An Exciting Time for Challenge Charter Schools

With a rich foundation in music since its inception in 2010, a decision was made to add a wider scope of Performing Arts to Challenge Charter Schools at the start of the 2017-18 school year. Founder and CEO, Rev. Dr. Les Mullings always had a vision for adding high quality arts training to the many enrichment activities available to the scholars of Challenge Prep and Challenge Middle.

To help facilitate that vision, he brought in Jamaican reggae singer, Nadine Sutherland as the Performing Arts Director in August of 2017. The premiere performance for the program, Winter Wonderland, was held in December of last year and featured students from 3rd to 8th grade.

As she began her after school and weekend training of scholars, Ms. Sutherland simultaneously started looking to the community and greater city of New York for strategic partnerships. Sutherland jokingly calls herself a dancer who became a singer, and she quickly recognized that the arts scholars she was coming into contact with would need expert training to be able to get into Performing Arts High Schools.

She visited Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and connected with Cathryn Williams who is responsible for the Ailey Arts in Education and Community Program. Ms. Williams encouraged Challenge Charter Schools to look at their residency program. Now every student in Kindergarten through 8th Grade receive on-site professional dance training every week including Tap, Ballet, West African, and Hip Hop.

Dr. Mullings hopes to continue the training for a minimum of five years saying, “Alvin Ailey is one of the most sought after and sophisticated professional dance theaters in our country, so it was natural for us to pursue a partnership for our scholars. We always seek to develop the whole person in our students, teaching them to thrive and grow to be great citizens. We provide educational opportunities where our scholars shine in and out of the classroom.

“Unfortunately, Far Rockaway has been underserved for many years. In the past, we have been the ‘end of the line,’ an afterthought, but that is thankfully changing. This special partnership with Alvin Ailey Arts in Education helps to give our children the same opportunities that students experience elsewhere,” Mullings concluded.

In late February, Mullings was recognized for his ongoing community work and personal commitment to improving education when he was awarded the Queens Borough Spirit Award from the African American Heritage Committee and President Melinda Katz. During his keynote address at the event, he reminded the attendees that education is not a privilege but rather an important right for every child in America.

Eight years ago, it was the tireless vision of Dr. Mullings to develop and create the school to serve the needs of the Far Rockaway community that resulted in the opening of Challenge Preparatory Charter School. This academic year represents the realization of the full charter as 8th Grade was added for the first time in the school's history.

“We are always looking to improve the learning experience of our scholars, and we take seriously the need for each student to ultimately get a college education. To that end, we have new offerings at our Middle School including Honors courses for 8th Graders and an expanded Athletics program, in addition to Performing Arts. We encourage families with rising Kindergartners to rising 8th Graders who want high academic standards and robust enrichment activities through our electives and after school activities to apply.”

The school is in high demand with over 1800 applications for the upcoming 2018-19 school year. With most of the applications from parents seeking spots for Kindergarten, Challenge Charter Schools is expanding. There are plans to add three additional Kindergarten classes by 2019 with 9th grade to follow for the 2020-21 school year pending authorizer approval.

Challenge Charter students are already benefiting from the expanded programs and connections made through the addition of Performing Arts. Dancer Malachi Kingston received a full scholarship with the Dwana Smallwood Performing Arts Center after Sutherland landed him an audition with the founder. For four years, Dwana Smallwood served as part of the staff for Oprah’s Leadership Academy for Girls before returning to New York to build her thriving arts program.

Following high school application season, several of the rising 9th graders have been accepted at the reputable Townsend Harris High School. In addition, the growing sports program now includes Swim classes in conjunction with the Rockaway YMCA.

“The future is very bright for our school. As we continue to enrich the lives and learning of our existing scholars, we stay committed to the remaining need in the community for better education for all children in Far Rockaway. I am so proud to lead our committed group of teachers and staff in this endeavor, ” said Mullings.  

The application deadline for the 2018-19 school year is March 29th. Challenge Charter School hosts its Lottery Night on April 19th. Dance recitals to showcase what the students of Challenge Charter have learned from the Alvin Ailey program will take place in May.

Mullings Receives Spirit Award

 Mullings receiving Spirit Award

Mullings receiving Spirit Award

Pastor, school founder, and widely-recognized community leader, Rev. Dr. Les Mullings was recently awarded the Queens Borough Spirit Award from the African American Heritage Committee and President Melinda Katz. The award ceremony took place on Monday, February 26th, 2018 at Queens Borough Hall in Kew Gardens.

The ceremony recognized community leaders who have made an impact on the borough along with the next generation of young leaders. Rev. Dr. Mullings was also the keynote speaker for the event. After accepting his award, he addressed the crowd admonishing them to encourage and support the young people who are paving the way to a better future.

