A Chance for Renewal

A behind-the-scenes look at one troubled school’s struggle to improve.

Elodie Oriental, 15, (left), and her twin sister, Ismaelle, do homework after school at Brooklyn Generation School, a low-performing high school striving to become a high-performing school.
Photo by Stephanie Snyder, Chalkbeat NY

“Can a low-performing school where most students arrive ill prepared to learn become a high-performing school? And if so, how?” These questions are at the heart of Patrick Wall’s ambitious three-part multimedia series.

In a search for answers, Wall covers Brooklyn Generation School for five months, as it carries out New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “Renewal” program for low-performing schools. Rather than shutter these schools, the program offers a combination of academic assistance and an infusion of resources to help meet students’ academic and nonacademic needs. Wall’s in-depth series captures the school’s high-stakes efforts to meet the city and state’s mandate to make significant improvements by 2017.

In a parallel story line, Wall follows the lives of two sophomores, Ismaelle and Elodie Oriental. Smart, ambitious and motivated, the twins are counting on Brooklyn Generation to propel them out of their working-class Brooklyn neighborhood to an elite university. Will they—and Brooklyn Generation—succeed?

The three-part series was originally published on Chalkbeat New York, an online education news site, on June 22, 2015.

Watch Patrick Wall as he discusses the Mayor de Blasio’s Renewal program and his series on Brooklyn Generation Schools. He appeared as a guest on “Inside City Hall” on June 24, 2015.

Read Patrick Wall’s follow-up story on Mayor de Blasio’s visit to Brooklyn Generation School.

Story Links

Series overview

The series includes brief video portraits of several sophomores from Brooklyn Generation; an explanatory guide to the Renewal program; and a map of all 94 low-performing “Renewal” schools, earmarked to receive extra funding and learning time.

Part 1: A pivotal moment for a school and the program designed to improve it

As the Renewal program rolls out, Brooklyn Generation’s leaders and teachers get a sense of the tests ahead, while the twins continue their uphill climb to college.

Part 2: Waiting for help and worn out by the status quo

Brooklyn Generation is in the middle of a series of high-stakes reviews, each one concluding the school’s academics must improve. But as the teachers keep working with the same needy students, they have yet to receive clear direction.

Part 3: A community grows stronger

As the year winds down, little has changed in the classroom, raising questions about how the program will deliver on its long-term promises. And the twins? Their future remains tied to their school’s.

Patrick Wall is a reporter who covers the New York City school system for Chalkbeat New York, a nonprofit education news organization. Wall previously worked for DNAinfo New York, where he reported on the South Bronx. As a freelance journalist, he has written for many publications, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and Crain’s New York Business. He has won awards from the Education Writers Association, the New York Press Club, and the Society of the Silurians.