A Majority Of This School’s Students Make It To College, Despite Being Homeless Or In Foster Care

How are students facing homelessness, displacement, in foster care, considered economically disadvantaged and/or differently abled making it to college? A tuition-free charter school located in Manhattan’s West Village is challenging mainstream education and the idea that New York City’s most troubled and underprivileged youth are a lost cause. The results? Staggering.

To be precise: half of Broome Street Academy’s lottery is set aside for teens who are homeless. Seventy-seven percent of the student body is financially destitute, while 27 percent is deemed disabled. Despite the odds, BSA managed to send 82 percent of its inaugural class to two-year and four-year colleges.

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“It’s about breaking the cycle,” said BSA’s Head of School Barbara McKeon to the Daily Beast. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think we couldn’t make a difference. Am I going to change the world? No. But am I going to change individual worlds? I hope so.”

Though BSA fell short of state standards in Language Arts and Math standardized testing, the SUNY Charter Schools Institute praised BSA’s “rigorous curriculum and instruction, strong leadership and continual use of data to monitor programs coalesce into a particularly strong and effective educational program.”

“I think we’re pretty unique,” said McKeon. “I think we shouldn’t be. I spend a lot of time in meetings with educators and legislators where I have to tell them that I’m not that kind of charter school. That’s not a dig or a diss. We’re just different, so please don’t group me in the charter discussion.”

McKeon emphasized the importance of empathy and willingness to work hands-on with students. “We can’t be afraid of these children,” McKeon expressed. “They’re children! People are afraid of this ‘type’ of kid. I’m not afraid of them. They’re teenagers. They’re wrestling with hormones, boyfriends, girlfriends, gender identity, sexual identity, social-emotional development. Plus, I mean, I had a student in here today who witnessed a murder in a bodega the previous day. Imagine dealing with that type of thing, in addition to all the other stuff.”

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Considering the variables that often prove to be student drawbacks on a day-to-day basis — hours-long commute, environmental issues, insecurity, death, violence — teachers have to be ready to treat their pupils with a high level of care. “We [have to] earn trust through explicit conversations,” explained McKeon. “I’m going to respect my students’ feelings. I may not condone their actions, but I will respect their feelings.”

BSA receives financial backing through various initiatives, none of which are hedge funds. In fact, the only corporate entity of Broom Street’s organization is The Door, a nonprofit that supports at-risk youth. Otherwise, funding comes in largely from the state of New York and raising money independently.

Talk about excellence.