Sustainability, arts, math: ‘Themed’ middle schools are spreading, but do they help students?

Sustainability, arts, math: ‘Themed’ middle schools are spreading, but do they help students?

On a sunny Friday in early November, four 10- and 11-year-old boys stand on the corner of 26th Street and Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn, holding homemade clipboards and signs that read “Take our food equity survey.”

A young man rushes past the group, headphones on, eyes on his phone. Susan Tenner, executive director of the Brooklyn Urban Garden Charter School, or BUGS, where the boys are sixth graders, suggests they let him pass. The next passerby is a runner — even more unpromising.

When a guy in his 20s or 30s in a puffer coat with fur trim comes along a half a minute later, Elias, a 10-year-old, remarks that he looks busy too. But Tenner urges the students to pounce.

“Everyone in New York City looks busy,” she tells them. “You guys are cute; people are going to want to help you.”

And the man does. After the boys call out as he passes, the man doubles back to take the student-made survey. Their first success.

Over the next half hour, the boys and a group of girls positioned a block up will interview a postman, a construction worker, a pair of teenage girls in fleece Snoopy pants, and several others about their access to healthy, affordable food.

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