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Obviously, you want to ask questions as part of friendly curiosity, not grilling the teacher. Remember, you both have your children’s best interest at heart. Here are some ideas for questions:
How do you challenge the best students and help struggling learners?
Reaching children of different abilities in the same class is one of a teacher’s most difficult tasks, particularly when it comes to math. Most teachers know how to find books to match a child’s reading level, but they often pitch math lessons to the whole group in order to cover a certain amount of material.
The best schools ensure the brightest children can move ahead of their peers, either by working on more complex problems or by working independently on math websites such as Khan Academy (khanacademy.org). They also ensure struggling kids get the help they need, often in small groups inside or outside the classroom.
Faster learners shouldn’t be told to read a book while other children finish their work. They should be working on math during math time. It’s okay if a teacher occasionally asks them to double-check their work or to help their peers, but faster learners need a chance to do more advanced work.
Which elementary schools offer a great education in math and science?
We scoured the city for schools that give ordinary kids an extraordinary education—zoned neighborhood schools, not gifted programs or schools with a special application process. We picked schools that are willing to open their doors and share their knowledge—in the hopes that these might serve as models for others. We chose schools with good test scores, but we avoided ones with too much test prep or paper-and-pencil drills. Most of all, we picked schools that foster a love of math and science while giving children the skills they need to be successful later in life.
Here are our favorites.
PS 171, East Harlem
Why we picked it: Where else do little kids use words like "heart valve?"
Teachers at PS 171 know that science lessons build children's vocabularies—and that helps them read better. All children—even pre-kindergartners—go to the science lab three times a week for lessons taught by a certified science teacher. Children build models of cells out of clay and write essays about the use of animal parts in medicine, using sophisticated words like "heart valves" and "livers" to support their arguments. Kids take trips to science museums and study ducks in Central Park, building their general knowledge along with their vocabularies. (Pauline Zaldonis)
PS 42, Lower East Side/Chinatown
Why we picked it: Second-graders learn geometry and physics by studying bridges
PS 42 integrates science and math into well-planned interdisciplinary units. For example, 2nd-graders research bridges of the world, explore bridge geometry and physics, create bridge-inspired 3-D art, hear architects speak about their jobs and take fields trips to Battery Park to see real bridges. Children at the school have outstanding math scores and reading scores that are well above the citywide average—quite an accomplishment since more than one-third of them are learning English as a second language. (Anna Schneider)
Students who are new to New York City public schools or who are re-entering city schools after a time away, may register at special temporary enrollment centers beginning on Aug. 27 in all boroughs. The centers are open Monday-Friday, 8 am to 3 pm through Sept. 12, with the exception of Sept. 1, Labor Day. Regular enrollment centers will be closed from Aug. 22 to Sept. 15.
All high school students should go to the enrollment centers, along with any elementary and middle school students who do not have a zoned school. Elementary and middle school students who have a zoned school should wait until the first day of school, Sept. 4, to register at the school, the Education Department said.
All special education students who have a current IEP (Individualized Education Plan) may enroll directly at their zoned schools on Sept. 4. Students without a current New York City IEP, need to go to an enrollment center or to a special education site, for those with more restrictive needs.
When I first found out in June that my son’s elementary school would be ending 30 minutes earlier this year and I would have to pick up two children at the same time, ten blocks apart, my first thought, of course, was, “Yes! Now I can harness those superpowers of time travel I always knew I possessed!” Actually, just one word came into my head, and it's unprintable here.
Apparently I’m not alone. According to The Daily News, about 450 schools will be changing their start and end times this year in order to comply with the new UFT contract. In a nutshell, the contract does two things as far as the school day is concerned: First, it elmininates 37.5 minutes each day that teachers were previously devoting to small-group work and tutoring for students who were behind. Second, it reapportions that time for professional development, parent communication, preparing lessons and all the other behind-the-scenes work that teachers must complete but never have time for.
There are 22,000 kids living in homeless and domestic violence shelters in NYC, according to Volunteers for America. In addition to the trauma and chaos of a transient life, imagine the feeling of arriving for the first day of school in September, seeing all your friends toting shiny, full backpacks ready to learn, and you have ... nothing.
In 2001, Volunteers of America–Greater New York launched Operation Backpack—a fundraising initiative aimed at providing our city's neediest children with the supplies they need to start the school year right. By filling thousands of backpacks with grade-specific supplies, Operation Backpack relieves stressed families of an impossible financial burden, and most important, they help kids living on the fringes get a fighting chance at a solid education.
