Editorial Team

The Citizens’ Committee for Children (CCC) recently published a comprehensive report titled “From Strengths to Solutions: An Asset-Based Approach to Meeting Community Needs in Brownsville.” This report delved into the needs of the Brownsville community by engaging with its residents and workers. According to the findings, Brownsville consistently ranks among the top five highest-risk communities for children in New York City.

Cultural Arts Academy Charter School (CAACS), founded fourteen years ago, has been deeply committed to serving the Brownsville/East New York Community. Their vision and mission focus on advocating for the dignity, worth, and education of all children, particularly those facing demographic biases and inequity. Dr. Laurie Midgette, Founding Principal and CEO of Cultural Arts Academy Charter School, emphasizes the importance of this mission: “Our goal is to provide a quality education to children and families who deserve it, despite the challenges they may face.”

The school’s demographic reflects the community it serves, with over 90% of scholars coming from the immediate vicinity of Brownsville and East New York. Primarily African American males, the student body also includes a significant number of families headed by grandparents raising grandchildren. At its core, CAACS is dedicated to providing a college preparatory education infused with cultural arts proficiency. Dr. Midgette envisions their students as future leaders who will make a profound impact on society: “We aim to nurture young leaders who will positively influence the human condition.”

Empowering Tomorrow’s Leaders

In the heart of the Brownsville community, housed within a renovated supermarket, stands CAACS. Here, students are immersed in the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program (IB-PYP), a rigorous academic curriculum seldom found in neighborhoods like Brownsville. Dr. Midgette describes, “We believe in providing our students with a challenging yet nurturing environment where they can thrive academically and creatively.”

The IB-PYP curriculum revolves around six international transdisciplinary themes, fostering inquiry-based learning and project-based studies. As the educational landscape navigates the uncertainties brought about by the global pandemic, CAACS seeks to pioneer innovative teaching methods. Dr. Midgette highlights, “We aim to equip our students with the skills to tackle complex global issues with agility and resilience.”

The true measure of students’ success, according to Dr. Midgette, lies not only in their academic achievements but also in their ability to identify real-world problems and devise practical solutions. The IB-PYP curriculum instills in students a sense of agency and self-motivation, empowering them to take charge of their learning journey. “At CAACS, we take pride in nurturing the next generation of leaders who are capable of effecting positive change in their communities and beyond,” says Dr. Midgette.

Nurturing Creativity

CAACS places a strong emphasis on cultural arts. It acknowledges the significance of a culturally responsive curriculum in today’s diverse and complex world. Therefore, the school integrates the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (IB-PYP) with a strong arts education program. Dr. Midgette shares, “We believe that exposing our students to diverse forms of artistic expression fosters not only creativity but also empathy and understanding.”

From kindergarten through 5th grade, all scholars at CAACS immerse themselves in various art forms, including Dance, Drama, Music, and the Visual Arts. This comprehensive exposure cultivates a deep appreciation for the arts across different cultures and time periods while empowering students to express themselves confidently. Dr. Midgette reflects on the Grade 5 exhibition, PYP-X, held in 2021, “Our students showcased remarkable leadership and creativity as they tackled pressing issues such as sustainability and access to education through their individual projects on the ‘School of the Future’.”

To support teachers in integrating the arts into their lessons, CAACS provides comprehensive arts-integration training led by specialists. Curriculum mapping ensures that arts integration is seamlessly woven into all instructional units, allowing students to engage with the arts across various subjects.

Throughout the academic year, the school organizes special arts events led by students, showcasing their talents in visual arts, drama, dance, and music to parents and the community. Additionally, partnerships with renowned organizations such as Arts Horizons, American Ballet Theater, and Jazz at Lincoln Center, as well as local artists, enrich the arts education experience. “The arts are integral to providing our students with a holistic education,” says Dr. Midgette. “Not only do they enhance creativity and critical thinking, but they also promote family engagement and provide diverse avenues for assessing student learning.”

