P.S. 137 John L. Bernstein
MANHATTAN NY 10002 Map
P.S. 137 John L. Bernstein
A small orderly school on Manhattan's Lower East Side, PS 137 is striving to carve out its own identity in a shared building. The range of extracurricular programs has expanded since our last visit and the faculty is working to cultivate a strong sense of community within the small student population. Adults have strong ties to the largely Latino neighborhood and students are encouraged to act respectfully towards each other.
Building and location: Located at the quiet end of East Broadway on the Lower East Side, PS 137 shares a building with another small school, PS 134. Shared facilities include a library with beanbags and child-sized armchairs, and a dance studio with mirrored walls and a ballet barre. Even the main office is shared by both schools. Although the school moved to its present location in 2006, the exterior of the building bears just the name of PS 134, even in 2009. Enrollment has decreased significantly since the move and Principal Melissa Rodriguez says families in the area are unaware that there are two schools in the building. Both are District 1 schools of choice, and she has made efforts to distinguish PS 137 by way of banners and bulletin boards in the building lobby. She also appealed to the Department of Education to add their name to the yellow brick facade.
School environment and culture: Tiny PS 137 is rooted in the neighborhood, serving mostly local children and run by a principal educated in District 1. Melissa Rodriguez grew up on the Lower East Side, and taught at the school before she became principal in September 2005. She knows many of the students and says that "we use most of our funding for teachers" to keep class size small.
Students, who wear navy-blue polo shirts stitched with the school name, seemed to travel in orderly groups. Some displayed particularly admirable manners; during a conversation with one young student, another said "excuse me" to visitors before interrupting to gain his classmate's attention.
Parent Coordinator Yolanda Saldana - also a Lower East Side native - says that the philosophy of the school has been to "accept every single child who comes through our doors" and do their best to accommodate different needs. Throughout the day, we saw different adults patiently talking outside of class to a child struggling with behavior issues. We noticed the mother with the child for part of the day; the look on her face as the pair left the school together seemed to express gratitude.
Teaching and curriculum: The school follows the Teachers College Readers and Writers workshop curriculum, which emphasizes student writing through multiple drafts and revision. Student-produced fairytales and "mysteries" covered the bulletin boards. We visited a 3rd-grade class that was polishing the final drafts of their mysteries and anticipating a publishing party to celebrate their work. A girl with painted fingernails showed off her book, "Where is My Lipgloss?," and went on to say she enjoyed the schoolwide "Math Challenges" where classes competed against each other in the auditorium.
PS 137 is also making strides to incorporate more technology into its classrooms. According to Rodriguez, the school received grant money to purchase more SmartBoards and document cameras, which display enlarged images of documents and other objects onto a whiteboard. In the Academic Intervention Services room for struggling students, three teachers provide extra academic support, partly through Scholastic's ReadAbout literacy software, which has a colorful interactive interface.
The school has two science rooms, an art room, and a music room, equipped with keyboards, guitars and tambourines. A teacher led students, including a few with special needs, in singing along to a song that emphasized social skills, and tested their listening skills by asking them to repeat lyrics such as "raise your hand before you speak" and "treat your friends like brothers and sisters."
Partnerships and programs: Teaching artists from Lincoln Center work with students on themed arts projects. Several teachers were prepping their classes for a study on historical Mexican art and music planned by Lincoln Center; kids were creating their own interpretations of Aztec mosaics.
Family participation: A parent committee organizes school dances and celebrations, including an end-of-year carnival. Parents also decided that they didn't want any "junk food" in the school, so none is offered at school events. Fruit snacks are sold in the parent coordinator's office. Saldana also arranges workshops to educate families about physical exercise, nutrition, and health insurance.
After school: The respected local organizations Henry Street Settlement and University Settlement offer some extracurricular programs. The school also offers additional academic support and a technology club that meets twice a week.
Special education: There were four self-contained classes for students with special needs, and the school anticipates starting Collaborative Team Teaching (CTT) classes in 2009-2010, according to Rodriguez. Other services are offered in the building in conjunction with PS 134.
English Language Learners: Many of the students come from Spanish-speaking families. One English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher provides specialized instruction for the approximately 20 percent of students in the school that qualify for English instruction.
Admissions: Priority is given to District 1 residents. (Catherine Man, February 2009)