Meet Carolina. This college-bound fifth grader is fortunate enough to attend a charter school where expectations are high and innovation and excellence abound. There’s just one wee catch. In order to realize her goal of opportunity and the promise of independence, Carolina must spend the next SEVEN YEARS in near silence. Sweet Carolina is not a novice in a convent or an inmate in a children’s prison but a resident of a horrifying place called “no excuses” land that, while often lauded by education rephormers, is rarely seen from within.
You see, Carolina is a would-be student at a proposed new school, Argosy Collegiate Charter School, in Fall River, Massachusetts. As part of its application to the state Board of Education, Argosy included a detailed hour-by-hour look at what Carolina’s typical school day is like (note: Day in the Life begins on page 144 of the application). The following is an excerpt from Carolina’s day.
7:10 am – Carolina, an Argosy Collegiate fifth grader is ready to board the school bus on the corner of South Main Street and Mt. Hope Avenue. Just like every morning, Carolina’s mother, Mrs. Medeiros, an Argosy Collegiate Volunteer, supervises her daughter and the other four students who board the bus at this stop. Mrs. Medeiros asks each student if they are ready to learn today. Students respond with an enthusiastic, “Yes, I’m ready to learn today. I can’t wait to learn something new!” “Excellent,” responds Mrs. Medeiros. Once the school bus arrives, Carolina and her peers board the bus one at a time and in silence, other than a greeting for Ms. Oliveira, the bus driver, who responds with, “Good morning, Carolina. Are you Determined to learn today?” Carolina responds, “Yes, Ms. Oliveira, I am Determined to learn today!”
7:27 am – Carolina arrives to Argosy Collegiate on time, and waits for the bus to come to a complete stop before gathering her belongings. She and the other students on the bus look for Mr. Silvia, one of her math teachers, who boards the South Main St./Mt. Hope Avenue bus every day as part of his morning duties. Mr. Silvia makes eye contact with Carolina and Dante, and signals them non-verbally to stand and walk off the bus. Mr. Silvia continues this procedure, row by row, and the students maintain their silence except for a quick “Thank you, Ms. Oliveira” from Carolina and each of the scholars until all 28 scholars have vacated the bus.
7:30 am – The Executive Director, Ms. Pavao, opens the school doors, and warmly and individually greets every student by name. When it’s Carolina’s turn to enter the building, Ms. Pavao welcomes her eagerly. “Good Morning, Carolina! Why are you here today?” “I am here to learn,” Carolina replies. “What will it take?” asks Ms. Pavao. “Determination, Responsibility, Excellence, Ambition, and Maturity,” replies Carolina. “Absolutely,” says Ms. Pavao. “Let’s check your uniform quickly, belt, socks, and shirt tucked. Great…”
Carolina walks to her left to silently join the line of students walking around the perimeter of the room toward the breakfast pick-up table. With breakfast in hand, Carolina continues to walk along the perimeter, just as she had been taught in student Summer Orientation, until she reaches her advisory’s table, clearly identified with a laminated sign that reads “Boston University 5” next to a colorful picture of Rhett, the Boston Terrier, Boston University’s mascot. After 10 minutes, Ms. Pavao, the ED, walks to the center of the room to lead a clapped chant, letting everyone know that it is time for a cheer and some Shout Outs.
“Good morning, Class of 2026!” “We are Argosy Collegiate Scholars. We have the knowledge to go to college. We share our knowledge with others because explaining what we know and justifying our thinking prepares us to transform ourselves, our communities, and the 21st century.” Carolina and the rest of the students and staff repeat the chant in unison. Scholars chant a short burst of encouragement about Responsibility, and scholars immediately return to silence. With a non-verbal cue, a hand gesture, Ms. Pavao directs the students and staff that it is time for silent cleanup. This is the cue for students who have cafeteria clean up jobs this week to wheel large waste cans to the end of each table. Students silently carry their food trays in two single file lines to the end of the table, where there is a separate waste container for solids and liquids. Students wait for additional directions and then gather their belongings to transition to advisory in silent, orderly lines, led by their homeroom/advisory leader.
7:45 am Mr. Amaral escorts Carolina along with the rest of BU 5 silently to their homeroom/advisory. Carolina proceeds to her pre-assigned desk. Mr. Amaral gives a non-verbal cue for Carolina’s group to move to the back cubbies to get organized, and signals with his other hand that they have one minute to complete their cubby tasks. Carolina silently stands up and brings her backpack to her cubby, unzips it, and removes all of her binders. She puts her white writing binder and blue science binder in her cubby and places her empty and zipped backpack on top of the cubby, along with the other scholars’ empty backpacks. She brings her green math binder, red reading binder, and black social studies binder to her desk. She places the reading and social studies binders in the rubber band that wraps around the two right-hand legs of her desk. This rubber band keeps her binders tightly secured and out of the way, and Carolina finished her cubby tasks in less than 60 seconds.
