BRONX NY 10455 Map
PS 277, in a stately 100-year-old stone building decorated with impressive Greek columns and a cupola, is an oasis of calm and cheer in a neighborhood beset by poverty, homelessness, and crime.
Principal Cheryl Taylor, who came to the school in 2006, has recruited an excellent staff and has built a community in which both children and adults feel challenged and cared for.
There are no textbooks or worksheets. Instead, each child has a different book, chosen from a classroom library of children's literature. Children may write their own "books" by gluing photos of classmates onto construction paper and adding a few words. One teacher works individually with one child while the rest of the class reads independently. The classrooms are bright and cheery, with high ceilings, tall windows, and plenty of books and supplies; and the kids are happy and engaged.
Tyler, who came to the school in 2006 says she wants her pupils to fight for social justice. "I want them to know what fairness is," she said. "I want them to take action when they seen something that is not fair."
When a classmate's mother was shot dead just outside the school at dismissal time, a group of fifth graders used the incident at the starting off point for research project comparing crime in the South Bronx to other parts of the city - a project they offered as an oral presentation to a group of principals visiting from other schools.
Tyler focuses on children's social and emotional development - not just academics. Counselors help traumatized children deal with their feelings; a critical first step toward learning. When a nine-year-old boy who lives with a group of 15 teenagers and young adults he calls "the cousins," first came to PS 277, he was so angry he would throw chairs around his classroom. She matched him to a particularly kind male teacher who worked hard to engage him. Now, if the boy gets upset, he simply leaves the room and walks down the hall to talk things over with a counselor. He's coming to school almost every day, reading books, and getting along well with the other children.
Tyler believes in the importance of play, and quotes the Russian psychologist Lev Vitgotsky on the role of games and make-believe in developing self-regulation that is critical to academic learning. At PS 277, children play with blocks, dress up in costumes, and tell stories. She sends the children outside for recess several times a day. "I think their test scores will go up if they play," she says.
She has put in place strategies to help teachers constantly refine their craft: she is intent on building an intellectually stimulating community for her teachers, a place where they can learn from one another as well as from teachers at other schools. She works closely with Teachers College, which helps train her staff in ways to improve the way they teach.
Her network leader - a new position in the Department of Education that is similar to a coach is Dan Feigelson, former principal of PS 6 on the Upper East Side. Feigelson spent a recent morning in a sun-filled staff room with PS 277's third grade teachers discussing how to teach punctuation. Punctuation, Feigelson told the teachers, was not a mechanical exercise, but a creative, important part of a writer's craft. Feigelson had written a book on punctuation in which he interviewed writers such as Jimmy Breslin and Frank McCourt about how they used punctuation. On another day, principals from other schools in Feigelson's network came to PS 277 to share ideas and strategies.
After school: East Side House, an independent agency, offers arts and home work help until 6 PM. East Side has an alliance with the Children's Museum. Kids take trips once a week. In addition, Liberty Learning Tutoring, provides extra support in reading and math. A community organization, Betances offers recreational activities.
Special education: PS 277 has five CTT classrooms, 2 self-contained classrooms for grades 3-5 and SETTS. All services (speech, counseling, SETTS) are offered in both Spanish and English. (Clara Hemphill, February 2010)