ROCHESTER — Aida Caminero said Eugenio Maria Hostos Charter School is not just a school. The staff and students have become like family since she enrolled her son as a kindergartner.
Now 14, Carlos Nieves is one of the more than 50 freshmen who are part of school’s expansion into the high-school level, Caminero said.
Caminero first heard of the school from friends who recommended it. She chose it because its longer school day allowed her to work and not have to worry about finding a babysitter for after care, she explained. In addition, the school is near her workplace, so she also could drop by for lunch and be available if her son needed her for any reason, added Caminero, who is a native of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
"It’s a small school," she said. "I feel like it’s my second family. From the beginning, I’ve always had support from the school."
Students at Rochester’s Eugenio Charter School participate in an afterschool dance class Nov. 18.
Staff members have chipped in when she’s needed a ride while her car was being repaired, helped identify her son’s Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and even came to her home when she needed emotional support, said Caminero, who is a single mother.
Academically, its bilingual program is a huge plus, she said, as is the expeditionary model of independent learning for the middle and secondary grades. The school, which is the oldest charter school in the city, is now in its 17th year, with many of the more than 600 students having been enrolled since its inception, noted Maycanitza Pérez, the school’s new executive director.
In addition to the grade expansion, Eugenio Maria Hostos has experienced a series of other changes this school year. The charter school raised funds through a capital campaign to purchase a former Rochester City School building on Zimbrich Street and moved grades 2 through 9 there this fall. Eventually, the Zimbrich building will house the elementary grades, and its second campus on Joseph Avenue will become the high school, explained Pérez.
Prior to accepting the director position at Eugenio Maria de Hostos last spring, Pérez had been working as the Freshman Academy director at East High School, where she had been an administrator since 2005. She had worked for the Rochester City School District since starting her career as a Spanish teacher, she said. In addition to Pérez, the charter school has another new administrator, Christine Sickles, who was hired as the high school principal this past summer. Sickles worked in the city school district for 27 years, having begun as a Spanish teacher and most recently was principal at Roberto Clemente School No. 8.
Given her personal and educational background in the Latino culture, Pérez said she is excited to work in a dual-language school.
"I’m very passionate about providing more rigor and resources to support our students for whom Spanish is their native language or who are learning Spanish as a second language," she added. "As our students go through their high-school careers, a second language is more marketable."
In addition to continually developing its dual-language model, the school’s students continue to make progress academically, officials said. About 32 percent achieved English language arts proficiency and 45 percent achieved math proficiency in 2015, compared with 5 percent and 7 percent, respectively, for students in the city school district, according to information at newyorkcharters.org.
The expeditionary model in use for the higher grade levels provides rigor and creativity as well as supports the school’s goal to develop students who are language proficient in English and Spanish, noted Sickles. For example, in talking about genetically modified food last spring, students visited a Mexican restaurant and used their Spanish skills to practice language with the connection to their science curriculum, Pérez said.
The school is currently forming a committee to develop the standards for biliteracy proficiency, added Sickles. As with all school programs, the biliteracy component will adhere to state mandates and testing regulations, she said.
Community partnerships also continue to expand, as does programming for afterschool enrichment programs, Pérez said. Physical-education opportunities are offered through the YMCA of Rochester as well as through an outreach program from Borinquen Dance Theatre. Additionally, older students are now serving as tutors for younger students in a peer program called Teachers of Tomorrow, Pérez said. A local mural artist also is offering art classes, she added.
Caminero said the only thing the school is missing are organized sports, but she believes that will come with time. She is excited about the future and expects her son to graduate from Eugenio Maria de Hostos.
"I see a new principal and director who have brought lots of energy and ideas," she added. "That is the kind of confidence the community needs."