PS/MS 57James Weldon Johnson
MANHATTAN NY 10029 Map
PS/MS 57James Weldon Johnson
At P.S. 57, students benefit from strong leadership, thoughtful and creative teaching, and a lot of support from community and philanthropic organizations. In 2006, P.S. 57 expanded to include a middle school called the Leadership Academy. With only one class per grade, the Leadership Academy is small but a welcome addition to Manhattan's District 4, an area in need of better middle school options.
The school serves a large Latino student population that's predominantly from the Mexican state of Puebla. The many immigrants can draw inspiration from their principal, Israel Soto, who himself learned English as a second language. Soto has led the school since 1998 and is credited with transforming P.S. 57's once dismal record into a real success story. His grant-seeking and outreach to community and philanthropic organizations have helped stock the school with an enormous array of resources and provide his students with a lot of academic support and enrichment. "I want our kids to see what excellence looks like and feels like," said Soto. "Many of them don't have a lot of models of excellence in their lives, so we need to be that here."
Building and location: P.S. 57 is housed in a massive, red brick building in East Harlem. Students learn in cheery, spacious classrooms, all equipped with sinks, and also have access to a gymnasium, auditorium, two computer labs, and three science labs. The renovated library is a beautiful space adorned with stuffed animals and mobiles and equipped with computers, a large TV, and a SmartBoard. A large area outside the entrance to the gym serves as a lunchtime and after school hangout for Leadership Academy students. Outdoor space includes a renovated school yard with a colorful track and lights for nighttime activities. An interior courtyard was transformed into an environmental conservation laboratory called the "Garden of Dreams." Sponsored by the Horticultural Society of New York, the garden features a cedar-planked deck with a tin roof designed to catch and filter water used in the student-maintained garden.
School environment and culture: : Effort is put into creating a cheery and stimulating environment. The entrance is adorned with a colorful mural depicting flags from around the world and an old-fashioned red box car that students race in competitions. The upbeat tone is echoed in hallways and classrooms lined with student art work, writing, and projects.
Children are calm and well-behaved and by 2nd grade are trusted to line up in the gym and walk to class on their own. Elementary students wear burgundy sweaters or shirts and gray pants or skirts. Leadership Academy students wear white shirts and blue pants or skirts.
Teaching and curriculum: : Attendance and test scores are strong and the children are well-behaved. Every day starts with academic intervention for children in need of extra help in math or English with teachers fanning out across the school to work with small groups of children in hallways and classrooms. When children excel they are pushed to go further: A kindergartner who is very advanced in reading spends part of the day in a 1st grade class. A 5th grader in a self-contained special education class joins a general education 5th grade class for select subjects.
Solid teaching and engaged students were observed in every classroom visited. In pre-K, students were eager to show off their composition books filled with all the letters they were learning to write. In the middle school science lab, 8th graders were meticulously measuring papier mache models of the solar system to ensure accuracy of scale. Fourth graders were working on some "mental math," quickly reducing and converting improper fractions to mixed numbers. In the lower grade science lab, another group of 4th graders were testing how many drops of water needed to fill a milliliter. When asked if a milliliter was "a lot or a little" amount of water, one girl volunteered without hesitation, "a little." All elementary grade students get instruction in dance and music, though not necessarily both each year. Middle schools students take drama.
Class sizes are very large in the middle school. To minimize the impact of crowded rooms, classes are split into two groups, each led by its own teacher for literary instruction. Teachers also group students according to skill level for projects and classroom assignments. Many students enjoy contributing to Tiger Heartbeat, the middle school newspaper. In all grades, high achievers are invited to join the school's after school scholars program, which allows them to participate in enrichment activities such a chess, robotics, theater and debate.
One big change has been an infusion of technology. "In three years we went from zero technology to high tech," said Soto. Starting in the 2nd grade, every classroom is fitted with a SmartBoard. Thanks to a grant secured by Soto, each kindergarten and 1st grade classroom was slated to get at least 5 computers.
Family participation: School performances and celebrations are well-attended. Parents help out in classrooms and were very aware of what their children were learning. "My son started 2nd grade reading at level K [2nd grade level]," one parent, with the help of a translator, said referring to books ranked alphabetically according to level of difficulty. "Now he's up to level O [highest 3rd grade level]." Monthly cooking workshops are a big draw for mothers and grandmothers.
English Language Learners: There are bilingual instruction classes for native Spanish speakers in kindergarten through 2nd grade. Students in the upper grades get individual and small group support from English as a Second Language instructors.
Special education: ; There are Special Education Teacher Support Services (SETSS), Collaborative Team Teaching (CTT) classes and self-contained classes for students with special needs only.
After school: A Virtual Y program offers students on-site recreational activities free of charge every day. Academic support and enrichment activities such as chess, theater, debate, journalism, robotics, and photography are also offered.
Partnerships and programs: The Say Yes to Education foundation, a national nonprofit founded by philanthropist George Weiss, awarded full college scholarships to the class scheduled to graduate from 5th grade in June 2010 as well as on-site academic support and counseling while they are at P.S. 57. (Students in other grades or who enrolled after the award was given will not receive the scholarship or support services.) Computers for Youth, a national non-profit organization, gives every incoming 6th grader a refurbished desktop computer to keep at home. Kaplan, Inc., a nationwide test preparation program, provides 8th graders with tutoring for the Specialized High School Exam. The 92nd Street Y provides music instruction.
Also of note: The school has an on-site health clinic that many students use as their primary source of medical care.
Admissions: The elementary school admits zoned students. Admission to the middle school is open to all District 4 students. According to the principal, the school takes a "holistic" approach to middle school admissions, considering the applicant's academics, attendance, and behavior in elementary school.
After graduation: Most middle school graduates attend Manhattan high schools; the Young Women's Leadership School, High School for Environmental Studies, and Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics are popular choices. (Laura Zingmond, March 2009)