Carolina sharpens two pencils from her pencil case, and places them along with a black pen and an eraser at the top of her desk. She begins reading her DEAR book, as the other students work for their minute time blocks to get their cubby work done. Mr. Amaral calls, “1-2-3 Eyes on me!” The class responds in unison, “1-2-3 Eyes on you!” and then proceeds to close their DEAR books and place them on the left corner of their desks. Mr. Amaral uses the last few minutes of class to review the main objective for the lesson, give feedback to the class using DREAM Points, remind scholars to copy HW, and provide direction for transition.Mr. Amaral says, “Scholars, yesterday you transitioned to Reading in 38 seconds. Your challenge now is to transition in 35 seconds. I am waiting for 100% eye contact.Good. Go.” Scholars quickly and silently switch out binders from their rubber bands around their desk legs. Carolina and her peers absolutely enjoy being timed for tasks and being challenged to beat their best times.
9:00 am – Fiction Reading begins with an overview of today’s lesson. Carolina reads along as Mr. Sullivan, the Reading teacher, states, “Argosy Collegiate Scholars will be able to understand the Latin Derivative pugnare for Word Wars, and to use active reading skills such as underlining important information (descriptions, actions, events) to understand context and plot in Freedom Walkers.” Mr. Sullivan tells the class, “Scholars, you have 5 minutes to define the remaining 5 terms. Pencils up. 3-2-1- Go.” Carolina gets right to work and struggles a bit with the first one, but with determination, she pushes through. She looks up to the timer which is displayed on the front dry erase board using the projector, and she sees that she has 3 ½ minutes left. As the timer beeps, Carolina puts her pencil down and feels confident about her choices. Mr. Sullivan asks the students to raise their papers in the air and to “Flow them forward.” Carolina turns around in her chair and collects the papers from the scholars behind her. Mr. Sullivan is counting out loud, “5 seconds, 10 seconds, 13 seconds, very good. Now flow to the right.” All the stacks now in the front seats are passed to the right, where George sits. George is the designated anchor paper collector, and he alone is allowed to get up out of his chair without asking, and once he has the papers, he puts them in a bin labeled “Latin Word Wars.”
11:00 am – Financial Literacy begins and is taught by Mr. Amaral who displays the agenda, objective, and HW on the white board. Mr. Amaral asks Carolina to read the objective aloud for the class, “Argosy Collegiate Scholars Will Be Able To explain how limited personal resources affect the choices people make.” The lesson begins with 10 minutes of direct instruction. Students use guided notes to fill in their note sheets with essential information. Next Mr. Amaral queues up a video produced by Khan Academy, Buying versus Renting a Home, which allows students to apply course concepts to a new context, entering the real estate market as a buyer or renter. Students turn to the next page in their course packet, which contains a list of key vocabulary words that they will be introduced to during the video and six questions that they answer during the video and will discuss as a group at the conclusion.
Mr. Amaral begins the video debrief with a question prompt: “What is one difference between owning a home and renting one?” Carolina thinks she knows the answer so she raises her pointer finger to signal that she would like to answer the question. “Everyone is tracking Carolina.” Her classmates shift in their seats to face her. “One difference between purchasing home and renting is that if you buy a home, then you may need a mortgage.” Mr. Amaral asks another question, “A mortgage? That’s a new word. Carolina, what’s a mortgage?” Carolina thinks for a second and looks down at her notes. “A mortgage is a loan from a bank used to purchase a home.” Mr. Amaral, pleased with her response, says, “Nice definition, Carolina!” “Can anyone else think of another difference between owning a home and renting one?” Mr. Amaral uses this class discussion to tease out other distinctions such as the need to save for a down payment, responsibilities for maintenance and repairs, tax benefits of homeownership, and homeownership as a real estate investment.
12:00 pm – Carolina and her classmates exchange morning materials for afternoon materials from their cubbies by group and line up for lunch transition. Lunch transition like all other transitions are silent for scholars, and staff and teachers communicate with warm and supportive non-verbal hand signals (which are reviewed during Student Orientation) or whispers when necessary. Until all scholars have their lunches at their pre-assigned seats by homeroom, scholars are silent for the first five minutes so they can focus on eating their meals. After 5 minutes, Ms. Pavao says, “Good afternoon, Argosy Collegiate Scholars. Because of the Excellence you have demonstrated in your behavior with our lunch period, you have earned Level 2 Talk (Scholars know this means they can socialize using restaurant voices)…
It goes on reader. On and on and on and on. Dismissal is still hours away, meaning that Carolina has SLANT, many more timers, binders, 3-2-1′s, 1-2-3′s, DREAM points, exit tickets, “I do, you do, we do,” Q2, FOCUS and enrichment to go before at last boarding the bus for her silent ride home. But there is good news. Once fifth grade draws to its inevitable end, Carolina will have only 1295 days of silence to go before she gets to college…
She is tired, but knows she is working hard to keep her seat in college. The day’s work is intense but every day brings Carolina and the other scholars one day closer to college and a more successful future – full of opportunity and the promise of independence.
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