher education opportunities. It took me a year to figure out how even get to a four year college. UMass Boston offered me in-state tuition which made a college degree attainable for me. I graduated with a BA in Anthropology.
What is your favorite place / food / book / music / art? (choose two)
I love the ocean! I am very happy to back on the east coast near the water. I also love cheese.