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BRONX ARENA HIGH SCHOOL multimedia monograph

A reDesign publication created in collaboration with Bronx Arena High School students and faculty A reDesign publication created in collaboration with the students and staff of Bronx Arena High School

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ABOUT THIS MONOGRAPH This monograph was created by Sydney Schaef and Antonia Rudenstine of reDesign, LLC, and developed in collaboration with Springpoint with support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. reDesign is an educational design, coaching, and consulting organization dedicated to helping schools and school systems improve educational outcomes for historically underserved youth.



Our heartfelt thanks goes to our partners in this work, Sam Sherwood, Ty Cesene, the incredible faculty and advocate/ counselors of Bronx Arena High School, and the following Bronx Arena students: Crispin Erika Wilson Bryce Montgomery Joseph McFadden Justin Torres Ashley Melecio Rakeshwar Kutwaru Anthony Damon

ChristopherJorge Gisellys Alvarez-PeĂąa Lizabelle Perez Maria Hernandez Sharon Navarrete Jenna Rivera Angelina Betances Shania Vargas-Marte

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There are many ways one might describe Bronx Arena High School. Competency-based. Asynchronous. Blended. Learner-centered. Alternative. Bronx Arena High School is each of these things, but at it’s core, Bronx Arena is a school community dedicated to serving students who have experienced failure in traditional public schools by creating transformative opportunities for students to reengage in formal education and forge their own path to postsecondary readiness. The mission of Bronx Arena is to support and empower over-age, under-credited students to achieve academic success so they can earn a high school diploma and graduate prepared to enter college, post-secondary training, or a

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career path that matches their personal and professional goals and aspirations. Now in its fifth year of operation, Bronx Arena is seeing impressive results.

65% 18%

of Bronx Arena students graduate and enroll in college is New York City’s high school graduation rate for the same student population attending other city schools

In short, this is a new school startup that is rapidly approaching proof of concept. We’ll discuss Bronx Arena results in greater depth (See Evidence of Impact), but we’re telling this story not only as a knowledge-building resource for the field, but because we believe something profoundly important is happening here. The team at Bronx Arena, while quietly doing their thing in a small corner of New York City, are here to teach us that the young learners who have historically been marginalized by our broken school system— labeled and sorted out— are arguably our greatest source of insight and truth about how we must redesign our schools to in order to restore equity and purpose and justice for all children. This monograph aims to “lift the hood” on the inner-workings and ongoing evolution of the Bronx Arena model, and on the ways in which it seeks to “individualize, personalize, and humanize education” as the path to academic engagement and success. Ultimately, our hope is that this monograph will serve as a resource for practitioners, designers, policymakers, and others in the field, and a disruptive narrative to those that have dominated our education system and reform efforts.

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By design and in practice, the principal of positive youth development is the axis of Bronx Arena’s school model. A core belief of the Bronx Arena leadership team is that high quality student-teacher relationships and personalized, student-centered learning experiences are foundational to achieving a highfunctioning, high-performing learning community. To this end, The Bronx Arena team demonstrates a shared belief that, in order to fulfill its mission and vision, it must operate in a responsive, strengthsbased way to the individual needs, interests, preferences, and goals of its students. Every day.







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What has emerged is a place where students feel a profound sense of belonging and connection; a place of possibility and of growing agency over one’s pathway to graduation and beyond; and a place in which a remarkable balance is struck between structure and flexibility, between autonomy and shared responsibility.

MEET THE STUDENTS ################## ################## ################## ################## ################## In each of the six sections that follow, we will explore these dynamics in greater depth.

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MONOGRAPH CONTENTS VISION OF A GRADUATE Let’s begin by taking a closer look at Bronx Arena’s vision for a high school graduate. We’ll examine its academic and efficacy competencies and explore how these competencies connect to its desired outcomes for all students. (RE-IMAGINING) TIME We’ll investigate the distinctive ways in which Bronx Arena’s model rethinks the use of time in the school day, week, and calendar year. CURRICULUM AND ASSESSMENT
 We’ll explore Bronx Arena’s curriculum model and assessment strategy, and delve into their approach to supporting and sustaining curriculum design efforts. LEARNING IN THE ARENA We’ll dive into the core of teaching and learning at Bronx Arena, explore its human capital strategy, its teacher “facilitation modes,” its instructional planning practices and protocols, and the regular use of formative data to drive responsive supports. LEARNING SYSTEMS: THE TRACKER
 We’ll dig into Bronx Arena’s in-house tracking system, a powerful student-centered learning management tool. We’ll explore its key features and share insights from its evolution as an early working Excel prototype. EVIDENCE OF IMPACT We discuss the remarkable results achieved in the five years since Bronx Arena’s founding, including Regents results and early college acceptance and persistence rates.

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VISION FOR A GRADUATE A reDesign publication created in collaboration with the students and staff of Bronx Arena High School

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The Bronx Arena vision for a high school graduate is articulated by the academic and efficacy competencies that serve as the backbone of its academic program. As in any competency-based school model, competencies are inextricably tied to the school vision, as they bring clarity and definition to the school’s intended outcomes for all learners. Let’s take a look at Bronx Arena’s competencies and the rationale behind them.


Reasoning, Analysis, and Interpretation (Linear)

Cyclical and Symbolic Thinking

Creative and Divergent Thinking



Academic Vocabulary

Recognition of Phonics

Writing organization and structure

Voice and style

Grammar, mechanics, and syntax

Group discussion

Oral presentations



Problem Solving




Bronx Arena’s competencies are organized into five “Core Skill” domains: thinking, literacy, numeracy, expression, and self and community. Each domain is made up of a set of “competency clusters” or segments (e.g., Thinking domain has four competency clusters). These clusters are made up of competencies that are trans-disciplinary, not confined to a particular subject area, and students work toward mastery of competencies continuously throughout their time at Bronx Arena. BRONX ARENA COMPETENCY DOMAINS

Number and Quantity





Statistics and Probability

Personal Efficacy

Social/Group Efficacy

Global Citizenship

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Let’s take a quick look at one of Bronx Arena’s competency clusters. In the example below, the “Problem Solving” cluster is made up of nine competencies: PROBLEM SOLVING COMPETENCY CLUSTER


Analyze cause and effect relationships of events. Determine if something is a cause or a coincidence.

