The West Brooklyn Way: Getting In is Just the Beginning

Tuesday, December 17, 2013 - 04:00 AM

Stephanie, 16, just transferred to West Brooklyn from Fort Hamilton High School. (Amy Pearl)

To qualify for a coveted spot at West Brooklyn Community High School students must meet several basic eligibility requirements: they must be at least 16, behind in their academic credits, have a history of truancy and live in one of several neighborhoods near the school.

They also must be willing to accept constant communication with school staff and a counselor who keeps close tabs on attendance, grades, moods, personal challenges outside of school. Basically, students cannot hide. 

For the students who rarely went to class or meaningfully interacted with adults at their former schools, this can be a difficult transition, wrapping their heads around so much adult involvement.

"It takes a while for them to understand, absorb and accept. Sometimes they only understand that once they're here, what it means to have an advocate counselor," said Steve Marcus, director of the school employed by Good Shepherd Services, which partners with the Department of Education to run the school and provide support services.

Steve Marcus, the school's director, oversees the process of enrolling new students. The school's good reputation means that open spots at the small school fill quickly. (Amy Pearl)

West Brooklyn's seven advocate counselors, also Good Shepherd staff members, serve as the primary contact at the school for students and their families. They are the front lines of support in getting students in the building and ready to learn.

Marcus said the culture is apparent from the beginning, when students apply. As part of the intake process, advocate counselors meet with them twice, the second time with a family member. The student and parent must sign a letter of commitment saying the student agrees to West Brooklyn's norms.

"So we’re expecting the students to do a lot of things," said Marcus. "First and foremost, to be committed. To be in a school where we expect community. Where we expect relationships. Where we expect them to know that we’re gonna have lots of conversations for the students to be reflective and accountable for what they’re doing and not doing."

This report is part of American Graduate, a public media initiative addressing the drop-out crisis, supported by the Corporation of Public Broadcasting. Our ongoing "Educating on the Edge" series is here.


Patricia Willens


Comments [7]

Real counselors please from nyc

I don't want advocate counselors from a non profit agencys working with my kid! I want experienced, state certified guidance counselors and social workers who are actually DOE people. The non profit agency in my sons school is able to pay their CEO 2 MILLION dollars a year - a bloomberg cronie - who then sends the "advocate" counselors to the schools to return the favor.

Dec. 18 2013 10:11 AM

This high school has the right idea-putting the focus on the students themselves. Many folks are working extremely long hours in order to make this school work. Keep up the great work everyone!!!

Dec. 17 2013 08:55 PM

"guidance counselors and social workers who travel from school to school each week"

I'm sorry but I'm a parent whose child needs all the help they can get and counselors drifting through now and then is not the consistant support these kids need. This program sounds fantastic and I wish them good luck!

Dec. 17 2013 05:53 PM
Gloria from Brooklyn, NY

I feel compelled to clarify the errors in the previous comment, although it is obvious by this article that the Advocate Counselors at West Brooklyn an amazing group of professionals! ACs are college graduates, many of whom possess advance degrees. The level of their competence is apparent by the level of success students experience and the strong partnership between the DOE and Good Shepherd Services. This is a model that should be celebrated and commended!

Dec. 17 2013 12:15 PM
Erin A. Bauer from Brooklyn, NY

To the person who posted "Advocate counselors with no degrees from new york":

At West Brooklyn, our Advocate Counselors are college graduates and are employees of Good Shepherd Services.

We DO have a DOE Guidance Counselor at our school, and our ACs are not here in order to replace guidance counselors or social workers.

The roles the ACs play here are extremely important in supporting our students, families, and teachers, and we are grateful to work with them because they add support above and beyond what is generally the "norm" and above and beyond what can generally fit into any school budget.

Erin A. Bauer, DOE English Teacher at West Brooklyn Community High School

Dec. 17 2013 11:51 AM

whoever said that advocate counselors are more than kids themselves obviously doesn't know what these counselors do. I doubt that person would be able to handle such a job. Some AC's are actually social workers, you should have checked your information twice before posting an ignorant comment such as this. :)

Dec. 17 2013 11:46 AM
Advocate counselors with no degrees from new york

These so called advocate counselors are noting more than kids themselves as many are still in college and have no degrees or state certifications. Yet the DOE chooses to use these incompetent people rather than all the DOE guidance counselors and social workers who travel from school to school each week not being utilized. This is another example of the bloomberg way of life in the NYC school system. Set up an inferior system and tell the "public" how much better the schools are.

Dec. 17 2013 09:39 AM

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