P.S. 59 Beekman Hill International
MANHATTAN NY 10019 Map
P.S. 59 Beekman Hill International
PS 59 combines a strong academic program with an approach to teaching that values play as the foundation for learning. Kindergarten classrooms have dress-up corners for dramatic play, easels for drawing and plenty of wooden blocks. Older children, too, use blocks as part of their study of architecture and bridges.
The school zone includes the United Nations, and children come from many countries and speak about 40 languages. Parents are welcome: One Friday a month, parents are invited to stop by their children’s classrooms. Kindergarten parents bring children right to their classrooms each day.
The modern building has two science labs, a state-of-the-art auditorium and a spacious library. It is shared with the High School of Art and Design and PS 169—a District 75 program for children with special needs, many of whom join PS 59 students for gym, lunch, library and science. The only drawback of the building is that children’s voices ricochet around the cement-block stairwells, the entryway and in the gated yard so loudly that it can be difficult for two people standing side-by-side to hear each other speak.
Longtime Principal Adele Schroeter gets high praise from parents, who also rave about the fabulous teaching. Teachers develop their own lessons with great freedom to reach a complicated population—without resorting to too much test prep. “We have many English Language Learners,” Schroeter said. “We do our most thoughtful, conscionable job without compromising how kids learn. We can’t give over any more time to test prep.”
The lessons we saw were open-ended, exploratory and playful. In a kindergarten class with incubating eggs, a teacher projected a picture on the wall of blood vessels inside an egg and showed children how to place two fingers on their necks to feel their own blood vessels pulsate. The writing in all grades looked strong and we saw solid note-taking with page number references and highlighting. Students are encouraged to ask questions and engage in discussion and debate to an unusual degree. Older kids pair with younger ones for science experiments. They explore their curiosities about plants, the water cycle and simple machines. The walls are filled with student-made charts, drawings, reports, essays and photos in every subject area. Field trips augment their studies.
A math consultant works with teachers on a regular basis, helping them hone lessons each year from a variety of sources. "The construction of a unit [requires] a lot of teacher understanding," said Schroeter. "We keep holding investigations up to each other—it really empowers teachers to be thinkers and doers in the process of designing units." Teachers invite families in to learn more about math and send home a customized plan for each child with reading level and math strengths, plus suggestions for games parents and kids can play together to improve skills at home. An "early bird" time is set aside for more math help for those who need it.
The tone is very nurturing. Students even create mottos and chants to support one another during testing. If there is a downside it may be that teachers are so good at cushioning difficulties and helping students manage long-term assignments, emotions and social relations, that the transition to middle school is, as one parent put it, “a shock.”
Fifth-grade teachers try to ease this transition by giving kids planners and long-term projects. In the last month of school they offer rotating mini-courses such as “making good choices,” “executive functioning,” and “managing relations.”
Special education: Almost all teachers are certified in special education and it is common practice to rotate their assignment every few years between grades. This has been beneficial particularly for students with disabilities, who have shown recent improvement on standardized test scores in English and math. The school has integrated co-teaching, or ICT classes, that mix children with special needs and those in general education. These classes have two teachers, one of whom is certified in special education.
Admissions: Neighborhood school. The zone was reduced in 2011 to accommodate all zoned students who apply. (Lydie Raschka, June 2014)