Break an idea or problem into its parts and analyze how those parts work together

Combine and analyze qualitative and quantitative data

Determine important information in a given context

Develop questions to further explore a particular topic or idea

Evaluate an argument, explanation, or concept and identify the strengths and weaknesses using evidence

Follow and/or describe a procedure correctly

Recognize patterns and trends

Use evidence to develop a valid argument

By design, most of the competencies for Problem-Solving are also tagged to other competency clusters. These recurring competencies —such as those that are highlighted above — “trend” across clusters in multiple domains. In the table below, we show how two different competencies “trend” across all five domains. Any cluster shown above in dark blue represents a competency cluster that also contains the competency listed in the left-hand column. For example, the ability to “Determine important information in a given context” is a key competency that trends across six different

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competency clusters. As a result, students will develop and apply this competency in many different contexts, such as those focused on building thinking skills (Problem Solving competencies), literacy skills (Comprehension competencies), numeracy skills (Modeling, Statistics and Probability competencies), and more (Oral presentations, Social efficacy, Group efficacy). SAMPLE COMPETENCIES THAT “TREND” ACROSS MULTIPLE DOMAINS AND CLUSTERS

The rationale behind this strategy has been clearly articulated by the Bronx Arena team: specific competencies should be transferrable to multiple domains, as well as to a range of disciplines. Problem-solving is not the exclusive domain of mathematicians, but rather the collective domain of engineers, architects, designers, mathematicians, software developers, historians, scientists, and more. At the same time, the specific competencies that allow for problem-solving to occur, are also competencies that support other segments of thinking, expression, literacy, as is illustrated in the table below, where two different competencies that are essential skills in all five domains. This “trending” competency strategy is a powerful youth development move within the Arena model. First, it reflects the notion that competencies can be designed to reveal to students that the skills they are learning are highly effective building blocks that are literally transferrable across multiple contexts. Bronx Arena is, by design, creating opportunities for students to “spiral” their learning and demonstrations of skills as they are developed across subjects, courses, and tasks.

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For students, this ensures that the process of becoming a sophisticated independent learner is one that is brightly lit, with clear guideposts. But more importantly, given the brief amount of time that students remain at Arena, the guideposts reveal a particularly efficient pathway: one that cuts directly through the wide swath of content knowledge that students are required to master in order to gain a New York State Regents’ Diploma. Despite this highly pragmatic orientation, the Arena competencies are not a license to cut corners, but rather, they mirror desirable career opportunities, where disciplines aren’t clearly distinguished, and where multiple skills need to be rapidly developed and brought to bear in order to accomplish openly-defined projects or solve complex problems.

COMPETENCIES AND NATIONAL COLLEGE READINESS STANDARDS How do Bronx Arena competencies relate to college readiness standards, such as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)? If you’re familiar with the CCSS, you might notice that many of Bronx Arena’s competency segments match the domains of the CCSS in both English Language Arts and Mathematics. What you will also notice is that Bronx Arena competencies extend well beyond the standards of the Common Core. For example, notice the entire domain around “Thinking,” and within this domain, competencies for Problem Solving, Cyclical and Symbolic Creative and Divergent Thinking, in addition to Reasoning, Analysis, and Interpretation.

Bronx Arena’s competencies cast a vision for a young adult who demonstrates a diverse set of strategic thinking skills, exhibits fluency with words and numbers, is an effective communicator, and demonstrates personal and social efficacy as an engaged citizen in her or his community and the world.

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Why do Bronx Arena’s competencies go above and beyond CCSS? Bronx Arena’s design team members believed that being explicit and intentional about helping students develop different types of thinking skills, as well as individual and social efficacy skills, was mission-critical. Taken together, Bronx Arena’s research-based competencies defined skills that are not only critical for college readiness — they are essential for successfully navigating and pursuing diverse career pathways.

COMPETENCIES IN ACTION At Bronx Arena, competencies are much more than a set of vision statements for the cognitive and non-cognitive skills of a graduate. Competencies serve as the backbone of instructional design, student feedback, the evaluation of student work, and the awarding of course credits. As discussed later (See Curriculum and Assessment), teachers work together in curriculum design teams to develop courses with learning targets that include both content standards and specific competencies. Rubrics have been developed to clarify the performance expectations for achieving proficiency, and these rubrics are used not only to evaluate student work, but to guide teachers in providing students with clear and concrete feedback for improving their work. Bronx Arena’s leadership team speaks candidly about the eagerness for “version 2.0” of their competencies. Conversations about revisions are, characteristically, oriented around a commitment to improve the quality of students’ experience, and a commitment to students’ development: “There are too many competencies for students to manage navigating: we need something more elegant and trim so that it supports student learning more aggressively.” This work is a priority task in the next 6-9 months. Their aim is to not only strengthen the competencies, but to find ways to make them more explicit in students’ day-to-day conversations about learning.


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TIME, BY DESIGN At Bronx Arena, design decisions regarding the use of time are always made while looking through the lens of student experience. When thinking about how to organize the schedule and calendar, Bronx Arena’s leaders continually ask themselves, “What will work for our students? How can we structure the school day and week to best support their needs?” Each year, refinements have been made to both the calendar and the schedule, in order to increase the effectiveness of their model. Here’s a snapshot of some of the ways that Bronx Arena’s leaders re-imagined time, from the point of view of their students:

I can sleep in. My school day starts at 9AM so I am much more alert when I kick off my learning each day.

I get a four-hour learning block every day. Fewer transitions in my day and more focused time mean I can get deep into my learning and my work.

All the curriculum and assessments are available to me 24/7. Anytime I want, I can be learning and making progress toward earning credits.

