P.S. 175 The Lynn Gross Discovery School
QUEENS NY 11374 Map
P.S. 175 The Lynn Gross Discovery School
With a Native American feast for 4th graders in the gym, a circus coming to perform, and Shakespearean festival, PS 175 in Rego Park is a happening place. Parents are an integral part of the school and its biggest boosters.
PS 175 has an interesting mix of families. It's a Title 1 school, which means that it has a high number of kids eligible for free lunch and is, therefore, entitled to special federal funding. It also has a large number of new immigrant students from Russia and, increasingly, China. While the school has found it a challenge to reach out to the many newcomer parents who work long hours, it has been able to enlist parents who are professionals with flexible schedules and are at the school daily, volunteering. They do a lot, including publishing a bi-monthly, 36-page newsletter; running a five-day-a-week after-school program; and providing funds for a sophisticated, school-based weather station.
PS 175 has long been a high achieving school, and was one of 209 successful schools the chancellor exempted from the citywide uniform curriculum mandated in 2003. Principal Linda Green believes in giving teachers freedom "to stand on their own and cooperate with each other." So, unlike other schools in the city where you see the same thing going on in every classroom at the same time, you see different approaches to learning at PS 175. Classrooms vary in setup; some teachers favor desks lined up next to one another in rows, in others we saw inviting rugs and child-size bean bag chairs where kids sprawl out to read.
The youngest students have the benefit of gigantic classrooms. In one of them on the day of our visit, pre-schoolers were dressed up as firefighters and playing with blocks. Outside is an attractive play yard, funded by the parents. Kids seem comfortable working together in groups and reading in pairs. In one 1st grade class, we saw a youngster reminding his reading partner, "if it doesn't make sense, you should go back to the previous page and read it again." The school has long used the Writers' Workshop method of teaching reading and writing, developed at Columbia University's Teachers College, in which children write multiple drafts of their papers, offer editing suggestions to one another, then "publish" their essays for their classmates and parents to read.
In a 5th grade science class, students confidently defined "biomes" to visitors and comfortably explained a "Venn Diagram" they made comparing and contrasting biomes in Alaska and Florida. Weather is an important subject at PS 175, the reporting school for a local television channel. The school building has a weather station on its roof, connected to a computer in the science lab, and monitored by the children. The science lab also boasts Chinese fighting fish in tanks kept crystal clean by students. Scientists from Cold Spring Harbor work with older students on studies of genetics.
The day of our visit, the entire 4th grade was holding a communal feast in the gym, as part of its study of Native Americans. Excited students wore Iroquois headdresses, and ate off hand-woven paper place mats. Parents served platters full of turkey donated by a local restaurant, and other goodies brought in by the classes. Many of the projects are the brainchild of the school's gifted-and-talented coordinator who both takes children out of the classroom for special projects and goes into the classroom to work with all students. Third graders were engrossed in making up their own math problems and figuring out how many items off a grocery list they could buy with $10.
An outdoor garden, built in honor of a former principal, is a popular place in warm weather for students to gather for lunch or class or just to tend the garden. We watched 1st graders, who had taken a nature walk, paint watercolors of the garden when they worked in the school's inviting art studio. The arts are particularly strong at PS 175. Every year 4th and 5th grade students perform the Shakespearean plays Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth. We listened to lively music composed by a teacher and amusing lyrics about the witches in Macbeth on a student-produced CD.
Despite a number of seasoned teachers, the school has a relatively high turnover rate, according to Green, the principal, who just prior to our visit had lost a science and special education teacher. In 2003 the staff voted to adopt "school-based option" status, which gives the school more say in hiring, and Green is hopeful this will help slow the departure of teachers. The school also loses neighborhood families to a local religious school that offers free tuition and busing.
Special education: There is one team-taught class with both children in need of special education services and general education students. There are also two small classrooms only for special education students.
After-school: Parents run a full-time recreational program staffed by teachers and available to parents for a fee. Twice a week there is academic help for struggling students. (This school is featured in New York City's Best Public Elementary Schools. Pamela Wheaton, November 2004)