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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.

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Tuesday, 22 July 2014 14:22

Help homeless kids get free backpacks

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.

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Tuesday, 22 July 2014 10:53

Free summer fun

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.

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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.

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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.

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(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.

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(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."

Published in News and views
Monday, 28 April 2014 12:18

Poetry is bite-sized, why aren't books?

(This article by Lydie Raschka, Insideschools writer and school reviewer, appears in the April 22, 2014 online edition of Education Week.)

Recently I spent 10 weeks as a classroom teacher again, after a long hiatus. One night, I stayed late at school to prepare the shelves for our cross-genre reading unit. My six-year-olds were going to hunt through baskets of books to find fiction, nonfiction, and poetry related to a topic of interest to them. I ransacked the shelves and filled the baskets with books about math for a boy in my class named Evan, about U.S. presidents for Deana, and old-fashioned automobiles for Eliana.

Over the course of the week each child would pick a topic and read for information about it from different genres, so I'd spend prep time making it easier for them to get the books they needed. But when it came to poetry, I hunted around and was pulled up short. All the poetry books were unwieldy and hard to categorize by topic. They were also oddly shaped: I had to place them between our book baskets because they were too big, too fat, and too wide to go inside. One of the metal bookends I was using bent and the books clattered to the floor like the dominoes the children set up in snaking rows around a table at indoor recess.

Take a perennial favorite, Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends. Because poetry lends itself to being read aloud, most teachers of young children (myself included) keep a copy of this beloved book on a shelf by the daily schedule, cover faced out, or tucked into a larger basket of read-aloud books on the rug where the class gathers for morning meeting.

Unfortunately, at 176 pages, Where the Sidewalk Ends is a heavy book, so for the most part it remains in the hands—and the power—of the adult. I'm not saying the kids in my class couldn't or didn't browse through it on their own but they were generally less inclined to pick up this book and other classroom poetry books because they were big and occupied a separate space.

Read the rest of the article at Education Week.

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Five elementary schools have waitlists of more than 50 zoned children after the first round of kindergarten admissions and a few schools have more than doubled their waitlists from this time last year, according to a list issued by the Department of Education today. Although the number of schools that cannot accommodate all their zoned students has shrunk nearly in half since 2012 -- from 125 in 2012 to 63 this year -- overcrowding persists in some neighborhoods.

Once again, Pioneer Academy, PS 307 in Corona, Queens has the longest waitlist in the city, with 126 waitlisted zoned five-year-olds, as compared to 167 last year and 109 in 2012. PS 307, where nearly one-third of the students are new immigrants, was opened in 2008 to alleviate overcrowding in District 24.

On Manhattan's Upper West Side PS 199 has about 100 zoned students on its waitlist, up from 39 last year. PS/IS 276, one of a bevy of new downtown Manhattan schools opened over the past 10 years, has a waitlist of 52 students.

In the Bronx, gigantic PS/IS 71 has 50 kindergartners waitlisted; high-performing PS 7 in Marble Hill has 59 students on the waitlist.

Published in News and views
Wednesday, 16 April 2014 17:39

Our pre-k picks: Manhattan & the Bronx

Here are our recommendations for pre-kindergarten in the Bronx and Manhattan public schools, based on our school visits and the results of the city’s parent and teacher surveys. We didn’t include some very popular schools that receive hundreds of applications for a handful of seats. Instead, we tried to find some good schools that aren’t hopelessly oversubscribed.

MANHATTAN

Lower East Side

If you live on the Lower East Side, you’re in luck. Every school in District 1 has full day pre-kindergarten classes and all offer tours to prospective parents. There are no zoned schools in the district. Some of the schools are known for their progressive philosophy and high levels of parent involvement, including Earth School, Children's Workshop and East Village Community. The Neighborhood School shares a building with PS 63 William McKinley/STAR Academy, which is expanding its pre-k program from one to two classes. Shuang Wen has long been a top-scoring school serving primarily Asian families who want their children to be fluent in both English and Mandarin. Under new leadership, the school has become more welcoming to non-Asian children who want to learn Mandarin. Some schools have space for families outside the district.

