Brooklyn Castle Toolkits and Workshops: Introduction


To help communities explore school climate issues in greater depth, POV, in collaboration with CPB's American Graduate Initiative, has created this toolkit based on the film Brooklyn Castle. Clips from this POV film were chosen as an invitation to dialogue and action. Together with discussion prompts, they are designed to engage parents, students, and education professionals in important conversations about their own contributions to their school's climate and also what they could do to support one another in creating a school climate that supports academic success for all students.



Recent school reform initiatives have drawn attention to teacher performance, education standards, and measuring student achievement. More than 100 years of research indicates that "school climate" should also be on the agenda.

"School climate" is a set of factors that describe the quality and character of school life. As scholar and school climate specialist H. Jerome Freiberg puts it, "Like a strong foundation in a house, the climate of a school is the foundation that supports the structures of teaching and learning." (2005)

School climate factors fall into four broad categories:

  • Safety
  • Physical Environment
  • Relationships
  • Teaching & Learning

As this graph indicates, when school climate is poor, student achievement suffers:


Source: - used with permission



The Center for Social and Emotional Education's 2010 school climate research summary indicates that a positive school climate

  • powerfully promotes student learning and healthy development
  • increases academic achievement
  • decreases student absenteeism
  • reduces aggression and violence
  • lowers rates of student delinquency and school suspensions
  • lowers levels of student substance abuse
  • promotes cooperative learning, group cohesion, respect and mutual trust
  • increases tolerance for diversity
  • improves teacher satisfaction and retention
  • increases student graduation rates

The review concludes that a positive school climate "fosters youth development and learning necessary for a productive, contributive and satisfying life in a democratic society."



The suggested activities in this toolkit are designed for maximum flexibility. They provide ways to engage students, parents and guardians and education professionals, either separately or together.

When working with combined groups, we recommend first offering participants an opportunity to explore the issue with peers and then an opportunity to discuss it with participants from other groups as a full school community.

Events will follow this simple outline:

This short step includes a standard welcome, acknowledgements and introductions. If you are convening multiple target audiences, this is where you'll divide the group into parents and guardians, education professionals and students.

In this step, you'll review the basics about the importance of school climate and give an overview of Brooklyn Castle. This step is the same for all groups, even when groups are meeting separately.

Viewing and Discussion
The clips and discussion prompts were chosen to address a range of situations and issues. If a clip or question doesn't seem to fit the needs of your group, try the next one. If time is an issue, we recommend focusing on just one or two of the clips.

Closing Questions
The first part of this concluding step is the same for all groups. It is designed to help participants synthesize what they have learned and begin to think about actions they can take.

If you are convening multiple groups, this step has a second part during which the groups come back together, compare answers and insights and then plan action.

You'll Need

  • This handout, one copy for each person
  • projection equipment to show clips
  • Internet connection to access film clips


POV events are designed help your group use film clips and the accompanying questions to listen and learn from one another, rather than to debate or judge. We invite participants to expand their thinking and share their points of view.

As your group convenes, think about how you can set a tone that invites respect, honesty and reflection. You may want to remind people that everyone's story is unique and important and that the experiences of each person in the group, as well as the people featured in the clips, can provide valuable insights.

You may or may not be the best person to facilitate, especially if you have multiple responsibilities for the event. If you are particularly invested in a topic, it might be wise to ask someone more neutral to guide the discussion. University professors, human resource professionals and youth leaders may be specially trained in facilitation and can be excellent resources. Because safety is a key part of creating a positive school climate, organizations that specialize in preventing bullying or violence (e.g., GLSEN or the Anti-Defamation League) may be able to recommend facilitators experienced in the topic. In addition to these resources, groups such as the National Conference for Community and Justice may be able to provide or help you locate skilled facilitators. Be sure that your facilitator receives a copy of this guide well in advance of the event!

For more detailed event planning and facilitation tips, visit the outreach section of this website.

For more information on school climate, see the To Find Out More section of this toolkit.


After welcoming people to your event, distribute the handout [insert hyperlink to pdf of handout] and review the definition of "school climate":

  • Safety
  • Physical Environment
  • Relationships
  • Teaching and Learning

Note that the explanations on the handout are examples, not an exhaustive description of what might be included in each factor.

If time allows, you might want to ask participants to think about how well their school is doing on each of the factors. In the box to the right of each item, invite people to "grade" their school's performance in terms of creating a school climate that encourages academic success for every student. Then invite people to share the grades they gave and discuss their reasoning for their ratings.

SEGUE: Ask people to turn over their copies of the handout and point out that the school climate factors are written across the top of the chart. To deepen their discussion of those factors, they are going to watch clips from the film Brooklyn Castle. Provide some context by giving a brief overview of the film:

The Film

Beginning in 2000, under the tutelage of chess teacher and coach Elizabeth Spiegel and assistant principal and chess coordinator John Galvin, I.S. 318 expanded its small chess program and began competing in national tournaments. The results have been stunning: more than 30 national chess titles, including, in 2012, the U.S. High School National Championship, a first for a junior high.

Brooklyn Castle goes behind the scenes to reveal the inspirational effect of the chess team's success on the entire student body. In achieving the improbable, the "chess nuts" of I.S. 318 are expanding the possibilities for themselves and for disadvantaged students like them. As they are quick to point out, if the late Albert Einstein, an avid chess player, were on this team, he would rank fourth.

Brooklyn Castle follows members of the famed chess team as they struggle with the pressures and discipline of competition, alternatively experiencing deep disappointment and sheer joy. Along the way, they learn as much about themselves as about the game.

Ironically, the biggest obstacle thrust upon them arises not from other competitors but from budget cuts to extracurricular activities at their school. Undaunted, the kids discover that their dedication to chess magnifies their belief in what is possible for their lives. After all, if they can master the world's most difficult game, what can't they do?