Fishtank School Spotlight: I.S. 229 Middle School

September 06, 2023

I.S. 229 is a public school in New York City, in the South Bronx. The school began using Fishtank ELA as a pilot, during the pandemic in an attempt to better engage their diverse student population. Because of the positive response from both students and teachers, I.S. 229 has expanded its use of Fishtank ELA, making it the core curriculum used in all middle school classrooms. 

We recently had the opportunity to meet with teachers and leaders at I.S. 229 to learn more about the positive impact Fishtank ELA has had in their classrooms. We spoke with Ms. Sherry Ormond, the middle school ELA Lead teacher, and Ms. Adrienne Marquez, an integrated co-teaching and self-contained special education teacher.


Encouraging Student Engagement

When we first started talking with Ms. Marquez, she told us that “typically, to be honest, I don't want to participate in any of these things, but I will say that I was very interested in participating just because of how I feel about Fishtank.” 

Her students are not only engaging with the texts more than ever before, but they are able to have deeper conversations, and make connections to their own lives in every unit. She shared that the Fishtank ELA texts “are relevant to the times and are necessary. They are important. And the kids like them.”

The combination of a core text, like class favorite The Watsons Go to Birmingham, and the supplemental resources allowed students to build their background knowledge, leading to a better understanding of the characters in the text. Ms. Marquez felt that the Fishtank texts “deepen our discussions. They deepen students’ thinking and push students’ thinking.” 

As an integrated co-teacher,–the special education component of a co-teaching pair in a general education classroom–Ms. Marquez shared how much she appreciates the supports embedded in the Enhanced Lesson Plans. Both students with exceptionalities and general education students were able to deeply engage with the text, participate in conversations, and complete daily writing assignments because the embedded supports address “the needs of all the students and  provide access at all entry levels.” 

Ms. Marquez, Special Education Teacher

When speaking with Ms. Ormond, her excitement about Fishtank was inspiring. She couldn’t wait to tell us how much Fishtank had helped to change students’ perceptions and conversations about books. With Fishtank, students “are able to speak the points in the text. They're actually able to have whole class discussions that have turned into debates, which we're delighted by. Kids are just talking about text which is amazing.”

Ms. Ormond, ELA Teacher

Students were making connections to the world around them as they read All American Boys in 8th grade and as they learned about DACA in the 7th grade Defining America unit. Ms. Ormond shared that by reading the types of texts Fishtank ELA centers, “Education stops being this thing where, if I'm not white, if I'm not a boy, if I'm not middle class or upper middle class, I'm excluded from this thing, and it becomes much more.”

Ms. Ormond, ELA Teacher

Towards the end of our conversation, Ms. Ormond also repeated how much the 6th grade students loved the Developing Resilience: The Watsons Go to Birmingham unit. She shared that, since she began working at I.S. 229, “The Watsons Go to Birmingham was the first book that I finished reading where kids were clapping.”


Easing Teacher Prep

As we shifted the conversation from Fishtank’s impact on students to the impact on teachers, Ms. Marquez shared that Fishtank ELA “is well thought out. It’s well put together. It's student-centered. It's teacher-centered. It’s everything, and I really do enjoy it.” 

She explained that Fishtank saves her time and leaves her feeling better prepared to support students every day: “I don't find myself stressing out over it. It pushes to maintain accountability on both parties—on myself and the students. I completely understand the lesson before instruction, and everybody needs that.” Not only was the curriculum easy to understand, navigate, and unpack, but it includes everything she needs–supplemental resources to build background, scaffolds, language and foundational skills support, vocabulary support–to ensure every student can access the material.

Ms. Marquez, Special Education Teacher

As a leader at I.S. 229, Ms. Ormond was integral to Fishtank ELA being chosen as the middle school curriculum. When her principal presented the curriculum to her and asked what she thought, she immediately was impressed by the texts chosen and the design of the lessons. 

She felt like Fishtank would “eliminate excuses for teachers,” because everything they need to create a rigorous, relevant, and engaging lesson is embedded: “When we started to use Fishtank, what I thought was great about it was the fact that you kind of can't mess it up. The only way you can really mess it up is if you don't look at it ahead of time.” 

When introducing the new curriculum, she knew there could be some push back from teachers as it can be overwhelming to tackle a new curriculum. However, she was able to get teachers invested in and excited about Fishtank by showing teachers how much time it would save them while still providing high-quality lessons: “What the curriculum comes with is enough. It's more than enough to work with.”

Ms. Ormond, ELA Teacher

Ms. Ormond was happy to share that now, after using Fishtank for three years, teachers are eager to dive back into Fishtank ELA next school year.


Ensuring Success Across Classrooms

While we’re always excited to hear how much students and teachers enjoy their experience with Fishtank ELA, we know it’s also important that schools are seeing results. At I.S. 229, there is no shortage of incredibly positive results. 

Ms. Ormond, ELA Teacher

Across middle school classrooms, teachers are “starting to see a throughline with students coming in in sixth grade very low, but they're better when they leave, and then when they go to seventh grade, they're doing better. And then in eighth grade, they're doing better. That's the direction you want it to go in. And I definitely think, for us, Fishtank has had a lot to do with that."

Ms. Ormond shared how Fishtank’s focus on deeply understanding a text and grounding class discussions and writing directly in the text “worked out for us in a great way because our students were so low in reading. That is really where we had to focus most of our attention anyway.” When talking about students’ constructed responses, she shared, “When you're reading it, you're like, wait, all of this stuff is here, they have a claim, they have a detail, they have an analysis.” Students are better able to read the texts, write about the texts, and speak about the texts with every unit they complete. 

While they’re still waiting on the most recent school proficiency scores to be published, Ms. Ormond was excited to share that I.S. 229’s “proficiency scores have gone up since we started with Fishtank. When I started teaching here, we were around 14% proficiency and then the next year we were at 23%, and then we were at 36%. Fingers crossed because the scores haven't officially come out, but I definitely think we may be in the forties this year.”

In closing out our conversation, I asked Ms. Marquez if there were anything else she wanted to share about her experience: “I am overly pleased. I couldn’t be happier!” 

Ms. Marquez, Special Education Teacher

We are so happy to be able to celebrate the many successes happening in I.S. 229 classrooms! 

Want to see what Fishtank could do for your school? Explore School Adoption and contact our School Partnerships Team to get started! Already part of a Fishtank school team? Tell us what you love about Fishtank and you could be the next school we shine a spotlight on! 

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