A Great Big Lottery Night

On Thursday, April 19th, 2018, Challenge Charter Schools celebrated it's biggest Lottery Night in the history of the school. With over 1800 applications, the event was moved from the gym at the school's 710 Hartman location to Far Rockaway High School to accommodate the many families attending that night.

The K-5's mascot, Champ the Cheetah, made an appearance with puppeteer and magician Steve Pennington who warmed up the crowd. Greetings and welcome were offered by Founder and CEO Rev. Dr. Les Mullings who shared a taste of the future plan for Challenge Charter Schools. Mrs. Tameeka Richards, Director of Enrollment and Recruitment, also welcomed the crowd and explained how the evening's drawing would proceed.

After a brief overview of the academic and extracurricular programs from K-5 Principal Nicole Griffin and 6-8 Principal Mavgar Mondesir-Gordon, various staff members and special guests helped draw and read each name which took over three hours. A translator and translation devices were available for families needing any assistance. Families were warmly welcomed by the school's teachers and staff, and Summer Day Camp information for grades K-5 was also made available.   

Each year, Challenge hosts the Lottery Night to fill the empty seats for Kindergarten and any other seats that are vacant in 1st though 8th grade. The seats are filled with a random drawing system with each name given a number in order it was drawn. All names beyond the available seats are placed on a wait list.

An Exciting Time for Challenge Charter Schools

With a rich foundation in music since its inception in 2010, a decision was made to add a wider scope of Performing Arts to Challenge Charter Schools at the start of the 2017-18 school year. Founder and CEO, Rev. Dr. Les Mullings always had a vision for adding high quality arts training to the many enrichment activities available to the scholars of Challenge Prep and Challenge Middle.

To help facilitate that vision, he brought in Jamaican reggae singer, Nadine Sutherland as the Performing Arts Director in August of 2017. The premiere performance for the program, Winter Wonderland, was held in December of last year and featured students from 3rd to 8th grade.

As she began her after school and weekend training of scholars, Ms. Sutherland simultaneously started looking to the community and greater city of New York for strategic partnerships. Sutherland jokingly calls herself a dancer who became a singer, and she quickly recognized that the arts scholars she was coming into contact with would need expert training to be able to get into Performing Arts High Schools.

She visited Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and connected with Cathryn Williams who is responsible for the Ailey Arts in Education and Community Program. Ms. Williams encouraged Challenge Charter Schools to look at their residency program. Now every student in Kindergarten through 8th Grade receive on-site professional dance training every week including Tap, Ballet, West African, and Hip Hop.

Dr. Mullings hopes to continue the training for a minimum of five years saying, “Alvin Ailey is one of the most sought after and sophisticated professional dance theaters in our country, so it was natural for us to pursue a partnership for our scholars. We always seek to develop the whole person in our students, teaching them to thrive and grow to be great citizens. We provide educational opportunities where our scholars shine in and out of the classroom.

“Unfortunately, Far Rockaway has been underserved for many years. In the past, we have been the ‘end of the line,’ an afterthought, but that is thankfully changing. This special partnership with Alvin Ailey Arts in Education helps to give our children the same opportunities that students experience elsewhere,” Mullings concluded.

In late February, Mullings was recognized for his ongoing community work and personal commitment to improving education when he was awarded the Queens Borough Spirit Award from the African American Heritage Committee and President Melinda Katz. During his keynote address at the event, he reminded the attendees that education is not a privilege but rather an important right for every child in America.

Eight years ago, it was the tireless vision of Dr. Mullings to develop and create the school to serve the needs of the Far Rockaway community that resulted in the opening of Challenge Preparatory Charter School. This academic year represents the realization of the full charter as 8th Grade was added for the first time in the school's history.

“We are always looking to improve the learning experience of our scholars, and we take seriously the need for each student to ultimately get a college education. To that end, we have new offerings at our Middle School including Honors courses for 8th Graders and an expanded Athletics program, in addition to Performing Arts. We encourage families with rising Kindergartners to rising 8th Graders who want high academic standards and robust enrichment activities through our electives and after school activities to apply.”

