Williamsburg Elementary celebrates student reading achievements

Williamsburg Elementary School celebrated its students’ reading achievements with an exciting event on March 22.
Uncommon Schools

Williamsburg Elementary School celebrated its students’ reading achievements with an event on Friday that included a drum line and a chant competition during their Morning Motivation circle. 

The K-4 school, which opened in August, invited its founding parents and caregivers to the celebration, which gave students as young as kindergarten an opportunity to stand up and read in front of the audience.

Williamsburg Elementary, housed in a completely refurbished former Catholic school on Montrose Avenue, is part of the high-performing Uncommon Schools network, which educates some 7,000 students in 23 schools throughout Brooklyn.  

Nikki Bascombe, the Regional Superintendent of Instruction for Uncommon NYC Elementary Schools, said students at Williamsburg Elementary had grown an average of two reading levels since the beginning of school and were on track to meet the goal of four reading levels by the end of the year.

Bascombe told the parents they were an important part of why their children had grown so much.

“We want to thank you for everything you do to make our scholars successful,” Bascombe said. “That growth wouldn’t be possible without you.” 

Families are typically invited once a month on a Friday morning to the school, but this particular day was special. Students walked into school through a drum line from Uncommon Collegiate Charter, a high school in Bedford-Stuyvesant that is part of the Uncommon Schools network. The leaders of Williamsburg Elementary l Mallorie Bocachica, the Principal and Director of Operations, Hannah Herbert, among other staff, were outside greeting parents as they usually do every morning. An orange and blue balloon arch, reflecting the school’s colors,  greeted students as they walked into the building.

Inside, during the Morning Motivation circle, students competed to see who could show the most class pride by chanting their classroom cheer loud and proud as a team. Each classroom at the school is named after a college and students learn the chant written by their teachers.

Uncommon Schools

Bascombe, who attended Princeton University, told parents that she initially planned to become a lawyer, but got interested in elementary education after a friend was incarcerated, peaked her interest in prison studies and she watched, “How do You Spell Murder,” a documentary by filmmakers Alan and Susan Raymond that explores how illiteracy and undiagnosed learning disabilities contribute to delinquency and crime.

“Instead of being a lawyer, I wanted to come back to Brooklyn where I grew up and teach kids how to read and the foundational skills of math,” Bascombe said. “I felt like that was a more proactive approach. If they have me as a teacher and if they love school, then hopefully that trajectory would be a positive one.”

Bascombe taught in elementary school before becoming principal of Excellence Girls, another Uncommon School that was named a Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education in 2016.

Bascombe explained to families at Williamsburg Elementary that Uncommon’s reading curriculum is grounded in the science of reading, which emphasizes phonics and structured literacy compared with other approaches that focus on whole language and literature-based instruction with less emphasis on explicit phonics instruction.

“At Uncommon, we believe an emphasis on phonics instruction is essential to lifelong success for our children,” Bascombe said. “What we say at Uncommon is that we help our students break the code and learn to read and then they read to learn. We have to break the code before we can move to the other parts.”

Bascombe explained that reading fluency has the greatest impact on reading comprehension.

“Children with high fluency rates tend to read more and remember more of what they read because they are able to expend less cognitive energy on decoding individual words,” Bascombe said. “If a student is really struggling to break down words, they’re using so much energy to figure out the words, that they cannot hold on to the meaning of the story.” 

Uncommon Schools

After the event, Chanel Pearson, whose daughter is in kindergarten, said she was interested in learning how her daughter was being taught to read. 

“It’s amazing how they break it down for the children to understand,” Pearson said. “I’m very excited to see the growth that all the students had. It was mind-blowing seeing the percentage jump so high and it was only a few months. For me, enrolling her in this school was the best decision I could have made for her.”

Shadae Briggs, who has two other children at Uncommon middle and high schools, was equally excited about how much her daughter, who is also in kindergarten, has grown since the start of school.  

“When she started off, she was pretty shy and she’s just opened up so much,” Briggs said. “She has learned so much. She has jumped two steps in Reading. She’s above grade level at the moment. I’m just excited. It’s such a great school for her.”