By Brooklyn Reader

March 26, 2014, 12:16 pm

 

TFOA Professional Preparatory Charter School Founder and Co-Leader Rafiq Kalam Id-Din II with a student

TFOA Professional Preparatory Charter School Founder and Co-Leader Rafiq Kalam Id-Din II with a student

Teaching Firms of America Professional Preparatory Charter School, on the surface, seems not unlike the dozens of other charter schools opened in Bedford-Stuyvesant in the last five years.

At the public charter, located at 616 Quincy Street, the children wear uniforms; it shares space and resources with The Clara Cardwell School, where it occupies the entire 3rd floor;

The school of kindergarteners through third-graders is in its third year. And its motto, “21st Century Schools for 21st Century Students,” echoes the standard charter school manifesto that promises change in a changing world.

However, if you scratch the surface a little harder, you’ll find that TFOA Professional Prep probably is unlike any charter you’ve seen before.

A student sits quietly in a classroom at TFOA Professional Preparatory Charter School

A student sits quietly in a classroom at TFOA Professional Preparatory Charter School

“Close the gap. Close the gap,” said a teacher, as she led her classroom of first-graders in a straight line down the hall. The group of 20 or so 6-year-olds was quiet, orderly, and the child who fell behind three or four paces immediately rushed to catch up.

All of the teachers, administrators and the students refer to each other by their first or last name, preceded by “sister” or “brother.” Along most of the walls, next to kindergarten artwork, hang framed photos of historical world leaders, including Rosa Parks, Desmond Tutu and Sonia Sotomayor, as well as a 1980s photo of Argentinian mothers marching with signs for “Los Desaparecidos.”

TFOA Professional Preparatory Charter School

TFOA Professional Preparatory Charter School

However, the school’s founder and co-leader Rafiq Kalam Id-Din II will tell you, at the core of what makes Professional Prep so different are six value-driven symbols that shape the school’s pedagogy, an entirely distinct model for teaching and learning:

Sankofa— The reflection on history and past actions, learning from mistakes

Tama Drum—Self esteem, self-identity and finding your voice

Heremakhet—Symbol for memory and critical thinking

Banyan Tree—How a community is built and how we engage with one another

Djed– Focus; symbolizes the spine as the conduit for information

Ma’at—The quest for purpose and balance

“These are attributes that drive the powerful learning behaviors that help students realize their potential,” said Kalam Id-Din, a former lawyer. “One of the things we look for in our instructors is a sign they are open to new methods of teaching and learning. Our summers, we spend a lot of time focused and studying these underlying principles, so through the year, this is something we constantly cycle back to.”

The Banyan Tree, which symbolizes community and interpersonal relationships, is one of six value symbols emphasized on top of the curriculum at Professional Prep Charter School

The Banyan Tree, which symbolizes community and interpersonal relationships, is one of six value symbols emphasized on top of the curriculum at Professional Prep Charter School

Damien Dunkley, the school’s other co-leader, adds, “Sankofa and Ma’at are two we emphasize. Ma’at, for example, is the symbol of the heart and the feather: Your heart is on one side and the feather, the other. In kindergarten, we use this concept a lot because it relates to how you feel when you make poor choices; you feel a heaviness, like you’re weighed down.

“It’s playing with that feeling, so they have a visual imagery. And over time, if I just do this,” he gestures by showing his two hands balancing like a scale, “they already know it’s involving a decision from within.”

“They’re just thinking skills,” said Dunkley. “When you think about analysis through any curricular lens, it all connects to how you look at information. Analysis only works if you understand how the parts relate to the whole. So as we’re planning, we’re using this layered on top of the curriculum and the content and the standards.”

“We know it’s a paradigm shift, but it’s an ongoing process,” said Kalam Id-Din. “And it’s not to say this is the only way. But it’s an openness and an attempt to grow in your own path.”

Classes are “looped,” so that students remain with the same teacher from kindergarten through fifth grade. Because of this, there’s a sense of camaraderie, a calm and familiarity that embodies each classroom.

Children stretch after story time at TFOA Professional Preparatory Charter School

Children stretch after story time at TFOA Professional Preparatory Charter School

Dunkley and Kalam Id-Din also both teach a class of third-graders they’ve each had since the first grade. They say they can give numerous anecdotes about how the students have learned to apply the six tenants to effectively problem solve in any situation.

One story Dunkley tells is of a girl who came to them in first grade and could not read or write. She had issues with anger, and she intimidated kids twice her size.  She didn’t seem to respond to the core values at all in the first two years.

But by the third year, everyone on the staff began to observe a big change in her. She learned to read and so began reading a lot. Dunkley said, after she crossed the academic bridge, she walked differently, smiles a lot more.

“Now, when she finds herself growing frustrated about something, she stops and says, ‘Oh no, I didn’t take the information I got and do anything different with it.’ And that alone is so powerful,” said Dunkley. “When kids get into that level of granularity in their thinking, they realize they can be the agents of change in their life, for good or bad. So now, she’s leading. And people listen to her.”

Although unique in its approach, Professional Prep borrows some of its methodology for teaching and learning from the International Bacccaulaureate approach, as well as the Waldorf schools, with an emphasis on “fun and love,” according to Kalam Id-Din.

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6 Responses

  1. Barbara Truesdale

    I am so proud of you Rafiq. I expected no less of you no matter where you chose to put your considerable talent to work. My prayers go out to you and the students.

    Reply
  2. Kristy Samper

    My girl, Sister Ana teaches at this incredible school and has developed so many aspects of her character not the least of which is the love and respect for children.

    Reply
  3. Khaleelah Shabazz

    Congratulations to Mr. Rafiq Kalam Id-Din and the staff of TFOA Professional Preparatory Charter School on the work that you are doing to uplift and inspire ALL CHILDREN academically, socially and emotionally. Great job Malikah Al-Uqdah, Early Childhood Teacher at TFOA!

    Reply
  4. Khadijah Alderman

    Rafiq and associates of TFOA May God Bless you for your efforts. May He give you continued success. Rafiq if there’s any little thing I can do, do not hesitate to reach out. You inspire me.

    Reply

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