P.S. 344 Ampark Neighborhood School

An Insideschools pick
3961 HILLMAN AVENUE
BRONX NY 10463 Map
Phone: (718) 548-3451
Website: Click here
Admissions: Priority Kingsbridge residents
Principal: Christine McCourt Milton
Neighborhood: Kingsbridge
District: 10
Grade range: K-5
Parent Coordinator: Angie LeBron
Unzoned

What's special:

Small, vibrant school with emphasis on long-term projects and social consciousness

The downside:

No auditorium and a small yard, older children play at Van Courtland Park for more space

InsideSchools Review

Our review:

Situated on a quiet residential street in Kingsbridge, Bronx, AmPark Neighborhood School is a lively, nurturing place known for its commitment to the environment, social consciousness and the arts. The school wears its “progressive” label proudly and believes children learn best by “doing” and engaging in issues that matter to them—like hatching and raising trout to release into the Hudson River or even advocating for a classroom democracy.

The school was started in 2006 as a joint effort between local parents and the Amalgamated Park Reservoir Cooperative Housing Project. AmPark is unzoned and kids hail from all over the Bronx. The student body is racially integrated and includes children from middle class families as well as those who qualify for free lunch.

Principal Christine McCourt Milton took over in 2012 from founding principal Elizabeth Lopez Towey (also founder of the Ella Baker School). Before coming to AmPark, Milton worked for 20 years in District 10 as a teacher, administrator and academic coach. Like her predecessor, Milton believes firmly in a “whole child” approach to education, nurturing a student’s mind, body and spirit. Children practice mindfulness every morning at breakfast and yoga every Monday, and teachers and students are on a first name basis. “We wanted to create a feeling of family, but it never impacts respect,” Milton said.

The units of study we saw were creative, and teachers seemed eager to think outside the box. In science, 4th-graders worked on comic strips about solids, liquids and gasses and had just finished an animal science unit. After studying ecosystems, students chose to focus on either desert or Arctic habitats and then created their own animals with particular features to help them thrive in that environment.

A 5th-grade class studying fantasy fiction watched a short animated film called “The Girl and the Fox.” Students listened spellbound as their teacher paused the film to discuss different symbols that are common in fantasy stories. One girl noted that the gray color of the villain reminded her of a cloudy day and gave the character “a gloomy feeling.”

The level of writing and conversation we saw was high. A 3rd-grade essay assignment focusing on social issues sparked a flurry of conversation and activity during our visit. One girl proudly shared her essay about advocating for free college. Meanwhile two boys collaborated on a topic close to home: putting an end to littering in residential sections of the Bronx.

In the younger grades, play is key and teachers take great pains to protect children’s ability to explore sand tables, build with blocks and act out stories—even in the testing age. “There are ways to meet [Common Core] expectations without making everyone sit and do the same thing all day long,” Milton said.

While most families are satisfied with the school, in learning surveys, a handful of teachers and parents called for more academic rigor. In response, Milton says the school has adopted Teachers College Reading and Writing Project for English language arts and has shifted its math curriculum from the more conceptually based Investigations program to skills-based Engage NY, which teachers supplement with math games and small group center work. The school has also hired a math coach. Fourth and 5th grades have departmentalized, meaning that teachers specialize in literacy/social studies or math/science, while students travel between classrooms for subjects.

The building, opened in 2011, is attached to neighborhood school PS/MS 95. It has brightly colored walls, large classrooms, a science lab, a music room and a library. There are full-time music and arts teachers and designated rooms for each. A small side yard has a rock climbing wall, a brand-new jungle gym and cushioned flooring. Older kids do need more space to play, however, so teachers and kids walk one block to the spacious Van Courtland Park playground every day, weather permitting. A multipurpose room serves as the gymnasium.

SPECIAL EDUCATION: The school offers ICT (integrated co-teaching) classes as needed and mixed-grade self-contained classes. The self-contained classes we saw were lively and warm, made up of a range of children with different needs, including many who were preparing to transition to ICT classes. There are two full-time SETSS teachers as well as speech, OT, PT and counseling.

ADMISSIONS: Families apply through the normal Department of Education kindergarten application process, but priority for Ampark is as follows: children living in Kingsbridge Community Heights, others in District 10, then all of NYC. In 2016, Milton said about 250 families applied for 50 general education kindergarten spots. (Aimee Sabo, May 2016)

InsideStats

Click tabs above to see school stats

At a glance

Shared campus? Yes

This school shares the building with PS 95

Number of Students 400

Average Daily Attendance 95%

Students at this school

Asian

  
5%

Black

  
13%

Hispanic

  
60%

White

  
20%

Free Lunch

  
45%

Special ed

  
15%

English Language Learners

  
3%

Safety & vibe

ARE KIDS
NICE?

How many teachers say bullying is a problem at school?

6% 17% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

How many teachers say order and discipline are maintained in the school?

72% 86% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

ARE CLASSES BIG?

Number of students in an average kindergarten class

26 23 CITYWIDE AVERAGE

Number of students in an average fifth grade class

28 26 CITYWIDE AVERAGE

DO TEACHERS LIKE THE SCHOOL?

How many teachers say the principal is an effective manager?

83% 84% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

How many teachers would recommend this school to other parents?

100% 87% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

Attendance

How many students are chronically absent?

11% 22% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

Academics

How many teachers say this school offers enough programs, classes and activities to keep students engaged?

100% 84% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

How many teachers say this school does a good job teaching social-emotional skills?

78% 85% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

How many teachers say this school does a good job teaching organizational and study skills?

89% 91% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

Percent of 3rd, 4th & 5th graders who scored 3 or 4 on the state math exam

52% 39% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

Percent of 3rd, 4th & 5th graders who scored 3 or 4 on the state ela exam

44% 30% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

Percent of 4th graders who scored 3 or 4 on the state science exam

95% 82% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

Parents

Are parents involved?

How many parents responded to the school survey?

73% 63% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

How many parents say they attended at least one pta meeting in the last school year?

66% 72% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

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?

89% 75% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

Do parents like the school?

How many parents would recommend this school to other parents?

96% 94% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

Special ed & ELL

How well does this school serve students with disabilities?

Percent of self-contained students who scored 3 or 4 on the state math exam:

NA 8% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

Percent of self-contained students who scored 3 or 4 on the state ELA exam:

NA 2% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

Percent of ICT students who scored 3 or 4 on the state math exam:

NA 19% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

Percent of ICT students who scored 3 or 4 on the state ELA exam:

NA 9% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

Percent of SETSS students who scored 3 or 4 on the state math exam:

8% 17% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

Percent of SETSS students who scored 3 or 4 on the state ELA exam:

0% 9% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

How many parents say students with disabilities are included in all activities?

97% 98% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

How many teachers say students with special needs are educated in the least restrictive environment appropriate?

94% 94% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

How many parents of students with ieps say this school offers a wide enough variety of services and activities for their children’s needs?

72% 89% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

How well does this school serve English language learners?

Percent of ell students who scored 3 or 4 on the state ELA exam:

NA 6% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

Percent of former ell students who scored 3 or 4 on the state ELA exam:

NA 28% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

How many teachers say this school ensures that ells receive the same curriculum as non-ells with appropriate suppports?

94% 90% CITYWIDE AVERAGE

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