The school is in high demand with over 1800 applications for the upcoming 2018-19 school year. With most of the applications from parents seeking spots for Kindergarten, Challenge Charter Schools is expanding. There are plans to add three additional Kindergarten classes by 2019 with 9th grade to follow for the 2020-21 school year pending authorizer approval.

Challenge Charter students are already benefiting from the expanded programs and connections made through the addition of Performing Arts. Dancer Malachi Kingston received a full scholarship with the Dwana Smallwood Performing Arts Center after Sutherland landed him an audition with the founder. For four years, Dwana Smallwood served as part of the staff for Oprah’s Leadership Academy for Girls before returning to New York to build her thriving arts program.

Following high school application season, several of the rising 9th graders have been accepted at the reputable Townsend Harris High School. In addition, the growing sports program now includes Swim classes in conjunction with the Rockaway YMCA.

“The future is very bright for our school. As we continue to enrich the lives and learning of our existing scholars, we stay committed to the remaining need in the community for better education for all children in Far Rockaway. I am so proud to lead our committed group of teachers and staff in this endeavor, ” said Mullings.  

The application deadline for the 2018-19 school year is March 29th. Challenge Charter School hosts its Lottery Night on April 19th. Dance recitals to showcase what the students of Challenge Charter have learned from the Alvin Ailey program will take place in May.

Mullings Receives Spirit Award

 Dr. Mullings is honored with the Spirit Award

Dr. Mullings is honored with the Spirit Award

Pastor, school founder, and widely-recognized community leader, Rev. Dr. Les Mullings was recently awarded the Queens Borough Spirit Award from the African American Heritage Committee and President Melinda Katz. The award ceremony took place on Monday, February 26th, 2018 at Queens Borough Hall in Kew Gardens.

The ceremony recognized community leaders who have made an impact on the borough along with the next generation of young leaders. Rev. Dr. Mullings was also the keynote speaker for the event. After accepting his award, he addressed the crowd admonishing them to encourage and support the young people who are paving the way to a better future.

At the event, college scholarships of $1000 were given to a group of 12 exceptional high school students, as well as awards to men and women working across Queens in science, journalism, education, business and more.

“This award ceremony is a testament to the good people across Queens who care about our communities and the needs we see all around us.” commented Mullings. “We have a lot of work before us, and I am honored to be amongst these great men and women and the students that represent our bright future.”

Bricks for Kidz

Recently our 5th grade scholars experienced an in-school field trip using Lego Robotics. Bricks 4 Kidz is a workshop that uses LEGO Bricks to deliver hands-on lessons correlated to cross-disciplinary curriculum objectives. The Bricks 4 Kidz approach to learning is imaginative, multi-sensory and fun, creating a dynamic learning experience for your students.

Bricks 4 Kidz models are the centerpiece of the lesson, which includes an educator-scripted discussion designed to engage students in a discovery process. Their experienced teachers provided everything needed including LEGO Bricks, model plans, and a power-point presentation. 

Our workshop theme was cars and motion. Scholars were highly engaged while learning such important topics as laws of motion, and robotics. Scholars were able to make connections between modes of transportation in the past and present, as well as collaborate with their peers to build a moving vehicle. Scholars got to choose what additions to put on their creations and to make observations about the change in speed while adding accessories to their vehicle. 

Bricks 4 Kidz  is a recognized NYCDOE Provider and for more information you can visit https://www.bricks4kidz.com/. Challenge Charter Schools look for learning experiences like this for all of our scholars as part of our STEM initiatives.

A Man of Service from the Beginning

This week our school family celebrates the many years of service of Custodian Raphael Charles. Mr. Charles, as he is known in our halls, will be retiring at the end of the 2017-18 school year.

 Mr. Raphael Charles

Mr. Raphael Charles

When CEO and Founder, Rev. Dr. Mullings approached Mr. Charles about a job, Challenge Preparatory Charter School was meeting at Golden Maple Elementary while the building at 710 Hartman was being remodeled. When the property at Hartman was ready, the basement and first floor were used for Kindergarten and First Grade.

“When we moved into the new building, it was challenging and there was a lot of work. Mr. Morris and I were the crew at that time. I typically arrived at 6:00am and left about 6 or 7 at night,” Mr. Charles recalled.