At the event, college scholarships of $1000 were given to a group of 12 exceptional high school students, as well as awards to men and women working across Queens in science, journalism, education, business and more.

“This award ceremony is a testament to the good people across Queens who care about our communities and the needs we see all around us.” commented Mullings. “We have a lot of work before us, and I am honored to be amongst these great men and women and the students that represent our bright future.”

The Cheetah Report

Each week our middle school scholars take part in the Cheetah Report. This internal video news report is given daily by a student and features history, new vocabulary words, school reminders, and more. Principal Gordon recently described the report and the way it enriches the learning of our scholars saying:

"My vision for the daily CCMS Cheetah Report was to create a platform for the scholars to display their skills in reading and oration on demand, and additionally provide an incentive for them to aspire for greatness, as qualifying scholars must have good attendance and deportment. Another goal was to have this report serve as an instructional tool to address and leverage the speaking and listening standards outlined by the state of New York.

Airing live during the morning advisory period before instruction begins, this report helps us reinforce a community mindset among our scholars, and sets the tone for the day via important reminders and shoutouts for exemplar behaviors. We announce the instructional day as well as the testing countdown, so that the scholars are reminded about the value of time spent in the classroom and to keep an eye on key dates. Birthdays are acknowledged so that no one's special day goes unnoticed and scholars are asked to repeat our school's motto: Teach Me...Prepare Me...Challenge Me... By punctuating each report with this mantra, we are reminding scholars and staff of our purpose here at CCMS."

Be sure to ask your scholar about the Cheetah Report. 

 Middle School Scholars give the daily Cheetah Report.

Middle School Scholars give the daily Cheetah Report.

Black History Month Program

CCMS' annual Black History Month Program was on Wednesday, February 14th at 10:00AM in the school gym. Families were invited to join scholars to come together to celebrate the rich history of trailblazers and hope makers who have emulated excellence.

7th Grade Scholars represented influential leaders and stars such as Maya Angelou, Oprah, Rosa Parks, President Barack Obama, Jennifer Hudson, Michael Jordon, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and our own Music Banks and Principal Gordon.

Performing Arts scholars performed a skit and musical selections, and Dr. King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech was recited by the 6th and 7th Grade Scholars. 

Music Banks and Principal Gordon recognized CEO/Founder Rev. Dr. Les Mullings for his vision and the opportunity that has been given to the scholars and their families through Challenge Charter Schools.

Principal Gordon thanked families for coming out to support the school and admonished the scholars with more words of Dr. King quoting, "If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward."

Performers at our 2018 Black History Month Assembly, Grades 6-8.

A Man of Service from the Beginning

This week our school family celebrates the many years of service of Custodian Raphael Charles. Mr. Charles, as he is known in our halls, will be retiring at the end of the 2017-18 school year.

 Mr. Raphael Charles

Mr. Raphael Charles

When CEO and Founder, Rev. Dr. Mullings approached Mr. Charles about a job, Challenge Preparatory Charter School was meeting at Golden Maple Elementary while the building at 710 Hartman was being remodeled. When the property at Hartman was ready, the basement and first floor were used for Kindergarten and First Grade.

“When we moved into the new building, it was challenging and there was a lot of work. Mr. Morris and I were the crew at that time. I typically arrived at 6:00am and left about 6 or 7 at night,” Mr. Charles recalled.

Ms. Ward-Brew remembered what it was like then and shared, “In the early days of Challenge Prep, I used to close out the building with the custodial staff.  Everytime Mr. Charles would pass by my classroom, he would scold me and tell me to go home, and I would smile and tell him that I had work to do. He would walk away grumbling and mumbling in classic Mr. Charles style. He continued to scold and lecture me as we left the building. You see, Mr. Charles knew I had a 2-hour commute ahead of me, and he was concerned.  Mr. Charles can scold, lecture, and make you smile at the same time, because you know he cares!”

The work continued as the school expanded. Mr. Charles became a regular “fixture” as grades were added. Originally from Trinidad and Tobago, Mr. Charles came to the U.S. in 1987. He visits his brother, cousins and friends there every couple of years, but he hasn’t made any long-term plans for retirement.

When asked what he will miss the most about being here every day, Mr. Charles replied, “Seeing the kids. Challenge is all about the kids, and I see the teachers doing a great job with these kids. I know that school is going to be taken care of. I know that there are good people that will come and fill my shoes.”

On Friday, February 9th a dinner and celebration will be held at 5:30 PM to express heartfelt thanks for Mr. Charles’ dedication and hard work. Teachers and staff are encouraged to attend the celebration which will be held at 710 Hartman Lane in the gym.

“We will miss Mr. Charles greatly at Challenge Prep. He went beyond his work to show compassion and concern for our students, and I appreciate his many years with us,” Dr. Mullings stated. “We wish him all the best in his retirement.”