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My name is Genesis Morales.

This is my 9th grade learning experience journal at Co-Lab.

How it works
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Student Transformative Learning Experience

My name is Genesis Morales and I’m from Washington Heights. In middle school, I struggled to get by. I felt like I was always falling behind. English is not my first language, and my parents don’t speak English at all. I was born in the Dominican Republic, and I came to New York when I was 10. I learned a little English in school in DR, but I mostly learned by watching TV,  interacting with friends in school and through my ESL program. My middle school English teacher said I have a low reading level and she stuck me in a group with other low readers. I don’t like reading. No one in my family reads. We don’t have any books in the house and I don’t see my mother read books. In fact, she often asks me to translate mail and documents for her. I feel a lot of pressure to help my family, so I’m trying to stay in school. I just don’t feel like it’s helping me. I didn’t do so well on my 8th grade tests. I’m so tired of school. I feel like no one knows me or listens to me. We’re always learning about stuff I’ll never use. I feel like my teachers don’t care about me. And now, I’m heading to high school. 


I was matched with a high school in Chelsea — Collaboration High School. The website looks interesting. It doesn’t look like a typical high school. It says that it’s “project-based,” but I’m not sure what that means. Over the summer, I received a really nice paper invitation in the mail to a first day of school welcome party picnic for all new students and families, and I’m a bit nervous. None of my friends from the neighborhood are going to Co-Lab, and I wonder if I should have just gone to the school here in the Heights. I could be with my friends. Maybe this Co-Lab school will be too much for me. I don’t want to be the dumb kid in class. 


It’s the first day of school. I get on the A Train for the trip down to Chelsea. I’ve never gone this far by myself before. I studied the map on my phone, so I think I know where to go after I get off the train. I did it once in the summer when I got to go and meet my teachers. When I get to the 14th St. station, lots of other kids are getting off the train and heading in the same direction. Walking down the street, I see the familiar pink school logo for Co-Lab. When I walk up to the school, I am met outside by teachers wearing Co-Lab t-shirts and there’s pink balloons. There’s a speaker playing music and all the adults are welcoming students in with big smiles and hello’s. I relax a bit. This is weird, but kinda cool. This doesn’t feel like a regular NYC school. Inside, the lobby is bright and welcoming. There are no metal detectors,  just more staff members welcoming me to the building. “Welcome to Co-Lab! We’re so happy to see you!” they say. I’m shown where to go — and we’re brought to a place called the Wellness Lab, which looks like a bright and modern gym. There’s a DJ, balloons, a breakfast buffet and tons of staff members and students mingling together. Pretty soon, we all shed our nerves and start dancing together, playing games and getting to know our teachers. Everyone makes us feel so welcome. We learn about our school, get to know each other, tour the building and share meals together. We’re given a backpack full of supplies, school t-shirts and snacks. We also got laptops to take home and keep for our 4 years at Co-Lab.


The next day, we all head upstate for a bonding retreat. My teachers said that it’s important for us to bond as a learning community, and going away together puts us all somewhere unfamiliar so we can get to know each other. I made some new friends on this trip after sharing a bunk together. I’ve never been in the woods or at a camp before, so it’s all kind of new.. We made S’Mores by the fire, did a ropes course and really got to know each other. I was nervous being away from home, but I’m really glad I went. I also got to know a little bit more about what to expect at Co-Lab. 


Today, we got our official schedules! They don’t look like normal school schedules. There are no things like Math class or History class. Instead, we have Learning Lab, Work Lab and Passion Lab. The teachers shared the philosophy of the school with us and it’s so different than middle school. 



CHS aims to provide learners with opportunities for genuine, authentic learning and application of their studies rather than to simulate or mimic learning and experiments Our curriculum is project-based, engaging students of various abilities in work that is meaningful to them, developing 21st-century skills and knowledge in real-life settings and applications. This includes expert seminars, fieldwork, community service, internships, experimentation, and deep connections to outside experts. Our students learn Math, Science, Social Studies and Language Arts in interdisciplinary classes. 


Learning Lab: 

This is a class of 15 students that meets every morning. This is where you learn the skills and content you need for your Project work. Your Mentor Teacher is your guide throughout the year. They will get to you know well, give you personalized attention and support, and mentor you through your learning and 21st-century skills-building journey. 