I can have individualized teacher help just when I need it. Teachers “push in” of the arena, or “pull [me] out” for mini-lessons and individualized support.

I can be human. My daily productivity is tracked by my daily task “bank,” which carries over day-to-day. As long as, on average, I stay on top of my work, I’m in good shape.

I can earn a course credit literally the moment I demonstrate competencies and complete my coursework. No waiting until the end of the year!

I have multiple opportunities during the year to graduate. Again, no waiting until the end of the year if I’ve met all the requirements for earning my diploma.

I have 24/7 access to my Advocate/Counselor. When I need help— academic or personal— I know there’s always someone I can call or text for support. It’s just the way it is with my AC.

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The touchstone for each of these design features is that time is organized to nurture student agency— real control— over their day-to-day learning experiences. Students get to make real choices about how they spend their time during a 4-hour learning block (which occurs in the Arena), that is the anchor of each day: selecting the Courses and projects they’d like to prioritize, identifying the specific teachers they’d like to engage for more support, and determining their daily and weekly goals for productivity. They can also decide how much time they’d like to spend with their Advocate Counselor (AC) on a daily or weekly basis, based on their goals, their sense of self-efficacy, and the challenges they are facing in their personal or school lives. In one interview, when a student was asked about how often they are able to speak with their AC, he replied, “Whenever I want to! She’s always in the Arena with us. I can just go over to her and we can take a lap.” In Bronx Arena’s circular hallways, a “lap” refers to a one-on-one conversation as a student and AC or other faculty member walk around the building together.

THE “ARENA” As students enroll in the school they are assigned to an Arena, which will be their home base until they graduate. Arenas meet for 4 hours a day, and are staffed by a “generalist” teacher and an advocate counselor (AC). The Arena is the primary support for student academic learning. (see Learning in the Arena), but it’s also the heart of the school’s approach to youth development.

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###################### LEARNING IN THE ARENA ###################### ###################### ###################### ###################### ######################

YEAR AT A GLANCE There are several noteworthy aspects to Bronx Arena’s annual calendar.

ENROLLMENT Students who find Bronx Arena are seeking a final chance to graduate before they age-out of the system. They are students who arrive at the doors because of repeated failure in other schools (often many other schools). Regardless of how students find the school, or the circumstances of their previous experience, if they want to join they can be admitted throughout the year. A reDesign publication created in collaboration with the students and staff of Bronx Arena High School

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COURSEWORK Because coursework is not tied to the calendar year (students begin and finish courses at their own pace), newly enrolled and continuing students are engaged in making ongoing, nuanced, personally-tailored decisions about which competencies and content area learning they should work on at a given moment. This is not a random, unguided decision-making process, but rather one heavily supported by teachers and AC’s, based on the data of intake assessments, ongoing formative assessment, current credit profiles, and Regents’ Exam demands.

STUDENT-PARENT-TEACHER CONFERENCES Multiple times throughout the year, students take the lead in student-parent-teacher conferences. These studentled conferences serve as an important opportunity for students to showcase their overall progress towards graduation, while gaining and demonstrating increasing proficiency in the Self-Expression and Self/Community Competency Domains. Graduation opportunities are embedded throughout the year. Once students demonstrate proficiency of the competencies— which accrue as credits, in accordance with New York State laws— and have completed their Senior Project, they are ready to graduate, regardless of the date on the calendar. To honor and celebrate students’ achievements, Bronx Arena holds graduation ceremonies several times during the year. Consistent with Bronx Arena’s organizing principle of positive youth development, each of these re-imaginings of the school calendar position students to take ownership of their learning and their progress. They not only “have voice” because of these modifications, they become the leading voice that drives the conversation around their own success.

DAILY SCHEDULE When we look at Bronx Arena’s daily schedule the most striking feature is that students spend four hours each day in the same learning space (“the Arena”) with the same twenty-five students, for as long as they are enrolled at the school. Each Arena has a dedicated teacher and counselor who work exclusively with their Arena cohort during the 16 hours per week allocated to the Arena block.

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All year. For multiple years. The Arena is designed to become family, community, team, home-base. Bronx Arena students spend


hours each week with their Arena cohort.

The Arena has been a fixture of Bronx Arena’s model from the start— a signature component of Bronx Arena’s original design— and is grounded in the belief that deep learning and responsive instruction can only take place when significant, sustained amounts of time each day are dedicated to personalized, asynchronous learning. This is perhaps the most important positive youth development feature in the day: for students who have rarely found stable anchors in school (as well as in their personal lives), the Arena offers shelter and safety, with committed, long-term relationships with peers and adults. Inside of this protected hub, students then become free to try things, experiment with their learning, make mistakes, screw up their pacing, give up on themselves and their ability to selfregulate, and the Arena is there to help them pick up the pieces. The commitment to the Arena also means that there is no daily march through 50-minute periods or 90-minute blocks with passing periods and school bells ringing throughout the halls. However, this year, the design team very effectively implemented two 60-minute blocks at the beginning of the day, specifically dedicated to highly specialized content-area coursework that students have struggled with in the past. In recent student interviews, approval of the morning blocks was unanimous: some reported that it motivates them to come to school on time since there are opportunities to work on competencies that aren’t available during the rest of the day (Art, Physical Education, Music). Others like the increased variation in the flow of the day, while several communicated A reDesign publication created in collaboration with the students and staff of Bronx Arena High School

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that they appreciate that this part of the day is more organized around group learning. Because of the clear benefits for students, teachers are also pleased with the shift. By keeping their eye on the quality of the “user experience,” Bronx Arena’s design team continues to refine their use of time in ways that are positively received by both students and faculty, an unusual circumstance for schools looking to tinker, even in the smallest ways, with their schedule.

