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What happens when we believe in kids?

This past June, SA scholar Isaiah Pena knew he had a big challenge to tackle: the Regents exams. These exams were particularly important because they would help Isaiah meet 8th grade graduation requirements. “I’ve been at Success Academy since kindergarten, so I knew that they had prepared me well for things like this — I knew that SA’s work ethic and techniques had been ingrained in me since the beginning. But there were still a couple of Regents that I wasn’t very confident about!” He perhaps wasn’t alone in his nervousness; this cohort of 8th graders had navigated the challenges of a year and a half of remote learning while in middle school, and with reports of learning loss circulating nationwide, they had something to prove. 

When the results were finally released, the vast majority of our 8th graders — nearly 1,000 from across 13 SA middle schools — realized they’d had nothing to fear. All SA 8th graders took four Regents exams, and at least 93% passed each one. Happily, this  included Isaiah: “When I saw my scores, I felt very accomplished and excited. My worries went away!” Isaiah will be starting high school this August at SA HSLA-Harlem.

“The prevailing view on learning loss is that after a year and a half of remote learning, while still being in the midst of pandemic, it will take years to catch up,” says Amaury Ramirez, principal of SA Harlem West Middle School, where 100% of 8th graders passed the Algebra I Regents. “But at SA we believe where there is a will, there is a way. At my school, we worked our hearts and souls out — teachers, administrators, scholars, and parents — we came together as a community.” 

Success Academy’s K-12 program is unique in that each year is mapped out to advance a scholar’s development deliberately and holistically. Each grade’s learning goals are integrated into a larger framework, designed to build academic strength and personal confidence — and ensures students are fully ready to master more sophisticated content. 

Not only have Isaiah and many of his 8th grade peers passed four of the five Regents diploma requirements before they even enter high school, but they are now positioned to take more advanced college preparatory courses in the coming years. This is in stark contrast to most 8th graders in the city, who don’t have access to Regents-level courses; only about 33% of 8th graders took the Algebra I Regents exam and less than 2% took the ELA Regents in 2019. 

“Our scholars rose to the challenge, and not just in Algebra,” reflects Assistant Principal Olivia Levey, now principal of SA Hamilton Heights MS. “We were determined to get back to where we were and to ensure our scholars are prepared for a rigorous high school experience. I’m so proud of their resilience and what they’ve accomplished.”  

Pictured above: Success Academy Harlem West scholars Isaiah Pena and Laila Shaw with Assistant Principal Olivia Levey. The entire 8th grade class passed the Algebra I Regents exam.


Written by Success Academy July 21, 2022

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