Work Lab: 

This is the time of your day where you dive into your project work, putting to use what you’ve learned in Learning Lab, under the guidance of your support teachers. Work Lab is exactly what it sounds like: It’s work time to advance and make progress on your project learning in a supportive and professional environment. Your Support Teacher works in collaboration with your Mentor Teacher to support your growth.


Passion Lab: 

This is your time. Learn about and pursue your passions and interests through our elective courses that are entirely programmed based on student interest. Take classes in things like the arts, engineering, coding or prepare for your next steps in advanced math courses. The offerings change regularly. 


Wellness Lab: 

Wellness Lab is about learning about and managing your physical health and activity. Earn your gym and health credits in the evolving Wellness Lab offerings such as yoga, running, tai-chi, dance or sports. 


Seminar Weeks

During Seminar Weeks, we bring in visiting experts to teach mini-courses on relevant topics connected to project work.


Field Work

Field work is where we utilize the amazing and rich environment of New York City as our classroom. Why just learn about the Hudson River inside the walls of a classroom when you can go and experience it? Upperclassmen have opportunities for independent field work and internships during this time. 


Whoa. This is different. I’m overwhelmed. I don’t know how to do school like this. I think maybe I should transfer to my local school. My Learning Lab Mentor Teacher pulls me aside. She can tell I’m a little nervous. She assures me that this new way of learning is actually more doable because it’s authentic learning. We will learn all the subjects together and apply them to real-world studies. Like, we’re not just going to learn Algebra by doing problems on paper — we’re going to use it in the real world on actual projects. We’ll do real experiments like scientists. We’ll write like professionals write. We’ll read texts that we’ll apply to what we’re studying. We’ll go places and use the real world to learn. My Mentor tells me that she will always be there to support me. She tells me that it’s literally her job to make sure that I’m successful. I’m one of just 15 students she advises. She will know me pretty well, I guess. It sounds like she’ll actually have time to focus on me and help me. I feel a lot better. Maybe I can do this.  


Next we explore the life skills we’ll be learning too. It’s things like Personal Mindset, Communication and of course, Collaboration. It all makes sense. Like, these are the skills that I’ll actually use in life. My Mentor will help me grow in these skills over time and she’ll help me track and reflect on my growth using the MHA Labs Skills Toolkit.


Today, we were introduced to our first Project. In Learning Lab, we learned the content skills we need to put to use in field work and Work Lab. We input all of our work into a digital portfolio and that includes video journals. I recorded my first one today. I was feeling kind of weird videotaping myself, but my Mentor and classmates encouraged each other and I ended up doing it and having fun. In Learning Lab this morning, we were taught about sample gathering and sample logging for today’s field work. We’re going on sailboats in the Hudson River to gather water samples to bring back to the lab for analysis. We also explored about velocity — Newton's first and second laws: F = ma — by racing across the Hudson River. I’ve never been on a boat. It’s pretty cool that we’re doing real science. 


On the boat, I got a text from my boyfriend at his school. He was sitting in Algebra class and he’s already failing. I told him that I was on a sailboat on the Hudson River learning science and he was jealous. I realized how lucky I am to be at this school. I couldn’t imagine sitting in a classroom on this beautiful day. I looked around to see the boat and the river and saw how cool it was to be doing what I’m doing. 


What a week! We’ve been in the field a lot collecting samples, and we had a really deep convo in Advisory Circle today. I actually cried in front of people, which is something I always avoid doing. My classmates didn’t laugh at me, though. They were so supportive and loving. I walked out feeling like even if we’re not all best friends, we’re a community. 


I had my first Skills Conference today with my Mentor Teacher. We reviewed how I’m doing with Personal Mindset and Planning for Success. I need some help with managing my work time and my tasks. Instead of just giving me a grade, my teacher gave me feedback and tools to improve. I didn’t walk out feeling bad about myself. I felt like I have the power to grow and improve! I feel like my teacher really sees me. 


Today, was Democracy Table. My friend Yanely proposed a Talent Show and the idea was passed. I’m so proud of her. She is forming a team to direct the production of the show for next month! We also took a look at the curriculum for the next term and shared our ideas on how to improve it. 