THE GIST Let’s take a moment to think about what this “re-imagining” of time really means. Ultimately, we’re talking about a dramatic shift in power at the core of this school model. Students are not forced into a fixed learning configuration. They have meaningful choices. A student is not required to be working toward six or eight different course credits at a time based on a standard high school course sequence. If Erica wants to focus intensely on two courses over the next period of time, her decision is supported and encouraged. If she finishes these courses in 3 weeks, or 5 weeks or 8 weeks (of 15 weeks), her teachers and AC actively and continually engage with her around her chosen pace, looking for ways to support her learning, as well as her growing capacity for self-regulation and monitoring. If she needs to get up in the middle of class to take a lap with her AC and talk about what’s on her mind, she is fully authorized to do so. If she needs a light work day and only completes three tasks instead of the target five tasks, she can. Each decision she makes is treated as an opportunity to learn: to discover her optimal work patterns, to identify the obstacles that get in her way, to learn new strategies for tackling specific content or skills, to advocate for herself and her learning needs, to understand what derails her and what supports her.

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THE BACKSTORY You know the typical storyline in most K-12 settings: teachers tend to work in grade level and content area silos. We might be given a scope and sequence or textbook to follow— certainly a set of standards— and we might be asked to submit weekly lesson plans for review. There’s no telling if we’ll actually get feedback. Many of us are so bogged down with lesson planning, scoring work, and keeping track of students that we only have time to stay about one unit ahead of where the class is— if we’re lucky. Not to mention curriculum development and planning is enormously time-consuming. There’s just never enough time for this work! When Bronx Arena opened its doors in 2010, its leadership had no illusions about the heavy burden of digital curriculum design and development, particularly within the context of a blended-learning strategy, at a time when few teachers had any idea of how to create student-facing materials. So, they launched their school with an off-the-shelf digital curriculum rather than expecting their founding teachers to, on top of all other responsibilities— and a steep startup learning curve— design curriculum. The long term plan, though, was always to engage in original course design to make sure that each course brought together a powerful blend of competencies, content, and performance tasks through which students could demonstrate their learning in authentic, problem-based contexts. Today, Bronx Arena is fine-tuning a rigorous course design process that is proving very effective. Although we’ll discuss in greater detail in the Evidence of Impact section, it’s worth noting for you now: 100% of Bronx Arena students are graduating with a Regents Diploma, and over 80% are passing Regents exams. Let’s get specific: in the last testing cycle, 100% of students passed the ELA Exam, including ELL and special education students. There is something to this model— both the content and the delivery strategy— that merits deep study.

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So here’s the big picture: all of Bronx Arena’s educators are involved in a highly structured, collaborative course design process that takes place continuously throughout the year. Teachers play different roles at different times. Sometimes they are the lead course designers, at other times, they are peer reviewers (look below to learn more about the In House Design Methodology, which includes a description of Bronx Arena’s Curriculum Design Teams). To ensure design efficiency (since teachers have so little time) and quality consistency, each course follows the same carefully crafted structure, developed to purposefully and strategically scaffold student learning to high levels of rigor. Let’s take a closer look at this structure.

COURSE DESIGN STRUCTURE A course is made up of four key components: inputs, tasks, challenges, and a capstone. Each of the following are defined below:



Multi-modal learning assets that supply course content (e.g., primary source reading, documentary video, PowerPoint slides)

Student-driven activity that students complete in the context of instruction to demonstrate their learning and meaning-making of inputs.



An authentic summative assessment that students complete at the end of a course unit, which aligns to one or two competencies.

A culminating project-based assessment that serves as the end-of-course performance task.

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Each Bronx Arena course is made up of three increasingly difficult units of study. Each unit is comprised of “inputs,” which are the learning assets that build students’ background knowledge of the topic of study, and “tasks,” the small formative learning activities by which teachers can gauge the depth of student learning and meaningmaking of content. The first two units culminate in “Challenges,” which are summative assessments that require students to demonstrate their competency re: knowledge and skills. The third and final unit culminates in a “Capstone,” a project-based assessment through which students demonstrate their ability to synthesize new learning and apply course competencies. The language here is not accidental: Challenges and Capstones evoke powerful images of stamina, perseverance, overcoming obstacles and ultimately, achievement and success. Challenges and Capstones are substantial, they are meaningful, and mastering them is, by definition, not simple or easy. This is all communicated to students both explicitly and implicitly, encouraging them to believe in their capacity to thrive in practicing and succeeding at the academic equivalent of scaling Denali. The fact that all courses follow the same structure is also more than just expedient: one of the biggest youth development challenges in schools that serve over-age A reDesign publication created in collaboration with the students and staff of Bronx Arena High School

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students is that there is not enough time to provide them with multiple opportunities to practice competencies before they have to demonstrate their proficiency. By adhering to a common course structure— two Challenges plus one Capstone— students are provided many changes to both solidify and transfer their growing capacity to tackle complex academic tasks. And it’s paying off in the real world: when Arena students return from college they report that they are eminently able to undertake the many papers, labs, and exams they are faced with in their freshmen year.

IN-HOUSE COURSE DESIGN METHODOLOGY At Bronx Arena, powerful course design is mission critical as each course will be used by the entire school: all teachers and all students. No individual adult owns a course at Bronx Arena. The following sequence describes the steps by which courses are designed and developed at Bronx Arena. Note that whenever possible, school leadership pairs teachers to work together as course designers.






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School leadership determines which courses should be prioritized for creation based on the coverage of domains, competencies, and graduation requirements by current course offerings as well as ideas for new course themes expressed by interested staff.

School leadership identifies a Course Designer (CD) to select competencies for the course and develop aligned content.

The CD establishes an engaging unifying course theme and researches course content, then reviews the Arena Competencies that must be covered in the course.

A team of peers are identified, who will be tasked with providing feedback and ideas as the course design gets underway.


The CD first creates a Capstone that gives students an opportunity to demonstrate the course competencies in a rigorous project-based assessment.

Next, the CD creates preceding Challenges that serve as assessments of competencies that will ensure students are building the skills they need for completing the Capstone.

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The CD develops rubrics for each assessment type— both Challenges and Capstone — drawing from the already established performance descriptors that defines the criteria for “proficient” and “exemplary“ for each competency.

