Project-Based Learning (PBL)

Luis Malave: A Principal’s View on Community Schools

September 3, 2002

Luis Malave is principal of IS 218, a middle school serving 1,700 students in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City. Organized and managed through a partnership between the New York City Board of Education and The Children's Aid Society (CAS), the school is open six days a week and nearly 300 days a year, offering academic and enrichment classes, medical, dental, and mental health services, and a wide range of adult education classes for parents, grandparents, and older siblings.

1. Service learning plays an important role at your school; what kinds of projects do your students engage in?

We had the train tunnel -- they went out and they identified that the tunnel was dark. It was dingy. It was damp. It was unpainted. And they targeted that, and our kids did a letter-writing campaign to the local politicians. They got donated paint, had lights fixed by the mass transit, and the kids went and physically painted the tunnel.

That's what you call hands-on, high-level participation on [the part of the] kids, and that's something they're never going to forget. And not only that, but you're teaching something that will, later on in life, when they're in a community [and] where they need something to be done in their community, they know how to go and do it.

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2. Your partnership with The Children's Aid Society includes after-school enrichment. What impact do these programs have on your students?

I believe that the enrichment really means a lot, not only to the kids, but to the school in general. The kids will have an immediate attraction to the enrichment activities, as long as it's really designed to cater to their sense of creativity. If they have a chance to engage [in] technology, for instance -- such as film studies or music through technology -- what happens is you have kids that are suddenly turned on by school -- they want to come to school and there's better attendance. And believe it or not, there's less mobility. We have kids [who] move from school to school. When they have a school that's offering what they want, they will make sure that their parents keep them in the school even if they move to another borough.

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3. As a principal, what do you think makes the school's partnership with The Children's Aid Society function effectively?

We share resources. We strategize together. We're on the school leadership team together. Basically, we're inseparable right now. We're married in the figurative sense, for the duration of my tenure here. The reason why at times this can't go on in other places is because there is a lack of trust, there are territorial issues, and there are even formalities in the way each entity operates. Social service agencies at times have a little bit less formality. The bureaucracy dictates to us [at the school] that we must be absolutely formal in every sense of the way. But those are things that are workable and we mitigate anything that needs to be mitigated and we just move on.

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4. What kinds of resources has the Children's Aid Society made available to you that you might not otherwise have?

Sometimes we have a person that we really want to hire. I can pay four hours. The Children's Aid Society pays four hours. The person works full time, and that's a huge, huge benefit to us. The huge piece that I see here is that they bring a certain level of expertise in a variety of areas that we truly are desperate for, especially in mental health. We have a number of things that happened this year, especially with 9/11 and the plane crash -- and we even had the death of a kid -- and it was truly a blessing to have Children's Aid Society and their social workers and team of psychologists to help me cope with the numerous kids that were involved in those particular situations

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