Brooklyn Democracy Academy Opens in Brownsville

Without a high school diploma, young people have virtually no chance of getting a decent job or going on to higher education. Yet each year, thousands become high school dropouts.

JCCA, working in partnership with the Department of Education, has launched a new initiative to give these young people a second chance to receive their high school Regents diploma. On September 25, Brooklyn Democracy Academy (BDA) celebrated its opening in Brownsville with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Students and their families, JCCA and Department of Education representatives, a staffer from Brooklyn Borough President’s Marty Markowitz’s office, school staff, and members of the community attended. The lively and enthusiastic program included speeches, poems, and songs by students and staff, and remarks by JCCA CEO Richard Altman, JCCA Chair Leonard Elman, and Department of Education’s Tom Pendleton. Guests enjoyed refreshments and a school tour led by students.

Brooklyn Democracy Academy is a transfer school, an academic setting designed for youngsters unable to function in traditional high schools. Classes are small, teachers are specially trained, and counselors provide individualized guidance and support. Workshops, seminars, independent living skills training, paid internships, community service activities, and college and employment counseling are all part of a comprehensive curriculum, developed by JCCA in conjunction with the Department of Education.

Transfer schools have had great success, points out Program Director Cherise Littlejohn, because they offer a supportive, personalized learning environment. Admission is highly selective and only committed applicants are accepted. “These kids know that this is a tremendous opportunity and that they need to be prepared to work hard,” explains Littlejohn. “With the proper support, that’s exactly what they will do.”

This year, the school has accepted 150 students, ages 16 or older, who are at least two years behind in their schoolwork. Teachers utilize innovative multi-modal techniques and work closely with the counseling staff. According to Principal Thomas McKenna, “The goal is to develop a community where students, staff, and families work together to support every student’s needs and help build life skills.”

Brooklyn Democracy Academy adopted a social services and Department of Education partnership model pioneered by Good Shepherd Services in Red Hook, Brooklyn, under the visionary leadership of Sister Paulette LoMonaco. The school receives support through the Robin Hood, Heckscher, and Gates Foundations and incorporates the trauma-informed Sanctuary Model used in many JCCA programs.


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