Fostering International Mindedness

The school culture at CAACS harmoniously aligns with classroom dynamics, creating a cohesive learning environment. The International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (IB-PYP) serves as a bridge, connecting the local worldview and experiences of K-5 students in Brownsville, Brooklyn, with global languages, cultures, perspectives, and human potential. Dr. Midgette emphasizes, “Through inquiry-based learning and academic rigor, our students are encouraged to explore globally significant ideas and challenges with empathy and understanding.”

The IB-PYP curriculum encourages students to delve deep into international issues, fostering a sense of international mindedness. Students engage in thought-provoking units of inquiry that prompt them to critically examine the root causes of global phenomena. “In 2022, our Grade 5 scholars organized a Model United Nations as part of their PYP Exhibition,” explains Dr. Midgette. “They researched and presented resolutions on climate change from the perspectives of different countries, fostering empathy and diplomatic skills.”

In 2023, CAACS welcomed 22 new language learners into their community. As part of the Grade 5 IB PYP Exhibition theme, “Nuestras Historias de Inmigración (Our Immigration Stories),” students explored the journeys of immigrant families and shared their own ancestral migration stories. “Our students gained a deeper understanding of the struggles and aspirations of immigrant families through research and storytelling,” says Dr. Midgette. “These experiences empower them to appreciate diverse perspectives and value their own lived experiences.”

Through the IB-PYP framework, CAACS cultivates a learning environment where students develop a profound understanding of global issues and their interconnectedness, fostering empathy, understanding, and a sense of responsibility as global citizens.

Empowering Individual Growth

CAACS takes pride in celebrating the unique learning journey of each student, fostering a customized approach to education that focuses on identifying individual strengths, interests, and needs. Dr. Midgette emphasizes the school’s commitment to addressing systemic gaps and supporting marginalized students: “We believe in establishing clear strategies and processes for delivering personalized supports and services to every scholar, with active involvement from parents and caregivers.”

CAACS employs a comprehensive approach to student support, utilizing feedback and data from various sources, including students and families, to assess impact. The school fosters collaborative relationships with partner organizations to provide coordinated services that meet the diverse needs of students and families. “Our student-led conferences are a testament to our commitment to student agency and empowerment,” explains Dr. Midgette. “Students are actively involved in discussing their progress and setting personal goals with their families, showcasing their work samples and sharing their learning experiences.”

During these conferences, students guide their parents through their Leadership Portfolio and other artifacts, reflecting on their growth as learners and areas for improvement. They also engage in dialogue about their learning activities and aspirations, inviting their parents to actively participate in their educational journey. “At CAACS, we believe in empowering students to take ownership of their learning and development,” says Dr. Midgette. “Through personalized conferences and ongoing support, we strive to cultivate a culture where every student feels valued, supported, and inspired to reach their fullest potential.”

Fostering Partnership and Success

CAACS values its partnership with parents, recognizing them as essential partners in nurturing the growth and development of scholars. Dr. Midgette underscores the importance of open communication: “We encourage families to share any information that may impact their child’s well-being and academic journey.”

The school is dedicated to fostering meaningful partnerships with parents, recognizing them as essential contributors to their child’s academic success. Dr. Midgette says, “We believe that collaboration between school and home is critical to providing a supportive learning environment for our students.” To gauge parent satisfaction and gather feedback, CAACS regularly conducts surveys, including the NYC DOE school survey. Results consistently show high levels of parent satisfaction, with ratings of 95% or above in every category.

“Our commitment to parent satisfaction is reflected in our ongoing efforts to listen and respond to parent feedback,” says Dr. Midgette. “We strive to exceed expectations and ensure that every family feels valued and supported.” In addition to soliciting feedback, CAACS actively involves parents in the school community through various initiatives overseen by the family specialist. This specialist plays a crucial role in promoting family involvement, addressing concerns, and fostering a welcoming atmosphere.

“Our family specialist works tirelessly to cultivate partnerships with parents and create opportunities for meaningful engagement,” explains Dr. Midgette. “Through weekly communication, including letters home, emails, and a text notification system, we keep parents informed and involved in their child’s education journey.” By fostering strong partnerships with parents, CAACS creates a collaborative learning environment where students can thrive academically, socially, and emotionally.

