Anthony De Jesus
Here it's more like your house. You can call the teachers by their first name. Like I said, they all care about you and help you a lot.
(Ramon, Junior El Puente Academy)
Based on interviews, participant observation and review of the literature written about El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice, this chapter presents and analyzes the voices of students as they discuss their educational experiences at this innovative community high school in Brooklyn, NY. The students (male and female; US born, immigrant-Latino/a, and African American) are all from working class and poor backgrounds and reflect a range of schooling experiences, academic performance and overall engagement in school and community activities. 1 Their voices offer insight into El Puente's structural and culturally responsive reforms as well as illustrate the importance of reciprocal relationships in engaging young people who have been traditionally marginalized in public schools. In an era where achievement is narrowly defined by the forces of standardization, these student voices provide compelling testimony that community-based school reform initiatives such as El Puente (whose name in Spanish means "the bridge") are not simply model alternative schools but meaningful alternatives to traditional schooling.
El Puente's reforms include its small size (150 students), relative autonomy, innovative curriculum and instructional practices, and identity as a community-based organization. As a school organized around issues of human rights and social justice, El Puente offers a culturally responsive counter-narrative to prevailing school reform approaches as it strives to privilege the cultures and histories of predominately Latino/a neighborhood residents and base their pedagogical philosophy on twelve principles of peace and justice. 2