El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice

El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice teaches students to choose service over self-interest because it builds a sense of community and creates stewards who understand the larger circle of learning.

The ten “Beat the Odds” schools were selected after an extensive review of a Parthenon Group study and data from the New York City Department of Education. These schools’ innovative programs and outstanding leadership resulted in a higher than average graduation rate for students who typically either dropped out or did not graduate on time.

Background Study


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Students, staff, and school leaders work side-by-side to sustain the El Puente vision.

James MacGregor Burns wrote that transformational leadership has leaders and followers raising each other to higher levels of motivation and morality – it is a co-equal process. At El Puente, there is a familiarity among teachers and students that breaks down the power structure which binds most educational institutions. Students call teachers and administrators by their first names; community members make decisions through town hall meetings; and they communicate as if on equal footing. Some would argue that this might work in a small school the size of El Puente, but it cannot be done in a large school. Mr. Calderon acknowledges this possibility, but it does not deter him from exploiting the intimacy of a small school to foster interdependence among its inhabitants. Students’ collective efficacy has given them the strength to press the case for safe neighborhood streets by petitioning city government for help. For good reason, Calderon describes El Puente as a living, breathing ecosystem that provides the community with sustenance.


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The El Puente Academy of Peace and Justice maintains strong ties to the community-based organization that shares it’s name.

El Puente, or “bridge” in Spanish, is a community school, much like the textbook model of a Norman-Rockwellesque neighborhood school. Unlike a romanticized sketch, however, El Puennte emerged from the needs of a population severely underserved by the previous school. Community activists envisioned instead a place where young people could express their energy and passion through the arts and public service—that place became El Puente. Administrators, faculty, and staff attribute the school’s success to values of respect and collectivism woven into the fabric of the community. These values provide access for students as they figuratively cross the bridge of trust into the community.


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By exploring literature, El Puente students learn about themselves.

Despite or maybe because of the emphasis on the common good, teachers cultivate self esteem and the uniqueness of individual students. Teachers urge students to express themselves freely. And express themselves they do—about the power of culture in their lives and about the malevolence of society’s stereotypes. But curricular “relevancy” is no substitute for intellectual rigor. Teachers strive to make both hallmarks of the El Puente educational experience.


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The Self-Directed Improvement System supports student ownership of learning.

El Puente might seem too good to be true. It appears to be a coherent, compassionate school, but what evidence do school leaders have that students are actually learning the material for which NYCPS students are held accountable? Calderon and his staff rely heavily on the Self-Directed Improvement System (SDIS) to track academic progress. Through the structured format of the SDIS, students provide goals and other pertinent information as records of progress on the mastery of various curricular components. Students must take responsibility along the way for using the SDIS to question their understanding of content. With the SDIS and other assessment mechanisms such as portfolios, students become stewards of their own learning.


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El Puente students find their voices by participating in community action projects.

El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice teaches students to choose service over self-interest. The rationale is that service builds a sense of community and creates stewards who understand the importance of enlarging their circle of learning. Principal Hector Calderon and his staff at El Puente tap the collective mind and spirit of the student body for the purpose of encouraging students to help each other and building self-esteem. The founders of El Puente realize that leadership expressed in terms of stewardship empowers young people to take control of their lives by investing themselves in their community. Members of the community downplay the value of individual goals as they reinforce the significance of communal goals. Students take pride in the bond they share with one another.