Giving parents an educational option within a neighborhood that deals with economic challenges is vital to the success of the children living there, said Staci White, chief of operations at Merrick Academy, which recently received a new five-year lease with the city.
But at Merrick Academy, the school’s leaders and staff pride themselves on providing more than just an option to families — they want to be known as the best charter school in Queens.
On the heels of the academy’s new five-year lease, Dr. Karen Valburn, principal of the school, created a new motto for staff and students: “Proficiency and Beyond.” She said that doing just enough to get by doesn’t show success; instead, students should strive toward greatness.
“We don’t want to just prepare our children for the next grade level,” Valburn said. “We want them to go beyond that.”
The Springfield Gardens school, located at 136-25 218th St., has been in operation since 2000. It was the first charter school to come to Queens, providing instruction for students from kindergarten through sixth grade. The school just renewed a lease that will keep it going until 2020.
Valburn has worked in public education for most of her life, but this is her first year in a charter school. She said that being part of the charter school program has been a great experience because the opportunities for growth and creativity are unmatched elsewhere.
“There are no bounds by rigid district rules,” said Valburn. “We can do a lot of different things outside of school and run many different interactive programs we wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.”
Some of these programs include instruction in fine and performing arts, often lacking at other public schools. Third-graders are learning how to sculpt and create still life studies as part of “Studio in School.” Fourth-graders are working with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
After completing the 17-week dance program, the students will put on a performance for the rest of the school. Fifth- and sixth-graders, meanwhile, are taking classes with the Metropolitan Opera. Not only will they get to perform an opera for their schoolmates, they’ll get to see an opera firsthand.
Valburn said the children enjoy the classes, adding that she has seen positive growth with their testing and overall performance. She was excited that because of the new lease for the school, she will be able to expand the system of learning at Merrick Academy and continue to reach their goal of preparing students to go beyond the minimum standards for proficiency.
“We want to regain our status as being one of the most competitive educational institutes in our neighboring charter schools and district,” she noted. “This is 21st-century learning, where we push our students to be leaders of their learning.”
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