Fishtank School Spotlight: Beginning with Children Charter Schools

October 26, 2022

The Beginning with Children Education Network is a group of public K–12 charter schools in Brooklyn, NY. Their schools have been expanding their use of both Fishtank Math and Fishtank ELA across K–8 as teachers and students find continued success with the curriculum. We had the opportunity to meet with middle school teachers and leaders from these two schools: Beginning With Children Charter School 2 (BwCCS 2) and Community Partnerships Charter School (CPCS) to hear what Fishtank has done in their classrooms. 

Focused on Students, Not Student Materials

Most teachers can probably agree that there is never enough time to prepare everything for lessons. Teachers at Beginning With Children are no different – except that they have access to Fishtank. Teachers have been able to better focus on student needs because they don’t need to dedicate their time to finding and creating student materials. 

Shaz’men Whitehurst, an ELA teacher at CPCS, used to spend hours of prep time searching for comparative texts and scaffolded resources online to pair with core texts. Shaz’men shared that Fishtank units “save prep time and time searching to find the best material because, when I look at the material and I go through it, I'm like, ‘oh, this is perfect.’ I probably would've found something very similar to this myself.” 

Fellow CPCS teacher Janice Bligen has seen her students’ understanding of core texts deepen because of the “plethora of nonfiction texts that we can use to connect to the actual lessons.” Her students are able to develop their background knowledge of diverse topics when “just telling them in that moment might not be enough.” This highlights Fishtank ELA’s knowledge building design as students develop the content knowledge needed to meaningfully engage with the core texts of the unit. 

7th grade math teacher Nafeesa Scott had just begun using Fishtank’s ready-made slides and handouts (available with Fishtank Plus) when we spoke to her and she was already seeing the difference they could make: “I really love the slides. I just discovered those today. I think it's gonna be a lot easier for teachers next year to focus on the content versus creating documents of lesson plans and worksheets and things like that.”

Every Student is Engaged

One thing the Beginning With Children teachers couldn’t wait to share with us was how much student engagement had increased since they began using Fishtank. Across Math and ELA, students, even those that were normally shy, are eager to participate in class discussions and dive into problems and writing prompts. 

Shaz’men Whitehurst, CPCS ELA Teacher

7th grade Humanities teacher Elizabeth Navarro shared how invested her students were in their Raisin in the Sun unit: “We definitely have a lot more of a relationship with books. When we did Raisin in the Sun, our students were reading those parts and choosing which parts they wanted to read depending on how they were feeling. There was a place for everybody to have a turn and we voted who did the best job being each character. Everybody was saying, ‘oh, do you remember when?’ The students definitely felt those parts as they read them and I think it built a very positive classroom environment.” 

In Shazmen’s ELA class, students are improving, “in the caliber of discourse” as they make strong connections to the individual characters and themes in the texts. She expressed how students are about to see themselves “in what they're reading and in what they're watching which really makes it more valuable. They feel like, ‘okay, this is for me, it's not just something they want me to have, but this is for me to apply.’ What I love most is that our students were able to have these conversations that allow us to look out into the world, into places we've never been and ignite their curiosity.”

Seeing Student Success

Not only are students highly engaged and teachers better able to focus on their instructional practice, students are also excelling across classrooms. Manager of Teaching and Learning at the Beginning With Children Foundation Esosa Ogbahon shared that, “In this third year of live instruction, we're seeing our students make significant gains. If I take our eighth graders, those guys have gone from about 40-50%, proficiency at the beginning of the school year to now in the high 70s. So more than three quarters of our eighth graders are exiting middle school reading on grade level.”

In Ms. Bligen’s Humanities class, students have “grown in writing, especially in their short responses and essays. When they are writing their essays, they know what to include and how to structure it. Before, they were just writing really long, short response answers, but now they are able to make sure that they have an introduction, a first body paragraph, a second body paragraph, and if we need a third one, they'll add a third one and then a conclusion.”

In Ms. Scott’s 7th Grade math class, students even surprised themselves with their ability to tackle challenging problems. At first, “students were afraid to start with so many questions when you gave them that packet. There's about 15 questions there, but they were able to tackle the questions. They would be given the questions for classwork, finish it for homework. And they would run in with their packets to show me ‘I finished it’. So, I'm very proud of them for that.”

Nafeesa Scott, BwCCS 2 Math Teacher

Prioritizing Professional Learning

To help teachers get the most out of Fishtank, Beginning with Children participated in Fishtank’s Professional Learning. Mr. Ogbahon shared how, after participating in Professional Learning, “our teachers were excited about this curriculum. There's a greater enthusiasm amongst teachers, amongst the school leaders, and I would say even amongst the kids, because they're now receiving an even better instructional product from their teachers.”

Esosa Ogbahon, Manager of Teaching and Learning at the Beginning With Children Foundation

Shaz’men shared how, “the professional learning programs offered this year have really been helpful with me learning how to really use the Teacher Tools and understand how those resources are actually there to help me. I don't feel overwhelmed because I know that I don't have to use all of them, but I can really determine which of those resources are going to be best to fit a particular lesson.”

Ms. Scott appreciated the opportunity to explore the website with the Fishtank team and ask questions as they came up. In the past, she hadn’t had an opportunity like this to walk through a curriculum and expressed how, “without someone to actually unpack everything there, it can be overwhelming.”

We were excited about all the success Beginning With Children teachers were seeing in their classrooms and Manager of Teaching and Learning Esosa Ogbahon highlighted how the expertise of teachers combined with the Fishtank curriculum allowed for incredible educational outcomes: “We've got a bunch of skillful teachers within our organization and what Fishtank has allowed our teachers to do is to build on the skills that they have to deliver a better product to our young people.”

Esosa Ogbahon, Manager of Teaching and Learning at the Beginning With Children Foundation


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