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During this extraordinary time when New York City’s educators are working closely with students and families from the confines of their homes, we will be publishing a series of posts describing their experiences in their own words. We are now #DOEconnected!

Follow our hashtag, #DOEconnected, join the conversation, and connect online with your neighbors across the City. Share stories of how you, your child, a teacher, or a school community member has become your hero. Remember, not all heroes wear capes.

Brett Schneider, founding principal at Bronx Collaborative High School, and REC site director at the Clinton Campus in the Bronx

REC Site Supervisor Brett Schneider (left) checking off supplies with fellow teacher

“A key element of robust online learning environments is the social norms that create a glue among the participants.”

Brett Schneider, principal at the Bronx Collaborative High School, currently leads the Clinton Campus Regional Enrichment Center (REC) in the Bronx as its site director. At the onset of the DOE’s citywide transition to remote learning, Brett was able lead a group of 30 people to prepare, organize, and get the Clinton Campus REC up and running within less than six days!

The Clinton Campus REC boasts a wide range of learning and activities, including remote learning, art and dance workshops, and sports that focus on supporting and anchoring each student’s social-emotional experiences. “We instantly developed a school program that provides a stable atmosphere and joyous learning space for the children of first responders, healthcare professionals, and essential workers.” The program provides an incredibly supportive environment for the children, incorporating the ideas of self-expression and social-emotional growth, while celebrating each other, “hanging up student artwork and projects that they are proud of having done.”

Brett emphasizes the importance of “creating projects through which students can engage in self-expression to affirm their own identities through project-based activities that utilize their understanding of the world outside of the REC.”

Throughout the time the REC has been open, Brett and their colleagues across the entire Clinton Campus REC have worked together tirelessly through “the climate and culture shift,” of the augmented use of technology for online learning while getting to know each other very well. The teachers and paras have managed to overcome the steep “learning curve of new software platforms and divergent workloads,” all the while getting to know their students in a matter of a couple of weeks.

“We are beginning a lesson on Juneteenth and engaging the upcoming July 4 closure at the REC to explore the content of what the two (holidays) represent and how they intersect around human rights. I feel strongly that this kind of work is needed to ‘decolonize education,’ and truly ensure that it helps every student succeed in New York City.”

As a stance of solidarity with #TogetherForJustice, the newly-founded community of Clinton Campus have opened up safe spaces where students can share their feelings and discuss important issues about identity and equity.

“The events of the last few weeks have created a low-grade stress among our elementary and middle school students.” While some students have recently, “gotten more frustrated over minor interactions with their peers,” other students have responded to the stress by connecting more deeply to their teachers and “classmates” at the REC. Brett has also encouraged students to incorporate restorative practices into their conversations with one another so that they may speak openly about their concerns while revealing some of the stresses that they may be dealing with at any given time.

Brett leads the discussion of incorporating a critical piece of social studies around the history of the African diaspora and the African-American experience to their original curricular content. “We have built social studies, English Language Arts, and creative arts lessons that create opportunities for culturally responsive education. The students and staff members have explored ‘the true history of the United States’ around past inequities, developing an understanding of the ways prejudice is shaped throughout history and fueled into the present.

“Right now, we are beginning a lesson on Juneteenth and engaging the upcoming July 4 closure at the REC to explore the content of what the two represent and how they intersect around human rights. I feel strongly that this kind of work is needed to ‘decolonize education,’ and truly ensure that it helps every student succeed in New York City.”

“Together, we discover new things daily as we go along. We overcome obstacles of sudden change and culture shift through our commitment.”

The past couple of weeks at the REC site have truly been an incredible opportunity to connect with different DOE staff members and students from across the City, with teachers from different environments coming together to support students from different boroughs around the City. “Watching a third grade teacher from one charter school with one teacher and a fifth grade student from another school with a different teacher is exciting, and you really get a sense of how different educators are approaching the content.”

In partnership with their staff members, Brett continues to design and coordinate staff support systems to analyze where improvements can be made, and marry various practices into workable solutions. The ultimate success of the Clinton Campus REC site lies in “sharing techniques across classrooms that have been effective in supporting students, while holding them accountable.”

The positive learning environment and the meaningful healthy socialization fostered by Brett and their staff members have the students coming into the Clinton Campus REC with joy, excitement, and compassions. Parents at the REC have shared that “their children rush them to get to the REC and to be picked up as late as possible!” Students and parents alike “have developed true affection for their peers and their instructors at Clinton Campus—a feeling that is reciprocated.”

Brett Schneider is emblematic of how the City’s educators are adapting to these unprecedented times on behalf of our students and families. We thank our staff members for helping all of us stay #DOEconnected as we stand #TogetherForJustice.

Visit our #TogetherForJustice webpage to find a range of resources, including arts materials, storybooks, and exercises, that are being used at RECs across the City in support of students’ social-emotional growth!

We have also prepared resources for teaching and learning about Juneteenth for students and families and educators (via the DOE InfoHub). While these resources are particularly applicable to the Juneteenth holiday (June 19), we encourage families and educators to use them at any time.

Are you a first responder or essential worker who needs child care services during these difficult times? Consider applying for placement into one of the DOE’s RECs! For more information, including eligibility information and FAQs, check out our official REC web page.

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