P.S. 344 AmPark Neighborhood School
BRONX NY 10463 Map
P.S. 344 AmPark Neighborhood School
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 lessons 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, an art room, 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 Cortlandt 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 Van Cortlandt Village/Kingsbridge Community Heights area, others in District 10, then to others outside the district. About 250 families applied for 50 general education kindergarten spots. (Aimee Sabo, May 2016)
At a glance
Number of Students 400
Average Daily Attendance 95%
Safety & vibe
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 class26 23 CITYWIDE AVERAGE
Number of students in an average fifth grade class28 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
How many students are chronically absent?11% 22% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
Percent of 3rd, 4th & 5th graders who scored 3 or 4 on the state math exam
Percent of 3rd, 4th & 5th graders who scored 3 or 4 on the state ela exam
Percent of 4th 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?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?
This school offers self-contained classes.
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
This school does not offer team teaching (ict).
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?
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?