The CD creates exemplars for each assessment type to help clarify student expectations for the work and give students a clear picture of exemplary work.


The CD maps out the progression of sub-skill development which will prepare students for demonstrating the full competency or competencies of each Challenge of the course.


The CD creates tasks and inputs designed to support the progression of sub-skills. Tasks and inputs are highly related. For example, a student may read several op-ed articles (inputs) and then write a reaction piece to those articles (task). Generally, about 5-10 tasks lead up to a Challenge.

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The work of CDs is then peer reviewed by colleagues, including those who fall outside of the discipline of focus so that an “outsider’s perspective” can be given on the logic and coherence of the sequence. Several revision cycles eventually result in a new finalized Bronx Arena course. Peers play a multi-faceted, essential role in CDT’s:

SCAFFOLDING: They ensure that the course being developed has enough scaffolding and background knowledge that it can be supported by teachers from all disciplines (since Arena-based generalists are the first responders as students work on Challenges and Capstones).

SCOPE: They help edit course content so that it remains similar in scope to other courses (when we work alone, it’s so easy to get overly committed to favorite content).

INTEGRATION: They look for connections to other courses, competencies and Challenges/Capstones that can be capitalized upon. Even after all of these highly structured and systematized steps, the design work is intentionally not complete. Generalist and specialist teachers play an ongoing and strategic role in providing timely, responsive supports as they design, develop and deliver “just-in-time” mini-lessons that help close the gap for students between sub-skills in the learning progression.

At Bronx Arena, course design work is led by design teams, but carries on into the classroom. Specifically, arena teachers are expected to play an essential and continuous design role by developing instructional lessons that are aligned to the sub-skills associated with each task. These lessons are then delivered as “mini-lessons” in small groups during the arena block for students who are ready. Importantly, teachers are also expected to give continuous feedback to students on the tasks as they move along the course progression.

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This step of “just-in-time” design is the essence of purposeful and powerful scaffolding, as it takes place continuously and always in anticipation of student needs as they move along the learning progression. In many ways, it shares the spirit of the Japanese process improvement principle of “kaizen,” in which those who perform the task are the most knowledgeable about the task, and therefore best suited to generate effective solutions “on the line” when challenges emerge. Similarly, generalist and specialist teachers at Bronx Arena, those on the “front lines” of student learning, are closest to the process at hand and are best suited to design the daily, nuanced learning experiences that establish the critical linchpins for students’ conceptual understanding and skill development.

COURSE DELIVERY Once finalized, courses are published online and made available digitally through Bronx Arena’s online tracking system (see Learning Systems: The Tracker). This means that a student can access any course at any time, as long as she or he has an internet connection. Does this mean students only interact with content digitally? No. On any given day, you will see some students in the arena doing work on paper, whether using a graphic organizer that accompanies a mini-lesson, or taking notes in their notebook while reading. However, all of the inputs, task prompts, rubrics, challenges, and capstone project descriptions and guidelines are available online in the tracking system. We’ll explore the tracker in more detail in a later section.

EVIDENCE OF LEARNING At Bronx Arena, the home-grown tracking system and the digital curriculum strategy ensure that each student’s learning is monitored on a daily basis by many people: the student herself, her AC and Arena teacher, the relevant content area specialist for each course, and often, the school leadership. This is not intended to create a “big brother is watching you” environment, but rather carefully communicates to students that there is an entire team of adult supporters standing at the ready to cheer, guide, nudge, and troubleshoot. A reDesign publication created in collaboration with the students and staff of Bronx Arena High School

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It is important to note that, by design, courses embed specific “tasks” that give generalist and content area teachers the opportunity to evaluate student learning, as well as the depth to which students have interacted with course learning targets (skills and content). Additionally, rubrics are critical to calibrating norms for student work, and evaluating student growth and performance on the competencies that are embedded in each course. Rubrics are used to review and evaluate both Challenges and the Capstone projects. Students are guided through revision cycles during which they receive concrete and specific feedback on their products. An integral part of the process are the multiple opportunities to edits and resubmit Challenges and Capstones. We’ll discuss this feedback process at greater length in Learning in the Arena.

JUST-IN-TIME COURSE CREDITING One final and very important feature of the Bronx Arena course design model is that because courses are made fully available to students and the flexible use of time allows for asynchronous learning, students are able to earn credits “just-intime.” This is in contrast to traditional school models that award credit based on seat-time.

################# ################# ################# ################# JUST-IN-TIME CREDITING

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ARENA A reDesign publication created in collaboration with the students and staff of Bronx Arena High School

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THE ARENA AT A GLANCE The “Arena”— which refers the physical space of Bronx Arena’s classrooms, as well as the four-hour daily asynchronous, blended learning block that takes place within it— is where the magic happens at Bronx Arena High School, though you have to have an incredibly nuanced eye to tell. At first glance, it’s easy to assume that the Arena is simply a glorified study hall. Even after learning about the Arena, it takes a sophisticated observer to see the layers of expertise and strategy at work within this student-directed community. The Arena is where students make choices every day about their learning goals, their course and credit priorities, their work and time management processes. This is where teachers craft and deliver “mini-lessons” in direct response to student needs as they observe them in real time. Over the years, we’ve heard teachers repeatedly say, “I had a mini-lesson planned for three students today, but when I got to class those students had moved on to something else, and there were other students who needed a completely different mini-lesson. No problem: eventually my original mini-lesson will come in handy, but right now, it’s time to switch gears.” This is where students experience the physical and emotional safety of a dedicated space with a dedicated teacher and AC, and a consistent cohort of their Arena peers. “It’s like a family,” is how many students describe it. Whenever we’ve spent time in the Arena, we’ve sensed two things consistently: a strong sense of belonging, and a strong sense of purpose. Everyone is working on something. Multiple learning modalities are in action at any given time, whether one-on-one conferencing, a mini-lesson in action, or independent work. I’ve rarely seen a student off-task on their laptop watching an unrelated YouTube video. While I’m sure it’s not the case that this never happens, I still find this pretty remarkable. When you ask students about it, the answer is usually a variation of: I’ve got work to do, I’ve got goals I’m working toward, I’m really close to earning this credit, and so forth. Bronx Arena acknowledges and celebrates that student have the ultimate say over how they use their time. And not surprisingly, that strikes a powerful chord with students. In this way, the Arena underscores the power of both structure and flexibility in creating learning spaces that quietly, but truly foster student agency. Let’s explore some of these high-impact structures and flexibilities:

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How do students get the individualized help they need, when they need it?

