P.S. 60 Alice Austen
STATEN ISLAND NY 10314 Map
P.S. 60 Alice Austen
Days begin at PS 60 with a student telling a joke over the PA system before reciting the pledge. "It helps the staff begin on a happy note," says the person who introduced the idea, principal Bonnie Ferretti. Parents and staff members say Ferretti, who replaced a longtime principal after his 2003 retirement, has done many other things to brighten the tone, such as sprucing up the building and invigorating teaching. "She's an educator's educator," said Sean Rotkowitz, a former PS 60 student who now heads the school's chapter of the teachers' union.
Built in the 1960s with moveable classroom walls -- an "open school" style popular at the time -- PS 60's layout is obsolete. With space now at a premium, walls stay put. There's no place for students to store coats, and desks are decades old. On the plus side, sunlit lower-grade classrooms are grouped around a landscaped playground, where the energetic parent coordinator, Janet Pluy, hosts a spring tea for parents.
Children outside of special education are tracked. Each grade has two "top" classes of high-performing children and a "bottom" class of smaller-than-average size, which receives more academic support. On our visit, we saw several interesting lessons. A 4th grade class learned about mathematical solids by constructing cardboard prisms, cones and cubes into "solid cities." Students worked in groups, with each assigned to be an "artist," "architect," or "presenter." In a studio filled with student artwork, one of the school's two art teachers had hung Mondrian-inspired paintings to dry; 5th grade special education students had produced them after studying the artist's work.
The lesson reflected an emphasis on art and music that has survived despite arts cutbacks on Staten Island. As we visited, the 5th grade prepared to present The Sound of Music. Classes often travel to the College of Staten Island for shows. Next year PS 60 plans digital production of a student-written magazine through a partnership with a group called Classroom Inc.
PS 60 has close ties to its community. As we visited, a group sponsored by local businesses taught children gathered in the auditorium how to protect themselves from abduction, parent volunteers screened students for vision problems, and members of the active PTA gathered to plan fundraising.
A growing number of children learning English are served by an English-as-a-second-language teacher. The influx of immigrants is new to PS 60, and Pluy, the parent coordinator, has been holding workshops for them in her office, in addition to helping them prepare an international luncheon for the school.
Special education: The school has seven "self-contained" classes for children with special needs only, and three "inclusion" classes, in which special education and general education students learn side by side. An administrator in charge of special education said that "special ed kids get everything everyone else does," including arts and participation in Unified Games sports events, which place special- and general-education classes together on teams. (Marcia Biederman, April 2004)