TFOA-Professional Preparatory Charter School in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, is in the business of helping every student recognize and develop their potential to grow into an exceptional human being and to use their skills, talents and knowledge to change the world in positive ways. This ambitious project seems entirely achievable when explained with enthusiasm and focus by Professional Prep’s co-founder and managing partner, Rafiq Kalam Id-Din.
“Most schools think their job is to give students information and then have them repeat it back,” says Kalam Id-Din. “We don’t see that as our school’s purpose. We think our purpose is the development of the most amazing humans, which the world needs right now.”
Professional Prep currently serves students in grades K-6, and will add one grade level each year until the school is a full K-12 institution. The school population is incredibly diverse, with students from more than 30 different cultures and countries including Ecuador, Congo, Ghana, Mali, El Salvador and the the Dominican Republic. “We have incredible diversity,” says Kalam Id-Din. “We make sure the instruction is culturally relevant, that our curriculum choices are relevant and that their history and background shows up in the material.”
The school is planning on launching an annual middle school trip to Ghana next year, as a way to deepen those concepts of diversity and to establish that all children have the right, and ability, to see other parts of the world, not just the wealthy.
Exploring social justice as a worldview and as a goal permeates the curriculum, and students are taught to formulate questions about their work, their lives and the world around them. “We use the Socratic method,” says Kalam Id-Din. “It’s just like law school, but we’re a lot nicer. We teach inquiry; everything is driven by questions. Students learn to respond to and ask questions, to say ‘what is the problem and how do we solve it?’”
The curriculum at Professional Prep integrates subject areas in a way that amplifies the social justice mission.”We don’t teach math separate from science, we don’t teach ELA separate from social justice and economics,” says Kalam Id-Din. “All knowledge is connected, we see the world at its intersections, all people are connected and all communities are connected.”
Students attend an extended school year, with more days than the 180 mandated by the New York City Department of Education, and afterschool homework help and enrichment is also available. The curriculum isn’t limited to academics — social and emotional health and development is crucial to Professional Prep’s mission as well.
Professional Prep is designed to be as supportive of teachers and parents as of students, recognizing that they all belong to a community in which learning is the most important activity. The school has an open door policy where rather than feeling alienated, as many parents do in more traditional schools, they feel welcomed. “We want parents to know that we are their partners in this work,” says Kalam Id-Din.
The model for teachers is an even more radical departure from the norm. Professional Prep was founded with the idea that teachers are highly skilled professionals, just like doctors, lawyers or bankers. In law firms and medical practices, senior members of those organizations work at their profession, seeing patients and meeting with clients, and they also work with other senior members, or partners, to run the operational side of the business, like setting budgets and making new hires. Teachers, Professional Prep believes, benefit from a similar structure, where the partners running the school are not full-time administrators, they are full-time teachers who are also empowered to make decisions. This closes the gap between the experience of being in the classroom and the experience of running a school, and empowers teachers because they have more control over how the school is run.
“In designing this model we were very deliberate about one thing,” says Kalam Id-Din. “We put teachers in command. Having teachers in charge of schools, shouldn’t sound that radical. We lead from the classroom and we’re going to revolutionize the role in our profession.”
In addition to academics, the students engage in what they call mindful movement — yoga, and dance, as well as capoeira and soccer. Spanish, as well as Rosetta Stone language courses are offered, and the arts are well-integrated into the curriculum. Classrooms generally have two teachers and paraprofessionals, and small group work and an individualized approach helps attend to each child’s academic and social needs. There is also a team of licensed clinical social workers on staff.
“When they come here our students are safe, they’re excited, they’re joyful, they have fun and receive a lot of love,” says Kalam Id-Din.
Every Wednesday in March from 5:30 pm to 6:30 pm, Professional Prep is hosting an open house for interested students and parents. The door is always open to come and observe the school and to learn more or schedule an appointment, call (718) 285-3787 or visit www.tfoap