The Success Academy (SA) charter school network, which consistantly has some of the best math and English scores in state tests, is showing a flair for the arts as well.
That after Success Academy Cobble Hill and Digital Arts and Cinema Technology High School collaborated on their first annaul art parade this week. The event featured over 300 SA students marching while showing off wearable art ranging from wings and headdresses to “soundsuits” inspired by African-American artist Nick Cave.
Four students from Digital Arts and Cinema Technology High School, which shares a building with SA Cobble Hill, filmed the art parade — the latest example of an ongoing collaboration between the co-located schools.
In the fall of 2016, SA Cobble Hill art teacher Sarah Mallory attended a three-week professional development program at the Brooklyn Museum. Naomi Barak, the digital arts coordinator at Digital Arts, an unscreened arts high school that serves mostly low-income students from Boerum Hill and Red Hook, was also attending the program. The two became friends, and, with Digital Arts cinema production teacher Carlos Rentas, came up with an idea: a teaching artist internship in Mallory’s SA third-grade class.
Naomi and Carlos selected four seniors who expressed interest in working with children. The high schoolers developed a curriculum on photography and identity, meeting several times with Mallory to workshop ideas.
In the spring of 2017, the four seniors worked with SA third graders twice a week for six weeks, teaching them about framing, lighting, mood, and character, and leading group discussion and critique at the end of each class.
As the intern coordinator for Digital Arts, Carlos also assigned four students in his video production class to shoot and edit a documentary about the collaboration. The documentary was screened at the end of the unit, at an exhibit of the young scholars’ photography attended by parents, teachers, and students.
The high school and elementary students loved the experience, and this fall the art teachers invited four more students to participate. This group of interns taught a unit on animation to SA’s fourth graders, and one of them, Destinii, ultimately asked to extend her internship into the spring. She recently started an internship working with Mallory’s fourth-grade art class four times a week, for which she will receive high school credit. In her first weeks, she helped support SA students as they prepared for Tuesday’s Art Parade, a project that Mallory initiated this year.
“It’s amazing to see how our kids learn from each other,” said Success Academy art teacher Sarah Mallory. “The high schoolers bring so much light and good energy into the classroom, my little ones look up to them and open up to them right away. I’ve watched them workshop and develop impressive lesson plans, organize beautiful art shows and build relationships with my students. Through this collaboration, my little kids get to learn from digital art-making experts, and the high schoolers get real-life teaching and work experience.”
In advance of the parade, Mallory also hired five Digital Arts students to film the event. “These kids are really talented,” said Mallory. “I want to give them a real-world professional experience that they can put in their portfolio and resume.”
“We’ve always worked to foster a collaborative arts department. Collaboration is critical for a film crew, but art and design students, with in a class or across grades, can also learn from each other,” said Naomi Barak, the digital arts coordinator at Digital Arts and Cinema Technology High School. “Seeing our students teach the younger Success Academy students has been fascinating, and has given us great insight into their potential. Sarah has done an outstanding job facilitating the teaching artist experience for them.”
SA Cobble Hill has an extremely diverse student body, with a student population that is 30% black, 32% Hispanic, 25% white, and 14% Asian. Almost half of the students are low-income, and almost all quality for free lunch.
SA Cobble Hill is the highest performing school in the district in regards to math and English, and the only high-performing diverse school in the district.