“Facilitation Modes” define teacher roles designed to meet specific student needs

Teachers have guidelines for how to allocate time in the arena, but the freedom to respond to needs in the moment

A Weekly “Facilitation Plan” helps teachers organize their time and prioritize student needs

Teachers constantly adapt plans and priorities based on their daily observations, conversations with students, and examination of student work

How do students get specialized help in a specific subject area?

“Generalists” and “Specialists” teachers play distinctive roles in the arena

Specialists are available on-demand for students for either a push-in or pull-out lesson, based on student needs

How are students encouraged to stay focused and on task during such a long block?

A Push-in/Pull-out strategy means students have access to subject area specialists on a daily basis Students participate in daily goal-setting

Students choose their own daily learning goals

A “Bank” monitors and displays students daily productivity in completing tasks, with a daily target set at “+5a” and a “-20” deficit triggering an intervention

Students choose the tasks they want to prioritize for the day and can respond to the surplus or deficit they might see in their bank

Teachers and ACs, who have built strong relationships with each student in the arena, exude authentic care in diverse and meaningful ways; they are daily checking in on students and asking strategic questions about their progress and their needs

Students can’t stay academically “stuck” for very long, given such strong supports around them. If the roadblock stems from a personal issue, students will get the space or time or counseling they need to help them re-engage in their learning

Ultimately, adults at Bronx Arena don’t assume Students can “take a lap” around the circular that anyone can stay focused for four hours. hallways, take a break to chat with a friend or They want students to find their “flow,” a pace adult, check their email, etc. that works, and routines that are sustainable. The Arena is a more like a professional work space than a highly managed classroom.

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BLENDED LEARNING, DEFINED According to the Bronx Arena leadership team, what makes this level of personalization possible is the school’s approach to “blended learning.” Because blended learning is often confused with distance learning and plug-andplay digital learning models, Bronx Arena’s leadership has gone to great lengths to define what they mean by blended learning. At Bronx Arena, blended learning means that students are in a classroom with teachers providing instruction, but students work through the curriculum at their own pace. Students enter the class, access the curriculum (often online) and begin working wherever they left off last.

Of fundamental importance in the blended classroom is the dynamic role of the teacher: constantly assessing, adapting, choosing strategies, designing interventions, customizing lessons, identifying skills to target, and coaching students along the learning progression. The role of the teacher as an active facilitator of learning is extremely important in the blended classroom. Teachers regularly assess students’ progress and design strategies and interventions suited to each specific student’s individual needs such as one-on-one support on a specific skill or a mini-lesson for a subset of students. At the same time, other students in the blended classroom are engaged in their own work at their own pace, allowing for more differentiation and individualization than is often possible in a traditional classroom. None of this would be possible, of course, without the course curriculum available just-in-time for students. However, the course curriculum alone is not a blended learning model.

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############################## ############################## TEACHING TO ONE ############################## ############################## ############################## ############################## #######################

TEACHER ROLES, DEFINED So what exactly makes this blended learning model work so effectively? What are the key structures in play that have enabled Bronx Arena educators to offer a truly powerful and personalized learning experience for students? Let’s explore four high-leverage structures that support teachers in their facilitation of blended learning at Bronx Arena.

#1 TEACHER AS FACILITATOR: SEVEN “FACILITATION MODES” Bronx Arena teachers flexibly alternate between multiple facilitation “modes” in the course of an arena block. There are six facilitation modes, each detailed below.

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1. One-to-One Support: The teacher goes to a student or group of students and, based on the teacher’s observations of the students’ progress, assists them with their learning. This assistance can be around mastering a skill, completing a task or understanding content. Facilitation and guidance should be informed by an understanding of each student’s previous work and progress up to that point. The teacher should work with students to set immediate task related goals/objectives, identify the steps that need to be taken to achieve those goals/objectives, and have a concrete exit strategy for when the students can be left alone to continue working independently.

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2. Small Group Mini-Lessons: The teacher identifies a group of students who need direct instruction on a specific skill or on specific content. The teacher then gives a structured minilesson to this group. The mini-lesson should include a clear goal/objective and assess whether or not students achieved the goal/objective.

3. Small Group Discussions: The teacher identifies a group of students to participate in an in-class discussion. This discussion should have a specific goal/objective, follow a structure or protocol determined by the teacher or students, and assess whether or not students achieved the objective.

4. Conferencing: The teacher schedules a time for the student to come to the teacher for a one-on-one meeting. Conferences can focus on a student’s academic or behavioral progress. Possible topics for conferences include discussing focused competencies, individualizing a student’s work on a challenge and setting pacing and timelines for the student’s academic progress. Conferences should have clear goals or objectives and a system in place to follow up on those goals or objectives.

5. Whole Group Instruction: The teacher identifies content, a specific skill or directions to a task on which the entire class needs teacher-led instruction. This can take the form of a structured mini-lesson, discussion, or experiential learning experience. Whole Group Instruction should have a specific

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goal/objective, follow a structure or protocol, and assess whether or not students achieved the goal/objective.

6. Peer Interaction: The teacher identifies two or more students who would benefit from working together on a specific task. The teacher provides the students with a clear goal, a clear structure or protocol to follow as they work together, and assesses whether or not students achieved the goal.

