P.S. 128 Juniper Valley
QUEENS NY 11379 Map
P.S. 128 Juniper Valley
PS 128 serves families who have lived in the closely-knit community of Middle Village for generations. Principal John Lavelle has led the school for two decades and was there when a number of alumni who are now PS 128 parents attended. Although it has changed with the times, PS 128 offers the same safety, structure, and traditions that neighborhood families have long prized. Middle Village is also home to many Polish- and Italian-American parochial school alumni who are drawn to PS 128 because it reminds them of their school experience.
In a school this small, it's no surprise that there is a family feel and that most adults know most kids by name. Indeed, many teachers have taught their students' older siblings. Children follow a dress code, wearing white tops and blue skirts or trousers, and when the principal walks into a classroom, we were told, they stop what they are doing to say, "Good morning, Mr. Lavelle." (We did not get to see this firsthand because Lavelle had been called away to a meeting during our visit.) Parents praise him for his openness to them.
PS 128 is consistently one of the top-scoring schools not only in the district, but the city. This leads some faculty members to wonder why they should change tried-and-true methods and curriculums to adopt the more progressive approaches and course of study mandated for most schools (but not PS 128) in the city in 2003.
The answer is, they don't, entirely. Students are regularly assigned spelling words for homework and use workbooks filled with skills preparation exercises. In teaching reading, classes we saw infused a heavy dose of phonics into the city-mandated balanced literacy curriculumwhich uses a lot of whole-language (sight word) instruction. And where the citywide curriculum emphasizes allowing children to select books according to their own interests, PS 128 teachers are reluctant to give up social studies textbooks and "basal" readers (reading textbooks). "I'm a big fan of the basal readers and phonics because it works," a 4th grade teacher told us. For math, teachers are only slowly introducing the citywide math curriculum.
Rugs on the floor, so common in the city's classrooms, here seem to be an after-thought. This is not to say that the school and classrooms aren't welcoming. They are. But kids and parents appreciate old-fashioned structure.
The day of our visit the school was bustling. Every class puts on an annual play, and 1st graders were performing theirs to an audience filled with moms, dads, and siblings, some of whom had helped build the set. A school-wide art show featured a colorful and impressive range of projects, including sculptures fashioned from panty-hose and clothes hangers, and collages made in the style of Romare Bearden, an artist 4th graders had studied. The 5th grade band was practicing (students get music instruction once a week from 3rd to 5th grade) in preparation for a year-end concert, and each grade was rehearsing for a dance show.
Because of overcrowding, children in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade attend classes in a converted factory building known as the school annex. The younger grades are in the original building a block away. Oddly, the early childhood classrooms and building struck us as less lively and welcoming than the older grades. A few of the classrooms for the younger children seemed a bit bare, while the classrooms in the annex had more hands-on activities and projects on display.
Parents are so enthusiastic about the school that they hope to expand it into a K-8 program, according to the parent coordinator and parents we spoke to. For that to happen, the old building would have to be razed and a new structure put up, something the parent coordinator told us is in the planning stages.
For now, space is a concern. There is a small cafeteria in each building, but no real gym. The school does have several school yards, including one for use only by kindergartners.
After school: The school offers city-mandated tutoring for low-performing students and a limited number of activities for others.
Special education: At the time of our visit, there was one classroom, with two teachers, for special education students only.
This school is included in New York City's Best Public Elementary Schools. (Pamela Wheaton, June 2006)