Ms. Ward-Brew remembered what it was like then and shared, “In the early days of Challenge Prep, I used to close out the building with the custodial staff.  Everytime Mr. Charles would pass by my classroom, he would scold me and tell me to go home, and I would smile and tell him that I had work to do. He would walk away grumbling and mumbling in classic Mr. Charles style. He continued to scold and lecture me as we left the building. You see, Mr. Charles knew I had a 2-hour commute ahead of me, and he was concerned.  Mr. Charles can scold, lecture, and make you smile at the same time, because you know he cares!”

The work continued as the school expanded. Mr. Charles became a regular “fixture” as grades were added. Originally from Trinidad and Tobago, Mr. Charles came to the U.S. in 1987. He visits his brother, cousins and friends there every couple of years, but he hasn’t made any long-term plans for retirement.

When asked what he will miss the most about being here every day, Mr. Charles replied, “Seeing the kids. Challenge is all about the kids, and I see the teachers doing a great job with these kids. I know that school is going to be taken care of. I know that there are good people that will come and fill my shoes.”

On Friday, February 9th a dinner and celebration will be held at 5:30 PM to express heartfelt thanks for Mr. Charles’ dedication and hard work. Teachers and staff are encouraged to attend the celebration which will be held at 710 Hartman Lane in the gym.

“We will miss Mr. Charles greatly at Challenge Prep. He went beyond his work to show compassion and concern for our students, and I appreciate his many years with us,” Dr. Mullings stated. “We wish him all the best in his retirement.”

Application Season in Full Swing

 Parents gather on Lottery Night

Parents gather on Lottery Night

Challenge Preparatory Charter School is celebrating 8 years of excellence in education in Far Rockaway, NY. In recent years, a Middle School for 6-8 grades at 1526 Central Avenue was added following the success of the K-5 site at 710 Hartman Lane.

Challenge Prep is now taking lottery applications for 2018-19 which are due by 5:00p on Thursday, March 29, 2017. The school provides excellent support services for English Language Learners (ELLs) and Special Education scholars particularly in Community School District 27.

“We have exciting new offerings at our Middle School including Honors courses for 8th Graders, an expanded Athletics program, and a Performing Arts Department with music, theater and dance. We encourage families with rising Kindergartners to rising 8th Graders who want high academic standards and robust enrichment activities through our electives and after school activities to apply,” said Founder/CEO Rev. Dr. Les Mullings.

Families interested in applying are invited to attend an Open House in the coming weeks. Open Houses will be offered in the evenings from 5:00-6:00 p.m. At the Middle School at 1526 Central Avenue, Open House dates are the following Thursdays: February 1st and March 8th. At the K-5 site at 710 Hartman Lane, Open House dates are the following Thursdays: February 8th, March 1st, and March 15th.

The Open Houses at either location will feature a tour of the site, an overview of the educational model, student services offered, and a question and answer session. Spanish translators will be available at every Open House, and additional Open Houses will be added as needed.

The random lottery for all grades will take place on April 19th, at 7:00p at the K-5 site at 710 Hartman Lane. The current application can be found at nyccharterschools.schoolmint.net/network/challengecharterschools once an account is created on the NYC Charter School Center site.

If you have questions about applying to Challenge Preparatory Charter School, please call Mrs. Tameeka Richards, Executive Director of Expansion at 718-327-4040 ext. 512.


National Grid Offers Free Smoke Detectors

CEO/Founder Dr. Mullings announced that National Grid will be visiting us this Wednesday, January 24th to provide families with free smoke detectors. To receive a device, you must call or go on the website for an appointment as listed on the flyer below.

Once you have an appointment, a team will bring the smoke detector and install it in your home. Please note, you must be home at your appointment time. 

Smoke detectors save lives, and the lives of our children and families are priceless. We encourage you to take advantage of this program and sign up for your appointment today.

 English Flyer

English Flyer

 Spanish Flyer

Spanish Flyer

Staff Focus: Not Your Average "Techie"

I recently had a conversation with our Technology Support Specialist, Andrew Liebowitz, and I quickly realized that he was not the average “tech guy.” As you’ll find in his interview, Mr. Liebowitz breaks the stereotypes with a people-focused approach to technology.

Messer: What brought you to this profession?