It’s Seminar Week! One week a month, we have experts come in and teach us in Seminar classes. This week, we have Dr. Keisha Smith from Columbia teaching us about the history of red-lining in NYC and how development impacts the local environment. We explored a map of NYC and looked at how our neighborhoods are a part of this history. I had a lot to say in my vlog journal this week. We also read some advanced texts this week and I was in charge of leading the Work Lab discussion on them. My mom was happy to see me reading and highlighting a book at home. That made me feel good. My little brother was curious about what I was doing and I told him all about it. 


Wow, I just got back from the United Nations. I got to speak on the floor about our Climate Change Project and the results we’re seeing from our field work. The Climate Change UN Advisors really listened to us and asked us a ton of questions like we were real scientists. I guess we are real scientists. They seemed impressed with our work and had some suggestions for what to do next in our study. I’m excited to bring the ideas back to my project team. Our hypothesis may need some revision. 


In Work Lab, we learned a bunch of new literacy skills to use. They’ve been so helpful because we’re reading some high-level texts and I was nervous about it. My Mentor Teacher met with me after school to help me start the reading. She showed me how to be intimidated by texts. It’s just words on a page and I have the tools to work through it. I used the strategies we learned and I finished the reading — and I actually understood it. It felt so good. 


At school today, students put on a Hip-Hop Spoken Word show called “Silent Spring,” inspired by the environmental work of Rachel Carson. It was amazing! Students were able to get creative and put to use all of the learning and field work we’ve done in a performance. It was videotaped and it’s getting a lot of hits on YouTube!


Today, we hiked around Prospect Park with Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, former environmental advisor to Mayor Bloomberg. He grew up in Brooklyn and his father inspired his love of nature when he was a kid. Since then, he’s advised companies and governments on how to become more sustainable. We sat under a tree and reviewed our work and he walked us through an exploration of run-off cycles in the park and how they are impacted by the surrounding neighborhood development. Since we were out today for Wellness Lab, we did Tai-Chi in Prospect Park and a bunch of random people joined us! 


This week, we worked on inputting and analyzing our data. We learned about statistical analysis in Work Lab and put it to use in Work Time. During Field Work, we visited Long Island. I was a little in my feelings on that trip and Mr. Cabrera pulled me aside to talk. He could see that I was struggling and he really listened. He didn’t yell at me about being unfocused or make me feel like I should just shake it off. He took the time to hear me out and I felt a lot better afterward. 


We also visited York Labs this week to learn about a new process of distilling our soil samples to test for toxins from working scientists. We got to use their big mass spectrometer and we wore real lab coats! I always thought I hated science, but I’m actually really good at it. 


For the next couple of days, we’re in Washington D.C. meeting with our congressional representatives about our work. We got to tour the city, visited the Smithsonian, The White House and the Capitol building. After we got back, I had another Skills Conference with my Mentor and I’m doing so much better managing my time. I totally see how my learning is improving. When I wake up, I actually want to come to school. I feel like the learning I’m doing matters. 


This week was Assessment Week and I was so nervous. I wasn’t sure how I would do on a test because I tend to suck at taking tests. But I nailed it. It was so doable because I knew all of the content so well. Everything we’ve learned — all the skills, the content and the work we’ve done — feels so real. In Advisory, we learned some study skills and how to manage our nerves when it comes to demonstrating our learning in presentations, tests and defending our portfolios. I’ve never done so well on a test in my life. My parents are so proud of me. My Term 1 Master results are so good. I’m so excited for what’s next. I presented my work in front of an expert panel, families, my fellow students and the staff. I’ve never stood up in front of an audience in my life. At first, my voice was shaking, but I saw my Mentor Teacher in the corner and she gave me the biggest smile. She believed in me — for real. I was prepared and I did it. 


It’s almost the end of the year now. I have seen more of this city than I’ve seen in all my years living here. I’ve traveled to different cities too. I’ve met with so many experts and learned so many things. We built things. We created things. We shared our work with people and organizations. I did my first internship at NYU Hospital and I now think I want to be a pediatric nurse. I can’t believe that. If you had told me that a year ago, I would have laughed. I was so bad at science, but now I see that I just needed to learn in a different way. I’ve read so many books and texts this year and I’m definitely way better at it. I feel like I have so much support at school. If I’m struggling with anything, I have so many people I can talk to and I know they’ll be there to help me stand on my own. I have a voice in my school and we got to design our own projects this spring. I did more this year than I’ve ever done in school. This summer, I’m going to be interning at York Labs with my scientist mentor Julia. I can’t wait for tenth grade.

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