The Impact of Alumni and Data-Driven Instruction

CAACS takes pride in the academic success of its alumni, serving as a testament to the effectiveness of its educational approach. Dr. Midgette emphasizes the school’s commitment to nurturing lifelong learners: “Our alumni’s achievements reflect the values and principles instilled in them during their time at CAACS.”

Alumni of CAACS consistently excel in middle school, frequently earning spots on the honor roll and surpassing their peers on New York State Regents examinations. Many alumni also accrue college credits during high school, demonstrating the strength of the foundation laid at CAACS. “Our alumni serve as role models for current students, embodying the IB Learner Profile and PYP attitudes,” says Dr. Midgette. “Their success validates our mission to empower students to become confident, competent, and compassionate individuals.”

At CAACS, assessment and data-driven instruction are central to fostering student growth and mastery of learning standards. Students undergo baseline and diagnostic assessments to identify strengths and weaknesses in reading and writing, with a focus on both expository and fictional texts. Teachers analyze summative and formative assessment data regularly, supported by the instructional leadership team. Data analysis informs instruction, enabling teachers to provide targeted support to students who need it most. “We believe in empowering students to take ownership of their academic growth,” explains Dr. Midgette. “By equipping students with a deep understanding of their strengths and challenges, we empower them to become active participants in their educational journey.”

Fostering Success

In addition to maintaining well-managed physical, academic, and recreational spaces, CAACS has implemented peace corners to promote conflict resolution and foster a peaceful learning environment. These spaces provide students with opportunities to manage their emotions independently, promoting positive habits and attitudes.

Dr. Midgette highlights the school’s commitment to preparing students for future success: “Our focus extends beyond academic achievement to include the development of critical life skills.” The 2022-2023 New York City School Quality Snapshot reflects the school’s success, with 98% of former 5th graders passing their 6th grade classes, surpassing both district and city averages.

To further support students’ transition to middle school, CAACS has established a 5th Grade Rites of Passage Program. This program includes character-building workshops, individual capstone projects, and collective projects designed to foster teamwork and community spirit. “The Rites of Passage Program is a cornerstone of our commitment to holistic student development,” explains Dr. Midgette. “Through personalized projects and collective efforts, students gain valuable skills and experiences that prepare them for the next chapter of their academic and personal journey.” At the culmination of the program, students are celebrated as debutantes and gentlemen at CAACS’s annual end-of-the-year formal event, honoring their achievements and growth throughout the program period.

For More Info: https://www.culturalartsacademy.org/


Dr. Laurie Midgette, Founding Principal and CEO of Cultural Arts Academy Charter School

Dr. Laurie Midgette currently serves as the Founding Principal and CEO of Cultural Arts Academy Charter School, an International Baccalaureate (IB) World School, in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, New York. She has received numerous awards for her service as an educator including The Samuel A. Peabody Award, the NYC Teacher of the Year award, and the Council of Supervisors and Administrators Performance Incentive (2004–2006) for improving the academic performance of students within her school.

Prior to being a Principal, Dr. Midgette has served as a teacher, Special Education Supervisor and Assistant Principal English/ESL and Second Languages. She has also served as a state scorer for the NYS teacher certification examinations. Dr. Midgette serves as a facilitator for the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Principals’ Center institutes: The National Institute for Urban School Leaders, Leadership: An Evolving Vision, and Navigating Complexities: A Leadership Program for Principals. She has also beta-tested several leadership courses for HGSE. Lastly, Dr. Midgette has participated in global learning tours to many countries including, Cuba, Israel, Barbados, Spain, The Hague in the Netherlands, Swaziland (Eswatini), South Africa, and Finland.

Dr. Midgette has received numerous awards for her service as an educator including The Samuel A. Peabody Award, and the NYC Teacher of the Year award. Dr. Midgette was inducted into the Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education in 2009, and is a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., a public service organization for the last 39 years.

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