Satellite Academy High School

Steven Zbaida
120 West 30th Street, New York, NY 10001

Satellite Academy is multi-sited school serving overage students who have attended other high schools prior to coming to Satellite. Our student population is generally 1-2 years overage and they have attended 1-2 other high schools before coming to Satellite. This has been our target population for our entire 30+ years’ history. Over 80% of our students are eligible for free and/or reduced price lunch. Our curriculum and support programs are designed to engage the students in study and reflection in a hands-on and personalized manner. Our instructional program focuses on helping students develop effective learning and interpersonal habits.

Students are asked to demonstrate their knowledge through projects and our use of performance-based assessment tasks. Students have a large degree of choice over the courses they take. Teachers are encouraged to redesign curriculum and the staff assesses all pilot programs before becoming a regular part of the program. Textbooks are used, though a great deal of material is teacher generated and gathered from various publications and other texts. The use of the Internet for research has increased each year. Courses that make student produced video documentaries, power point presentations and web pages are also used as resources and strategies in classes. There are after school programs for helping students with skills and course achievement.

All students are part of family groups. These groups meet 3-4 hours each week and are an integral part of our program. Teachers attend after school workshops for developing their skills in this area. We have collaborated with the New York University Creative Arts team to train teachers in this area. The family group advisor is the most “significant adult" in the school for the students in his or her family.

As we expect students to use their work as demonstration of their learning, student work, (writing, presentations, video productions, etc), is used as a fundamental basis for staff development sessions so that the staff can collectively refine school wide standards. In order to better understand our work with students we examine student assignments and projects, teacher assignments and course development directly. We commonly explore collaboratively the use of a variety of teaching strategies so that students with different learning styles and needs can learn through differentiated modalities. Staff and student developed scoring and assessment rubrics are also used to evaluate work. We have found that rubrics appear to address our goals and needs for making learning progress evident for our students. We continue our work to revise them and will work on that throughout the course of the coming year. Our work with the rubrics of the New York City Performance Based Assessment Consortium has helped us with this process. Feedback from staff, students and parents is critical to this revision process.

We also use “framing” methodology that helps students think about a task in a schematic form. This process helps students visualize the steps that are needed to adequately complete a task. For many of our students, strategies such as framing are extremely powerful and can be adapted for a variety of purposes.

We have given each of the stages of a student’s matriculation a name, (different at each site). The initial stage is an orientation stage where students focus on developing those habits that they need in order to succeed in school. These habits are introduced and reinforced using our Learning to Learn skills approaches (revision, close reading, discussion skills, note taking, research skills project and performance based learning). The students focus on their own learning history and write extensively about themselves in a humanities course.

The second stage of the program is one in which students reinforce these habits and skills and begin to tackle even more challenges. Research projects are introduced and student presentations are stressed. It is in this stage where we hope to see the formation of student portfolios take shape. We have developed guidelines for these portfolios and have invited in a range of guests (parents, other teachers, college professors, business people, graduates) to critique our work. Students submit cover letters reflecting on their time at Satellite and on the reasoning behind their selection of work for their portfolios. Classes in this stage encompass all subject areas.

Our final stage is one that allows students to bring together all that they have learned at our school and prepare for the transition to college and/or work. All seniors are scheduled to be in a Senior course prior to Graduation. This stage includes students spending time on preparing a “senior project” and demonstrating to our school community that they are ready for graduation by exhibiting their work. They must also demonstrate that they have a clear plan for the immediate future, (college acceptance and/or job/career plans).

We make great use of our course outlines and planning. We are clear about what outlines should demonstrate for the planning of a complete course of studies, and they are used as public documents that are shared by the staff. Course outlines must show alignment with the New York State Learning Standards. Course planning does not end at the classroom door. Each course is a part of the entire fabric of the school’s program. All courses must fit the learning goals for the school and should ideally support each other in methodology and intellectual challenge.

Before students register for classes they read “mini-versions” of the outlines which provide an opportunity for them to know what a course will be like for them. We also expect that all teachers are very clear with students about the syllabus for a course at the beginning. Course themes and skill objectives, learning expectations, materials, grading policies, classroom norms and learning practices, are all shared.