Liebowitz: When I was very young, I remember my grandfather was invested in technology. At age 3 or 4 he taught me how to work a keyboard and how to use Microsoft DOS, and from then on, I always remember having access to a computer. I remember that my 4th or 5th grade teachers told my parents, “Your student will be a computer person the rest of his life,” and they asked, “Does he have a computer at home?” Their answer was, “Yes, and he spends all day on it.”

Messer: What was school like for you as a student interested in technology?

 Mr. Liebowitz hard at work.

Mr. Liebowitz hard at work.

Liebowitz: In middle school, I would say I was part of a group that was like a “Mouse Squad” precursor. Back then, a 12 to 14 year-old just didn’t work on a teacher’s computer. But my science teacher in 7th grade was the “Computer Lab guy” so I helped him fix some issues. Then he just started sending me to help other teachers--unofficially at first--but eventually there was a more formal group of 3, sometimes more, students helping the school in this way, and it became normal.

Messer: That sounds like a bit of a turning point for you.

Liebowitz: It was. I always had a strong sense of community and service for public interest even when I was very young. In middle school I noticed so many of my teachers and students around me were so hesitant to use technology. Honestly at that time, it was slow and a bit of a headache, but I realized that the problems they were facing weren’t that big and I could help.

When I started working with teachers as a student, there were several valuable lessons I learned rather quickly and none were as important as learning how to interact with adults. I vividly remember thinking that talking to an adult that wasn’t your parent was not easy. I’m happy that I got the chance to work with adults in that way. It benefited me greatly.

Messer: How did things progress for you in high school and college?

Liebowitz: I attended Long Island City High School, and I believe there were five-thousand students at the time. But even in that very large school, I was one of only three students that were part of a tech club. The difference was that I earned service credits for my work, and because of the size of the school and the variety of services it offered students, I learned more advanced programing skills, and began to widen my pool of technical knowledge. I learned much about computers in those years, but more than anything, I learned about people.

I became a Computer Science Major at Brooklyn College. The Research Foundation of CUNY provided computer related CUNY students the opportunity to be placed as an internship at several city offices. A public school reached out to me for an interview, and soon after the administration recognized my skills were valuable and hired me full time. I went on to work at an extremely large high school after that, however, at some point, I realized I needed to do something different, with more responsibility and a place to give my all, which brought me to Challenge.

Messer: Why did you choose an educational application of technology?

Liebowitz: Starting back in middle school, I realized I really liked interacting with teachers. They are intelligent people with educated opinions, and through my service, internships, and career jobs, I discovered that my sense of community service was best utilized in schools where I could leverage my skills to help students, staff, and teachers.

Messer: What does a typical school day look like for you?

Liebowitz: If it has a plug and it malfunctions, you will likely talk to me to help fix it. I maintain the network, our educational software systems, maintain access to the internet, and email. I work with Challenge Tech Support and vendors and with teachers to help them refine their technical fluency knowledge.

Messer: What is it like to work with our scholars, and what are the obstacles we face in regards to technology?

Liebowitz: When I have the opportunity to work with scholars, I try to help them by looking at the issue from their perspective. We are in a decent state of technology, and are improving in digital fluency between scholars and teachers. Many schools do not have maintained computers for teachers or the school does not purchase equipment on a cycle. Also, the internet works here, and is much more reliable and faster than the average. We put a lot of safeguards in place to keep scholars safe.

My hope is for our scholars to gain more digital pride. Our Digital Citizenship program is about 30 minutes long, and we are seeking to have 100% of scholars go through the program. They will have a computer that will do much more if they finish their course and work out any issues with the process with the technology team at Challenge. We also need families to help instill digital pride, and for parents to understand why our older scholars need to have computers in the home.

Our scholars can do amazing things with the computers they have. You know, it’s not just about using social media or the internet correctly, it’s getting them to use technology to positively change and benefit the world.

Messer: What is the most exciting part of working with technology?

Liebowitz: It’s the ability to comprehend and look into an issue in day-to-day life and find the problem, and the challenge of not only providing a solution, but also educating and raising expectations and the standard. At the end of the day, the power to work through technology issues is essentially the power to help people.

Article by Kim Messer, Executive Director of Communications