A Day in the Life: Principal David Ward of Brooklyn Theater Arts School

When was the last time you took a trip to Canarsie? For many of you, the answer is probably: "What's Canarsie?" It's more than the last stop on the L train. It's a large southeastern Brooklyn community and home to Brooklyn Theatre Arts High School, where Breakout spent last Friday afternoon.

A 35-minute train ride from Union Square dropped us off in the middle of a deep-Brooklyn commercial intersection amongst the hustle-bustle of Friday morning commuters.

A 35-minute train ride from Union Square dropped us off in the middle of a deep-Brooklyn commercial intersection amongst the hustle-bustle of Friday morning commuters.

The main drag is lined with take-out restaurants, bodegas, laundromats and other basic necessity shops. It is a working class neighborhood like many urban areas has its rough patches.

The main drag is lined with take-out restaurants, bodegas, laundromats and other basic necessity shops. It is a working class neighborhood like many urban areas has its rough patches.

Our group of 12 Breakers made their way to the South Shore High School complex just over a mile and a half from the train stop. The campus houses seven schools and over 2500 students. About 400 of these students attend Brooklyn Theatre Arts.

Our group of 12 Breakers made their way to the South Shore High School complex just over a mile and a half from the train stop. The campus houses seven schools and over 2500 students. About 400 of these students attend Brooklyn Theatre Arts.

"After passing through metal detectors at a security check-in, Principal David Ward was there to greet us with coffee and breakfast. Mr. Ward certainly doesn't look like any principal you've ever encountered. He's an energetic, youthful 36-year old with a welcoming presence and distinct Southern-drawl. On this Friday, he was wearing a "BTA" t-shirt bearing the slogan "Spread love... it's the Brooklyn way," khaki pants and colorful Nike sneakers. He was visibly excited to show us around his school.

"After passing through metal detectors at a security check-in, Principal David Ward was there to greet us with coffee and breakfast. Mr. Ward certainly doesn't look like any principal you've ever encountered. He's an energetic, youthful 36-year old with a welcoming presence and distinct Southern-drawl. On this Friday, he was wearing a "BTA" t-shirt bearing the slogan "Spread love... it's the Brooklyn way," khaki pants and colorful Nike sneakers. He was visibly excited to show us around his school.

"The name is a bit of a misnomer," explained David. While arts are at the root of the school's curriculum, BTA has focused on developing more extensive offerings including sports teams since Mr. Ward took over four years ago. The principal is proud of creating more well-rounded students through the emphasis on learning through the arts. "I love seeing [football players] in the front row of show choir [class] ... its something they may otherwise never experience."

"The name is a bit of a misnomer," explained David. While arts are at the root of the school's curriculum, BTA has focused on developing more extensive offerings including sports teams since Mr. Ward took over four years ago. The principal is proud of creating more well-rounded students through the emphasis on learning through the arts. "I love seeing [football players] in the front row of show choir [class] ... its something they may otherwise never experience."

As we wander the mural-lined walls, Mr. Ward's positive presence was impossible to ignore. "Hey, Ward!" one passing student shouts out. "What up, Ward?" another stays as she delivers a high-five. It seemed he could barely walk five steps without a student sharing their affection. David explained to us that he wants to be a friend to his students and has an open door policy. The effect is obvious. "Sometimes students stop by just to see what I have in the fridge."

As we wander the mural-lined walls, Mr. Ward's positive presence was impossible to ignore. "Hey, Ward!" one passing student shouts out. "What up, Ward?" another stays as she delivers a high-five. It seemed he could barely walk five steps without a student sharing their affection. David explained to us that he wants to be a friend to his students and has an open door policy. The effect is obvious. "Sometimes students stop by just to see what I have in the fridge."

As far as some of the challenges, "Kids aren't accustomed to working hard," he goes on, explaining that many students lack preparation and development of work ethic in their home lives and prior school experience. He is determined to end that trend; his goal is to give his students the tools -- to develop the "grit" -- needed to become the first in their families or communities to go to college and excel academically.

As far as some of the challenges, "Kids aren't accustomed to working hard," he goes on, explaining that many students lack preparation and development of work ethic in their home lives and prior school experience. He is determined to end that trend; his goal is to give his students the tools -- to develop the "grit" -- needed to become the first in their families or communities to go to college and excel academically.

Founders and Breakers, Bianca Caban (Koban Capital), Francesca Kennedy (IX Style), and Micah Brown (FilmFundr) taking in the energy of the morning.

Founders and Breakers, Bianca Caban (Koban Capital), Francesca Kennedy (IX Style), and Micah Brown (FilmFundr) taking in the energy of the morning.

Inspiring students and giving hope is at the core of David's messaging.  Graduation rates at BTA are 65%, which is inline with the city average. Just 40% of young males of color graduate high school in New York City. David is dedicated to doing what he can to change those statistics.

Inspiring students and giving hope is at the core of David's messaging.  Graduation rates at BTA are 65%, which is inline with the city average. Just 40% of young males of color graduate high school in New York City. David is dedicated to doing what he can to change those statistics.

David has goals of creating a "big brother, big sister" type program to provide mentorship to younger students facing academic and social difficulties. He also wants to bring stronger role models into the lives of students alumni and other local leaders that came from similarly disadvantaged backgrounds to find success in business and life.

David has goals of creating a "big brother, big sister" type program to provide mentorship to younger students facing academic and social difficulties. He also wants to bring stronger role models into the lives of students alumni and other local leaders that came from similarly disadvantaged backgrounds to find success in business and life.

On the way back to the office, Mr. Ward pulled five students out of classrooms for a group discussion about the school. It was hard not to smile as we listened to their impassioned responses about their experience at the school and their aspirations. These students were proud of their accomplishment and confident in their futures. On the flip side, they weren't as thrilled about their lunch options.

On the way back to the office, Mr. Ward pulled five students out of classrooms for a group discussion about the school. It was hard not to smile as we listened to their impassioned responses about their experience at the school and their aspirations. These students were proud of their accomplishment and confident in their futures. On the flip side, they weren't as thrilled about their lunch options.

Back in the Principals office, we engaged with David in a discussion on the goals of the school. While the students we had met met exuded self-confidence, Mr. Ward made clear engaging and inspiring students is still a challenge. 

Back in the Principals office, we engaged with David in a discussion on the goals of the school. While the students we had met met exuded self-confidence, Mr. Ward made clear engaging and inspiring students is still a challenge. 

As we wrapped an enlightening day at BTA, Mr. Ward rejoined his students in the hallways as classes changed once more.For us, we were already playing hookie so it was now time for us to head to Roberta's in Bushwick for a proper pizza feast.

As we wrapped an enlightening day at BTA, Mr. Ward rejoined his students in the hallways as classes changed once more.For us, we were already playing hookie so it was now time for us to head to Roberta's in Bushwick for a proper pizza feast.

Seinfeld.  We just like Seinfeld so wanted to give them a shout out.

Seinfeld.  We just like Seinfeld so wanted to give them a shout out.

Want to hang with Breakout, give us a ring at editorial@breakout.today

Graham CohenComment