P.S. 125 Ralph Bunche
MANHATTAN NY 10027 Map
P.S. 125 Ralph Bunche
PS 125 is alive with a positive spirit both from its engaging principal and staff and its parent boosters. Located in a renewed neighborhood, just north of Columbia University, the school is attracting young families who admire its diversity, its science and math programs, and its French and Spanish dual language programs,
Building and location: One of the few elementary schools in the city with a swimming pool, PS 125 also has an auditorium, cafeteria, two gyms, a science room, an art studio, and a library,. Facilities are shared with Columbia Secondary School for Math Science and Engineering, and KIPP S.T.A.R College Prep Charter School.
School Environment and Culture: Classes are small and orderly, most kids seemed engaged. The principal and teachers are firm but caring and the only very loud noises we heard came from the cafeteria during Columbia School's lunchtime. Principal Rafaela Espinal, a graduate of the Leadership Academy, received a 2008 Cahn Fellowship, given to effective principals, and was previously a bilingual educator. She believes in demonstrating good behavior and giving positive reinforcement. Every day begins with a gathering in the auditorium where Espinal sings a good morning song. Fridays, she acknowledges classes which have met stated goals in attendance, reading, and completed project. Espinal's energy and enthusiasm radiate through the school as she greets children and staff.
Teaching and Curriculum: Principal for only eight months when we visited, Espinal had already invigorated the staff, encouraging them to build on their experience to incorporate new approaches. The classrooms reflect her vision with libraries, comfy couches, and rugs for class meetings and lessons. Lists of "how to's," word walls and examples of student work are other signs that the school is embracing the citywide curriculum.
As a former staff developer, Espinal emphasizes teacher training and shared planning. The halls were decorated with curriculum goals and methods, and most notably, photographs showing how kids' projects illustrated the school's expectations.
Science benefits from a dedicated room and an experienced teacher who trains faculty in other schools as well. Classroom teachers incorporate science and social studies in all lessons, not just concentrating on English and math. Thus a unit called Under the Sea, involved reading a book, watching a video and observing live fish.
Formerly on the State's list of schools in need of improvement, PS 125 is now in a "holding pattern," to be followed by total removal from the list. Despite making strides, the principal is committed to continued growth in academics and staff development.
Special Education: PS 125 has three self -contained classes. Espinal plans to expand the number of collaborative team teaching (CTT) classes; only grades 4 and 5 had them. Special needs kids join others in activities such as swimming.
English Language Learners: There are now French dual language classes in grades K-4, Spanish dual language classes in grades K-2, and monolingual English classes in every grade. The dual language classes use the "rollercoaster model," where the curriculum is taught a half day in English and a half day in the second language, repeating the second language the next morning, with English in the afternoon. An after school French heritage and culture class expands the French dual language program.
Partnerships and Programs: Asphalt Green provides swimming coaches, a wind instrument ensemble, and individual lessons provided by Columbia University instructors. Neighborhood volunteers including those from a West Side synagogue, B'nai Jeshuran, work with individual kids or help in classrooms. Morningside Area Alliance also participates in various ways.
After School: Free programs are provided by Ujima and funded by the Dowling Foundation. Choices include basketball, theater arts, and dance taught by a former Alvin Ailey teacher, as well as academic tutoring for kids who need it.
Family Involvement: A new crop of parents from the immediate neighborhood is actively engaged in spreading the word about PS 125 to their neighbors. Parents hold open houses and network to attract families. A prospective parent and a parent of a first grader both expressed their eagerness to contribute to creating a diverse school, citing the principal's embrace of parent and community involvement. They feel empowered to participate in shaping the school as the locus of the community. Parent coordinator Grizelda Hernandez holds monthly workshops for parents on subjects such as bullying. She sits up front in the school office so she is the first person that parents meet.
Admissions: A choice school, PS 125 accepts students from around the city, according to the princpal. PS 125 has faced competition from its close neighbor, PS 36, with which it shares a zoned. PS 36 expanded from an early childhood school, ending at 2nd grade, to a pre-K through 5 school. PS 125 was previously grade 3-6, receiving many of the PS 36 kids who had aged out. Since 2001, 125 has gradually added lower grades, and will have its full complement of elementary grades when it adds a full day pre-kindergarten in September, 2010.
After graduation: Students participate in the District 5 choice process and attend a variety of middle schools including the selective Columbia School of Math, Science and Engineering (Judy Baum, February 2010)