7. Circulation: The teacher approaches a student to check the student’s progress or, if the student is not actively progressing in his or her work, to get the student back on track. This type of intervention can occur when a student has a clarifying question about the work (such as “What am I supposed to do next?”) or when the student is engaged in off task activities such as surfing the web or having a side conversation with a fellow student.

#2 TEACHER AS STRATEGIC DESIGNER: WEEKLY PLANNING PROTOCOL Bronx Arena teachers create a weekly “Facilitation Plan” that indicates how they will provide individualized supports to the students in their arena, based on their latest assessment of student needs. Bronx Arena teachers are constantly diagnosing student needs and adapting their plans to meet them. The Facilitation Plan is intended to help teachers establish a working plan for the week ahead. In it, teachers are prompted to respond to three primary questions: •

What mini-lessons will you offer in the week ahead?

What one-on-ones and conferences will you hold in the week ahead?

Which individual students will you target for intensive supports around their credit attainment goals?

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Teachers are also asked to indicate, for each individual student or group of students, the competencies or learning strategies of focus, the learning objective of focus, and the formative assessment or check for understanding. What is powerful about this particular structure is that it guides teachers to make strategic choices about how they will support students, while designing targeted interventions that will help each student advance in their learning in the week ahead.


#3 TEACHER AS COLLABORATOR: TEACHER-ADVOCATE/COUNSELOR (AC) PARTNERSHIP Another essential structure for the Arena block is the close partnership between the “generalist� teacher and the AC. Together, the teacher and AC are responsible for attending to the holistic needs of each student: academic, behavioral, and socio-emotional. The teacher and AC not only spend the four-hour Arena block A reDesign publication created in collaboration with the students and staff of Bronx Arena High School

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together, they meet to discuss the specificities of individual students’ needs and progress on a daily basis. ACs also have daily check-ins with students, and facilitate activities with students several times a week to foster student engagement, personal and collective reflection, and relationship-building.

#4 TEACHER AS SPECIALIST: PUSH-IN/PULL-OUT STRATEGY Bronx Arena “specialist” teachers coordinate a push-in/pull-out strategy in order to provide specialized, disciplinespecific instructional supports to students on a weekly basis. For example, if a generalist teacher is unable to provide guidance on a task, or the student needs to participate in a science lab with another small group of students, the teacher will pull the student/s out of the arena and work with them in a separate learning space. Specialist teachers employ the push-in/pull-out strategy across arenas throughout the day. Just as generalist teachers create weekly facilitation plans, so do specialist teachers.

PRE-BAKED CURRICULUM: A KEY ENABLER It is important to note that, in the Bronx Arena instructional model, the existence of a pre-developed, digitally published, student-facing curriculum does not undermine the teacher role. Quite the opposite, it empowers teachers to do their most strategic work in optimizing student learning, agency, and pacing. As the teacher, if you realize you need to pivot by tossing a lesson and responding to a student in the moment, you have absolute freedom (and responsibility) to do so, because the goal is to provide what’s needed, when it’s needed. There is no generalized pacing guide. You can adjust your strategy without disrupting the entire class. Technology enables an efficient delivery of curriculum, but it isn’t the technology that makes this model powerful: it’s the “blend” of high-quality, mission-aligned, student-facing curriculum, with highly skilled, highly responsive teachers who are empowered to teach moment-by-moment.

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This deeply youth development-oriented approach teaches us a powerful and perhaps counterintuitive lesson about the design of our instructional models: the more independent students can be from their teachers, the more responsive teachers can be to their students.

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THE TRACKER A reDesign publication created in collaboration with the students and staff of Bronx Arena High School

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THE BRONX ARENA “TRACKER” The folks at Bronx Arena will tell you without hesitation: the tracker makes the whole system work. It is an elegant and powerful tool. And it all started, not with the inhouse developers who now carefully iterate the system in response to student needs and input, but with napkin sketches, lots lot of writing on the wall, and one hell of a spreadsheet. What makes this tool powerful, though, is not its bells and whistles, but rather the way in which it represents a design approach that fundamentally has positive youth development at its core. The evolution of this tool tells the story of a school model that exists to make things better, more transparent, more empowering, more humanistic for its student “users.” Let’s check out some of the key interfaces of the Bronx Arena tracker and Learning Management System (LMS), once again through the eyes of a student, and explore the ways in which its features are designed to foster choice, power, connection, and independence for learners.

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I have 24/7 access to my curriculum when I login to the Bronx Arena tracker. When I click on a course that I have enrolled myself in, I can see my overall progress toward course and competency completion, my grade, and my status on all course tasks and projects. I know instantly what is up next in my playlist of tasks. I can work on my tasks anytime, anywhere. It’s up to me. I can see that I have some revisions to make. When I have scheduled my one-on-one [with my teacher] for tomorrow, I’ll be able to get clarification on some of suggestions she made.


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My attendance and productivity, and the relationship between them, are staring right at me! My bank helps me keep track of my daily productivity. When I login, I can see a graph of my daily attendance and productivity. I know I am way more productive when I am at school, so for me, attendance is really important (for a few kids in my Arena it’s not: they work at home as easily as they work at school). This is why my AC texts me every morning and asks me where I’m at! And right now, I’m “-3” in the bank. Since the daily target is five tasks, I know I’m a little behind and I need to pick up my productivity. I just had this conversation with my arena teacher, so I’ve set a goal for the week to get caught up on my tasks.


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The bank is a new feature this year, introduced to solve a challenge around work and time management. In previous years, school leaders and teachers knew that students struggled with time management skills and productivity. Rather than preserve a position of power because of that access to data, the Bronx Arena team decided to make that information transparent and accessible to students while framing it around a manageable productivity goal of five tasks per day. Now students have the power in that knowledge, and are able to make daily decisions about their time, productivity, and goals.

Speaking of goals, I’ve got to get to these revisions this week, too. This is where we can set goals and place them on our calendar. My revisions, incomplete tasks or missing work show up in this to-do list on the left, but I can also add things to the list. Also, emoji’s!


