Compositive: Bricolage overview

Alan Gottlieb, Compositive Staff

Bricolage Academy in New Orleans views diversity as a means toward a bigger end: advancing real equity for all kids. 

Today’s students will thrive in the future if they learn to be innovative, creative thinkers.


And attending racially and socioeconomically diverse school helps spur innovation because it exposes everyone to a broader spectrum of thoughts and ideas.


What’s more, learning in the company of different kinds of people prepares children for the world they’ll be entering when they leave school.


That, in a nutshell, is the philosophy that drives Bricolage Academy of New Orleans, a charter school that currently serves the early elementary grades but over time will expand through high school.


When we visited Bricolage in the spring of 2017, it was housed in a former Catholic school building, with high ceilings and enormous windows. Colorful student work festooned the walls. The student body, kindergarteners through third-graders, was among the most diverse we’ve seen, almost evenly divided between white and African American kids.


That’s by design, Founder and Executive Director Josh Densen told us. “Many ‘diversity by design’ schools go wrong because they see diversity as an end in and of itself. I disagree,” said Densen, who launched Bricolage in 2013. “Diversity has got to be framed as a means toward bigger ends.”


In the case of Bricolage, that end is advancing real equity for all kids, regardless of background. Equity means providing each child with the resources they need to become successful students who can, to use Compositive terminology, reflect and learn, recognize and act, care and connect, and engage and serve.


This means giving the education of the heart as much emphasis as education of the mind. To that end, Bricolage has a full-time teacher whose sole focus is social-emotional learning.


“She teaches effective communication skills, compassion, identity.” Each class gets an hour of targeted social-emotional learning each week. And it’s also infused throughout the curriculum. All teachers receive a week of training in the summer in creating a “responsive classroom.”


Densen believes strongly in whole education – in making sure the mind, heart, and body learn together in a way that engages students in the wider world. But he also stresses that at Bricolage, academics is the first among equals.


“Our goal is to provide an education that will prepare our students to have as many options and opportunities as possible in early adulthood,” Densen explained.


Bricolage stresses innovation and creativity through an innovation lab. The school has a full-time innovation teacher, and each class, beginning with kindergarten spends two 45-minute periods in the lab each week.


As the school develops, innovation lessons and design thinking will infiltrate all classrooms as well.


The bottom line for Densen? “Person by person, family by family, relationships are what string this place together.”

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