Upper East Side, Midtown and downtown

District 2, a huge district that stretches from 96th Street on the East Side and 59th Street on the West Side all the way down to the Battery, has some of the best and most popular schools in the city. Unfortunately, there are far more applicants than spots in pre-kindergarten. A brand new school, PS 340 Sixth Avenue Elementary, in Chelsea, will offer two pre-k classes in the morning and two in the afternoon. If you’re looking for full day options popular Midtown West is opening its first pre-k class, PS 116 Mary Lindley Murray is opening two classes and PS 40 Augustus Saint-Gaudens is opening one. PS 126 and PS 1 Alfred Smith are terrific schools that sometimes have room for children outside their attendance zones.

Upper West Side and Harlem

District 3 covers the west side of Manhattan. Most of the schools on the Upper West Side have far more applicants than seats, but PS 191 sometimes has seats for children outside its attendance zone. In Harlem, we loved our visits to the Early Childhood Discovery and Design Magnet (with a hands-on engineering program and LEGO Lab) and PS 180 (which boasts a strong arts program).  We haven’t visited PS 76, but parent and teacher surveys say it has a friendly vibe and strong leadership.

East Harlem

East Harlem has long been a pioneer of innovation and school choice and is home to popular progressive schools such as Central Park East I, and Central Park East II, which receive hundreds of applicants for only 18 full day pre-k seats. Try a hidden gem like River East instead, which is opening a new pre-k class. We haven’t visited PS 102, PS 146 or PS 155 recently, but positive surveys of parents and teachers suggest they are worth considering.

Central Harlem

District 5 in Central Harlem has long had some of the lowest-performing schools in the city. However, there are a few bright spots: We loved our visit to Teachers College Community School (although competition for seats there is fierce.) Our recent visit to PS 200 suggests that it’s moving in the right direction. We haven’t visited PS 125 or PS 197 recently, but parent and teacher surveys are positive.

Washington Heights and Inwood

District 6 once had very overcrowded schools, but enrollment has declined in recent years as the neighborhoods of northern Manhattan have gentrified. Some of the most popular schools have far more applicants than seats. You may have a better chance at three schools we visited recently: Washington Heights Academy, Castle Bridge and PS 128.

BRONX

South Bronx

District 7 in the South Bronx has mostly low-performing schools, but we can recommend the pre-kindergarten at a few schools we that we have visited. PS 5 has strong leadership and a happy cohesive staff. PS 25 has an amazing science exploration center. PS 157 boasts a good arts program.

Soundview and Throgs Neck

In District 8, we enjoyed our visit to PS 152, which often takes kids from outside across its attendance zone. PS 69 and PS 304 are terrific schools but they are flooded with applicants. It doesn’t hurt to apply, but don’t get your hopes up. We haven’t visited PS 182 in quite a while, but parent and teachers surveys say it’s a safe school with strong leadership and solid academics.

Grand Concourse, Morrisania, Crotona Park

District 9 is on the western edge of the south Bronx and is home to Yankee Stadium and much of the revitalization in the south Bronx. Best bet here: PS 63, which our reviewer called “an oasis of calm.”

Riverdale, Wave Hill, Central Bronx

One of the most overcrowded districts in the city, District 10 is also the top-performing district in the Bronx. A few schools are adding new pre-kindergarten seats: Bronx New School and a new school opening on Webster Avenue called Bedford Park Elementary.

Northeast Bronx

District 11, covering the northeast Bronx including Pelham Parkway, Eastchester and Woodlawn, has space opening up at Linden Tree Elementary, a new small school that strives to be attentive to children’s different learning styles. PS 160 Walt Disney is one of the best bets for getting a spot in this area with three full day classes opening in the fall and good leadership, according to teacher surveys.

Crotona Park

District 12 is smack dab in the middle of the Bronx so it’s worth checking all the bordering districts to find borough-wide options. Bronx Little School is a safe, welcoming place with high-expectations, but over 200 families applied for 18 seats in 2013. Samara Community School is a new school opening in the fall hosting one full day pre-k.

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