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The goal-setting interface is another recently added feature, designed to support students in effective planning and prioritizing of tasks. Note the integration of course to-do items in the goal-setting and calendar interface. This new functionality is intended to help students develop their “efficacy” competencies by learning key work and time management skills that will serve them well beyond their time at Bronx Arena.

I can see my overall progress toward graduation. My “Progress Toward Graduation” progress bar helps me see how close I am to meeting the requirements for my high school diploma. I can also see the breakdown of each of my subject areas, and figure out how far along I am in meeting the credit requirements. If I click into a subject area, I can see my status on specific courses I have taken already or that I still need to take.


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For example, I’m about halfway through my science credit requirements. Two of my credits came from other schools, and three of my credits I earned here at Bronx Arena. I got a B in Bio. I’m pretty proud of that!


THE TRACKER: AN EVOLVING YOUTH DEVELOPMENT TOOL Above all else, the tracker is designed to put knowledge and power in the hands of students. As such, teachers and school leadership are continually on the look-out for specific ways to improve its support of students. As they identify gaps, they design new features that they prototype, test, and slowly roll-out to students and faculty for final test-runs.And it’s transforming the power dynamics of teaching and learning in school. For example:

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Because of the tracker, students aren’t waiting to be handed learning materials by their teachers. Instead, they have 24/7 access to curriculum and they can initiate a mini-lesson or one-on-one support just as soon as they need it, any day of the week. Students aren’t being prescribed goals for the week or the month; they are being asked to set them, and with the support of their teachers and ACs, they are learning to weigh their priorities and manage their time more effectively. Students aren’t being told that their attendance is important for their learning and course progress; instead, students are now able to see the relationship between attendance and productivity themselves, and school faculty are better positioned to personalize the messages and supports offered. For example, students who manage to sustain productivity while absent from school can then be encouraged to keep up the great work; while students who struggle with productivity are encouraged to improve their attendance so that they can re-engage in their learning.

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In its transparent display of data, the tracker also enables candid and data-driven conversations to take place between students, teachers, and ACs about student progress and performance. “R&D” of the tracker is happening continuously, all centered on ways to nurture the independence and efficacy of students. We should note that the school’s leadership is currently prototyping a new, robust, Learning Management System designed to support course planning and roll-out in powerful ways currently not possible with the tracker. A launch is planned for September, so stay tuned for new updates!

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IMPACT A reDesign publication created in collaboration with the students and staff of Bronx Arena High School

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PROOF OF CONCEPT, UNDERWAY As we posited at the opening of this monograph, Bronx Arena is an innovative, new school startup model that is rapidly nearing proof of concept. As of 2016, Bronx Arena High School is in its fifth year of operation. While the school is still on the early side of measuring impact, there is strong evidence to suggest that Bronx Arena is in remarkable ways fulfilling the mission and vision for which it was founded. Here is what we know:

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Bronx Arena is working for kids who have experienced failure in other public schools. Their stories speak for themselves. And while quantitative data is important, we believe that in keeping with the spirit of Bronx Arena, our first measure of impact should be what the students themselves say about their experience at the school. And what we’re hearing is that this place is one where students feel deeply cared for, deeply connected to others, and inspired to believe in what they previously thought was no longer possible for them. We cannot, should not, underestimate student voices and perspectives as a major indicator of impact.

Each consecutive year, courses are getting more rigorous, but credit accumulation is steadily increasing. Teachers are continually iterating on the school’s existing courses, in addition to developing new ones. Their goal is to find ways to increase rigor for students at every turn, but to do it in a way that continues to ensure student success. The recipe seems to be working: students are passing Regents and meeting graduation requirements at increasingly higher rates, while also accumulating credit more rapidly. This suggests that students are becoming effective, independent learners more and more quickly, able to mastery and transfer content and skills to more contests.

100% of Bronx Arena students earn the coveted Regents Diploma. The Regents Diploma is a signal of college preparation, ensuring that graduates who enroll in college will not be sidetracked in a cycle of expensive, non-credit-bearing remedial courses. It’s worth noting that 70% of students who are required to take remedial courses drop out of college during the freshman year.

In the most recent Regents exam period, 100% of students passed ELA, including ELL and Special Education populations. In the early years, Bronx Arena struggled with Regents passing rates, but at this point in the model’s development students are succeeding at rates that outpace most high schools, despite the fact that the students arrive at the school with too few credits to have successfully completed 9th grade, despite their advanced ages.

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of Bronx Arena students just passed NYC’s English Language Arts Regents exam, including ELL and Special Education populations.

Bronx Arena has a graduation rate of 65%, compared to the 18% rate of their similarly situated peers in non-transfer NYC schools; and the 70.5% rate of city students overall. Put another way, if you’re a student at Bronx Arena, you would have an overall 18% chance of graduation if you attended a different school in the city. At Bronx Arena, your chances of graduation jump to a percentage that is close to that of any other student in the city!

65% of graduates enroll in college, and of that group, 82% have successfully completed their first year. In New York City, under 50% of graduates enroll in 2- and 4-year colleges, compared to Bronx Arena’s rate of 65%. But more importantly, Bronx Arena students are persisting in college at rates far above the national average.

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FARE THEE WELL We hope you’ve enjoyed this monograph of the Bronx Arena High School model. We invite you to reach out to learn more about the work showcased in this study, or to learn more about reDesign’s knowledge-building work to support innovations in school design that center on the principles of positive youth development and competency-based education.

Bronx Arena High School 1440 Story Ave Bronx, NY 10473 w: p: 718-860-5058 reDesign, LLC w: e:

CITATIONS: New York City Goes to College: 2014 New York City Graduation Data: 2015 The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Ed.

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Bronx Arena High School Multimedia Monograph (August 2016)  

Learn more about Bronx Arena High School, an innovative, competency-based school serving historically marginalized youth in New York City.

Bronx Arena High School Multimedia Monograph (August 2016)  

Learn more about Bronx Arena High School, an innovative, competency-based school serving historically marginalized youth in New York City.