PS/IS 124 Osmond A Church
QUEENS NY 11420 Map
PS/IS 124 Osmond A Church
A Jamaican parent learns about United States presidents from her 1st-grader and feels better prepared for her citizenship test. Another is in awe as her 6-year-old ponders the tiny arms of the Tyrannosaurus rex. Within walking distance of JFK Airport, PS 124 is not only an oasis for children — most qualify for free lunch, many are new immigrants, some live in homeless shelters — it is also a place where kids are exposed to history, geography, civics, the arts and science from the start.
Principal Valarie Lewis won a three-year grant from the Core Knowledge Foundation in 1999 that established the K–8 school's curriculum. Based on the work of E.D. Hirsch (who wrote Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know), this curriculum is in all grades and the school has become a national model. [Lewis retired in 2014. Her successor is Martiza Williams-Jones, formerly assistant principal at PS 104 in Far Rockaway.]
Teachers are flexible and creative in their delivery of Core Knowledge lessons, adding studies of Sikh culture due to a growing population of Sikh students, and developing science units on current topics like renewable energy. One challenge PS 124 faces is the mobility of the children; over 200 move to and from the area in one year. Because teachers extend topics through multiple years, some children who enter later are at a disadvantage, as they may lack the foundational knowledge. School doors are open every weekday until 6 pm, and 40 staff members work on Saturday to offer extra help and enrichment.
Teachers do not make assumptions about their students' knowledge, an advantage with this diverse population from all over the world: kindergartners learn American symbols like the Statue of Liberty and the U.S. flag; in 1st grade, it's Aesop's Fables and Westward Expansion. Young students learn about prairie dogs and colorful figures like Daniel Boone to whet their appetite for more on U.S. history in the upper grades.
In the principal's view, the school's rich lessons open the world to low-income students too often tied to skills and drills. "I don't believe in test prep," she said. "If they have knowledge, they'll be able to apply it."
Alumni say they felt well prepared for college, especially in terms of writing. "We do a lot of reading and writing to help kids process the content area," said an administrator. Writing assignments begin with a "thinking map" to help students organize information and include a list of skills to be met for self-evaluation.
Teachers weave together science, art, math, geography, history and more in their lessons. Science classes include engineering and favor hands-on activities combined with writing. Children examine fish scales through microscopes, make comics outlining the scientific method, learn math symbols used in Maya civilization. Cultural differences are celebrated on graphs showing children's countries of origin posted next to family recipes. "Everything is connected, and you have to see those connections to make sense of things," said Khalid, a 7th-grader.
To serve such a wide range of abilities, the school offers accelerated classes in every grade; 8th-graders may take Regents algebra and living environments classes.
Lewis has managed this burgeoning, diverse population with aplomb for many years. The big question is who will replace her in August 2014 when she retires, and what that change will mean for the direction of the school.
Parents volunteer daily, and sometimes 500 show up for special theme nights like the Thanksgiving mini-feast. After-school programs include dance, art, homework, reading and sports. Six social workers plan daily parent workshops, host a bereavement group and make home visits among other activities.
Special Education: A growing number of Integrated Co-Teaching classes are team-taught and mix children with special needs with general education students. These teachers stay with students for two years. Special education teachers work in classrooms or pull children out as needed. "We mainstream and tailor instruction," said Lewis.
Admissions: Only neighborhood children may attend. There is a gifted class in each grade. There is also a "1 class" for top students in each grade. Children are tested in the spring of their pre-k year. Some children are placed in smaller classes of 17 and provided with extra help. (Lydie Raschka, March 2014; new principal update December 2014)
At a glance
Number of Students 1331
Average Daily Attendance 95%
Safety & vibe
How many teachers say bullying is a problem at school?26% 22% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
How many teachers say order and discipline are maintained in the school?85% 84% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
ARE CLASSES BIG?
Number of students in an average kindergarten class20 22 CITYWIDE AVERAGE
Number of students in an average fifth grade class29 26 CITYWIDE AVERAGE
Number of students in an average middle school english class29 26 CITYWIDE AVERAGE
DO TEACHERS LIKE THE SCHOOL?
How many teachers say the principal is an effective manager?88% 85% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
How many teachers would recommend this school to other parents?88% 86% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
How many students are chronically absent?14% 21% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
Percent of students in grades 3-8 who scored 3 or 4 on the state math exam
Percent of students in grades 3-8 who scored 3 or 4 on the state ela exam
Percent of 4th graders who scored 3 or 4 on the state science exam
Percent of 8th graders who scored 3 or 4 on the state science exam
Does the school encourage family involvement?
How many parents say they were invited to an event at the school at least 3 times in the last school year?56% 71% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
Do parents like the school?
How many parents would recommend this school to other parents?95% 93% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
Special ed & ELL
How well does this school serve students with disabilities?
This school offers self-contained classes.
Percent of self-contained students who scored 3 or 4 on the state math exam:0% 5% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
Percent of self-contained students who scored 3 or 4 on the state ELA exam:0% 2% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
This school offers team teaching (ict).
Percent of ICT students who scored 3 or 4 on the state math exam:7% 14% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
Percent of ICT students who scored 3 or 4 on the state ELA exam:7% 8% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
Percent of SETSS students who scored 3 or 4 on the state math exam:9% 15% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
Percent of SETSS students who scored 3 or 4 on the state ELA exam:4% 9% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
How many parents say students with disabilities are included in all activities?
How many teachers say students with special needs are educated in the least restrictive environment appropriate?
How many parents of students with ieps say this school offers a wide enough variety of services and activities for their children’s needs?