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Hechinger Report and NPR explore launch and promise of Brooklyn Ascend High School

By Kay Moffett April 17, 2016

The launch of Brooklyn Ascend High Schoolthe Ascend network’s first high schoolwas covered in an affecting three-part series by Sara Neufeld published in The Hechinger Report and on NPR. Neufeld’s pieces give voice to the goals and dreams of Brooklyn Ascend High School’s founding principal, a founding teacher, and a student and his family.

“We are honored that The Hechinger Report and NPR decided to feature the launch of our new high school and share the vision of our liberal arts design,” said Steven Wilson. “More than ever, Ascend is committed to a rich, rigorous, and well-rounded liberal education. We believe that Ascend’s liberal education design has the power to inspire and engage students of every background and prepare them with the skills required to successfully participate in a diverse and complex society. An Ascend education offers students options to, as Neufeld states, ‘shape a different destiny.’”

The first article in the series, “Starting a high school from scratch,” explores the story of Melissa Jarvis-Cedeño, Brooklyn Ascend High School’s founding school director, who returns to the neighborhood from which she was only too happy to escape as a teenager, in order to offer today’s teenagers in her hometown a better future. Bringing the vantage point of someone who has learned from personal and professional mistakes, “She offers the 66 black and Latino ninth-graders in her first class a lesson: You can’t run away from your problems, but you can shape a different destiny,” writes Ms. Neufeld. “Ascend is designed to give teenagers the chance to do anything. Rather than rushing to suspend them, the school requires students to take responsibility for their actions.”

In “The lesson plan for a new school: teaching ‘joyous service’” writer Neufeld describes how founding teacher Taylor Delhagen balances the responsibilities of new fatherhood and high school educator. “Delhagen, the social studies teacher, wants to help Ascend’s 66 ninth-graders not just to dodge the life of poverty and crime that sucks in so many around them, but to exercise real choices about their futures. He is keenly aware that each one of them is someone’s child, with all the hopes and dreams that entails.”

Concluding the series is “A mother hangs her hopes on a new high school,” in which Neufeld profiles new members of the Ascend family, ninth-grader Jann Peña and his mother Jovanka Anderson. In response to Peña’s saying, “I’ve never felt inspired before,” Neufeld notes that “Ascend aspires to break the mold of failure with an innovative design stressing critical thinking and character development over test prep, helping students discover who they are and what they want to become.”

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