Throughout the year, we’ll be profiling Heroes in the Classroom, our nod to the teachers doing tremendously hard work, day in and day out. They don’t get enough praise for the heart and soul they put into their kids’ success, so we hope to use this series as a platform to show our gratitude for all they’re doing to make a difference in the lives of their students.
Broome Street Academy Charter High School is unique – and as you’ll read in a moment, has unique and dedicated educators, too. The charter high school specializes in serving students who are facing extreme adversity. The Soho charter has an admissions preference for students who are homeless or in foster care, students who have been traditionally underserved. Broome Street teachers work hard to keep them engaged and prepare them for the future.
For 12th grade government and economics teacher Harrison Delfin, the key to doing that is in making the material matter to the students’ lives.
Head of School Dr. Barbara McKeon lights up when talking about the effect Harrison has on his students.
“He’s one of those quiet change-makers, and the kids just adore him,” Dr. McKeon said. “When you walk into his classroom there is this sense of calm excitement. Kids are always so engaged. And Harrison does it with this sort of quiet, humble smile all the time. I love this guy.”
Speaking with Harrison, his passion for working with his students is clear. He became a teacher because he wanted to make a difference, and he wanted things to be different from his high school experience.
“When I was in high school I was bored. I was a good student, but it didn’t feel like what was going on in the classroom had anything to do with my life. It didn’t feel like I was learning anything valuable,” Harrison said.
“I wanted to inspire teenagers and show them that they can create change. If I could impact students every year for 40 years of my life, that would mean a lot.”
Originally from Reading, Pennsylvania, Harrison attended Fordham in New York City. A few years after college, he decided he wanted to become a teacher. He got his Masters, bounced around between the east and west coasts, and eventually moved back to the city. As he was looking at schools, he was attracted to BSA’s mission. Having worked in an alternative school in Portland, the work going on there felt similar.
Two years in, Harrison has found creative and unique ways to capture his students’ interest and make sure they have an exciting high school experience.
Dr. McKeon said, “He is very creative. When he started, he came up with the idea of a Government Fair. He took the concept of a science fair and turned it into a platform for social justice.”
The Government Fair is a collaborative project between the social studies and English departments that takes place in the fall. Each senior picks a topic they are interested in, like homelessness, gender equality, immigration or environmental issues, and then researches it and writes a paper. They also come up with an action plan to implement and create change around their issue, and then present everything at a science fair-style event.
Harrison described it: “It’s pretty cool. The kids can see issues in the world and think, ‘What can I do about that?’ They can contact local officials or create online petitions. They can make videos or posters. Then they present everything to their family members and community members. It is a great way to help connect the material to what is going on in their lives.”
Dr. McKeon was blown away.
“It was so brilliant. Hallways in our school were filled with projects that are near and dear to students’ hearts. Instruction has to be meaningful and authentic, and this is a perfect example of that.”
The project was so well-received that it was expanded into an Economics Fair in the spring. This was another way to connect the material in the classroom to life outside of school.
Being able to do that was one of the things that excited Harrison about becoming a social studies teacher in the first place.
“It’s a fun class because the material is relevant to the students,” he said. “We aren’t just memorizing things like the Bill of Rights, we’re talking about how it impacts their everyday lives.”
For Harrison, the most rewarding part of the job is when the seniors reflect on their time at the school and think about the impact their classes have had.
“Toward the end of the year we reflect with the seniors and ask if they enjoyed their time. I had a couple letters written to me saying how they appreciated me and the class, and they wrote letters to the school thanking us. Those are the times I feel proudest.”
“Being a teacher is hard. You have to work a lot and really hard. But when you do, the reward pays off for sure.”