P.S. 84 Lillian Weber
MANHATTAN NY 10025 Map
P.S. 84 Lillian Weber
On a leafy side street half a block from Central Park, PS 84 offers dual language programs in French and Spanish as well as English-only general education classes. The dual language programs—which alternate lessons in English and another language—have attracted affluent and educated parents to a school that formerly served mostly low-income families.
The school has children from nearby housing projects as well as pricey brownstones. Children of nannies and bus drivers learn alongside the offspring of architects and lawyers. Add to the mix West Indian, African, French and Hispanic backgrounds—and the school is a microcosm of the city with all its attendant friction and appeal.
The language classes can feel like small worlds unto themselves, with their own customs, like calling out, “Bonjour!” when a visitor enters the French class. Classes tend to sort themselves by race: primarily white in French dual language; a mix of white, black and Hispanic in the Spanish dual language; and more black and Hispanic in the English-only classes. Half the children in the dual language programs are native speakers of English; half speak French or Spanish at home.
One of the challenges is keeping the peace when parents perceive favoritism of one group over another. One father grumbled that the dual language programs function as “gifted” classes, and that those parents make unreasonable demands. At the same time, he credited the dual language programs with raising expectations in the school as a whole.
Cultural expectations differ from group to group: Some parents are eager to volunteer and to have a voice in the running of the school, while others believe decisions are best left to school staff. "Spanish culture is one where they are content to leave it to school administrators,” said parent coordinator Anita Hauschild. “The French are more inclined to voice an opinion.”
Long-time Principal Robin Sundick has successfully bridged these differences with school-wide activities such as an international dinner—in which families bring dishes representing their heritage—and a Peace First program, which teaches children how to get along and encourages community service. When a student saw a photo of barefoot children in Haiti following a hurricane, PS 84 children collected flip-flops, and a parent (who happens to be an airline pilot) delivered them in person.
Sundick has a clear, consistent vision which is apparent throughout the school. Walk into any 3rd-grade class and you will see the same types of lessons at the same time (although a few classrooms seemed a bit cluttered). Children write prolifically in all classes and they are free to talk and to move around.
The French classes in particular felt lively on our visit, with children chatting freely as they worked on different activities at their tables. We saw students tasting a variety of pancakes and writing reviews in an English-only class. The Spanish dual language classes seemed more subdued than the French, but overall the teaching looked solid and engaging.
An even split between native and non-native speakers is ideal in dual language programs, but it hasn’t been easy to attract enough French students—or French teachers. This is changing as the program’s popularity grows and now the youngest grades come close to an even 50/50 split. Children entering in the older grades need to be bilingual in order to be successful. Space opens up around 3rd and 4th grade when increased reading and homework cause some families to opt-out.
Test scores are average and science scores are slightly below average. This may improve now that parents pay for a science consultant who teaches in the science lab and outdoors in one of two gardens. A $1.2 million rooftop garden is in the works: already it is a recycled, repurposed garden run by volunteers and the science consultant, in which children grow strawberries, herbs and carrots, among other learning activities. Parents also fund teaching assistants, the librarian and various programs including Urban Roots and Peace First.
Special education: The school offers Integrated Co-Teaching classes, which mix general and special needs children, with two teachers; and two self-contained classrooms for only students with special needs.
Admissions: Neighborhood school. Students in Districts 3,5 and 6 may apply to the school. If there are more applicants than seats, the district holds a lottery. Once students are admitted, families may choose to enter a French or Spanish dual language program. English Language Learners receive preference for dual language. There is a wait list that moves quite a bit over the summer according to the principal and about 40 percent of applicants come from outside the zone. (Lydie Raschka, February 2013)