There are many ways to get involved. Visit the Operation Backpack website for a list of grade-specific supplies and backpack drop-off locations throughout the city. You can also make a straightforward monetary donation to the project, buy supplies for the foundation's amazon wishlist or donate your time in person. It's a wonderful opportunity to do something real and tangible for NYC education, and to show a struggling child you believe in her.
Perhaps that technology camp you enrolled your nature-loving daughter in just wasn’t quite right, or maybe you’ve noticed your teenager spending too many summer days staring at the wall—or a screen. Luckily, there are still lots of free, engaging summer classes and programs in all five boroughs for kids of all ages. It’s not too late! And don't forget to check out our listing of free educational enrichment programs year-round.
NYC Parks—Free Outdoor Pools
Visit one of New York City's free outdoor pools. Through Sept. 1, NYC Parks’ outdoor pools are offering amenities including free summer swim programs for all ages and abilities and free, healthy summer meals provided by USDA through SchoolFood, a part of the NYC Department of Education for all children 18 years old and under. Download a flyer to find out more about the local pool in your school district. For more information, visit nyc.gov/parks.
The city's push to fill public school pre-kindergerten classrooms with 4-year-olds next fall seems to be working. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced today that 97 percent of the half-day and full-day pre-k seats were filled after the first round of applications, as compared to 91 percent at this time last year. But there were still far more applicants than seats available for school-based programs, and many families were disappointed to learn in letters today that they did not get a spot.
Only 62 percent of the 41,178 families who applied got one of 26,411 slots, compared to 70 percent in 2013. Roughly 45 percent of famlies got their first choice, according to Department of Education data. There are 715 vacant seats, most of them clustered in low-income areas such as District 23 in East New York, District 16 in Bedford Stuyvesant and in districts where many new seats were added, such as District 14 in Williamsburg and District 5 in Harlem.
Sixty percent of students who applied to gifted and talented (G&T) programs in 2014 received offers. That’s an improvement from 2013 when 54 percent of applicants received offers after enduring a rocky admissions process marred by scoring errors and a subsequent lawsuit filed by parents. Overall, G&T offers still fall short of 2012 when 73 percent of all applicants received good news.
More students sat for the G&T this year than in either of the previous two years, but fewer scored high enough to be eligible for a G&T spot. This year the Department of Education (DOE) changed the G&T scoring process by giving equal weight to the test's two components: the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test (OLSAT) and the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test (NNAT2). In 2013, the NNAT2 comprised 66 percent and the OLSAT 33 percent of the total score.
As in previous years, admission to one of the five citywide G&T programs eluded most eligible students. While over 3,400 G&T test takers scored high enough—97th percentile or better—to qualify for a citywide G&T seat in grades k to 3, only a few hundred spots are available, and almost all of them go to those who score in the 99th percentile, or to eligible siblings of current citywide G&T students. The DOE has not released figures for how many were offered a citywide G&T seat this year, but last year roughly 300 earned a spot. After 3rd grade, placement in G&T programs is based on standardized state test scores.
(This story first appeared on DNAInfo.com.)
Mayor Bill de Blasio has promoted his pre-K expansion as a way to help working families — but programs that last only about six hours a day aren't long enough for many New Yorkers, parents and advocates said.
Although the thousands of new public school pre-K seats being created this year are called "full-day," they run on a typical school day schedule, from about 8 a.m. to 2:20 p.m., with summers and vacations off.
That's why many low-income families have been turning to the 350 community-based organizations that provide pre-K classes that last 10 hours per day and run year-round. As part of city's Early Learn program, these organizations offer low-cost pre-K seats using federal, state and city funding.
However, the thousands of new pre-K seats de Blasio plans to create over the next two years at community-based organizations will only have enough funding to cover the school day schedule of about six hours a day, 10 months per year, officials said — raising concerns that they will not adequately serve some of the families de Blasio had pledged to help.
(This story first appeared on DNAInfo.com. Insideschools added a few clarifications based on our reporting.)
Astoria resident Janet Piechota filled out kindergarten applications earlier this year, she hoped to win a spot for her daughter at P.S. 85, which has strong music programs and other enrichment classes.
She was frustrated last week to discover that not only had her daughter Daniela not gotten into P.S. 85 — she hadn't gotten into any of the top four schools Piechota had selected, after she researched everything from the schools' dual-language classes to reviews of their parent coordinators.
Daniela was admitted to her zoned school, P.S. 234, which is well-regarded but was her mother's last choice because it appeared to her to lack some of the enrichment activities available at other nearby programs.
"I was disappointed," said Piechota. "It was a time-consuming process, to go through all these schools in advance."