Ideas in Action: New York Charter School Provides ‘Haven’ for Foster Children, Reducing Barriers to Education
Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018 | Safal Partners
Key Takeaway: By providing a safe and supportive educational environment, Mott Haven Academy Charter School reduces the barriers to academic success for foster care children.
At Mott Haven Academy Charter School in the Bronx, the word ‘haven’ isn’t applied superficially: its teachers and staff are dedicated to making the school a safe second home for its students, many of whom are in foster care.
Mott Haven is believed to be the first school in the U.S. designed for foster care children, or children who are at risk of entering it. At least two-thirds of the school’s students are in the child welfare system.
Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, founding principal Jessica Nauiokas said she feels an incredible responsibility to these children.
Her desire is “to make sure Mott Haven is an environment that does not let kids down the way some adults have in the past.”
Mott Haven states its goal simply: to remove the barriers to academic success faced by children in the child welfare system. For the nearly half million children in the U.S. foster care system today, data show they are more likely to experience steep challenges, like being forced to move to different schools often. That can lead to lower academic achievement and a higher risk of dropping out of high school. Mott Haven believes addressing the gap between foster children and their non-foster peers when they are young is crucial to negating long-term consequences.
The school is responding in a big way for its students. It has integrated family support services through The New York Foundling, a New York-based nonprofit that provides services to low-income children and families to help them lead independent, stable, and fulfilling lives. Combined with a rigorous college preparatory academic program and dedicated staff, Mott Haven is breaking down barriers for its students at every turn.
The school supports expectations such as increasing the presence of social work staff and counseling, developing a positive student behavior management approach, and encouraging students to take responsibility for their behaviors in and out of school. The name ‘Haven’ takes on yet another meaning of school values: ‘Honesty,’ ‘Achievement,’ ‘Value,’ ‘Community,’ ‘Empathy,’ and ‘Never Give Up.’
Specialized schools designed to serve a particular student population can be innovative models and may offer ideas and insights that can be adopted by other schools to create effective programs that meet their students’ most pressing needs. These models warrant close study, and they should be encouraged to explore and reflect on how they adapt traditional practice to be most successful with their mission. The charter sector is full of schools with different missions.
For further reading on Safal Partners’ work examining schools that stand in contrast to Mott Haven’s focus on a particular population, you can read about schools that have been intentionally designed to serve diverse students and families. View our case study through the National Charter School Resource Center here.