P.S. 68 Bronx
BRONX NY 10466 Map
P.S. 68 Bronx
At a time when other public schools struggle to provide students with even minimal exposure to music, PS 68 is doing the impossible. Through an eight-year partnership with Education Through Music, a not-for-profit organization promoting music education in the schools, PS 68 offers instrumental music instruction for all students beginning with keyboard twice weekly in kindergarten and 1st grade. By 3rd grade, children are learning the violin and continue with it, or viola or cello, through 5th grade. Many graduates of PS 68 go on to attend specialized arts middle and high schools, and the program boasts of alumni now attending Julliard and the Manhattan School for Music. Children are taught to share their skills with others by performing at nursing homes and community events. As Cheryl Coles, principal for 13 years, explains, "If you have been blessed, and we have, you have to turn around and share that blessing."
PS 68 has been featured (twice!) on the cover of Scholastic News, the children's magazine, and on Fox News, and has received numerous awards in honor of its children and programs. Television news personality Jane Pauley has acted as "Principal of the Day," and renowned classical musicians have participated in its programs.
PS 68 has a partnership with the Chess in the Schools program. Children learn the game, participate in competitions, and use chess as a vehicle for understanding their academic subjects, particularly math. We saw a bulletin board showing how children used different math skills to calculate the number of squares on a chess board.
In 2003, in response to some moderate discipline problems, the school implemented a good-behavior incentives program that, according to Coles, has been very effective. The program operates by awarding "tickets" to classes for good behavior and removing tickets for bad behavior. For example, if a 1st grade class lines up quietly for lunch, and each child is wearing the school uniform (maroon and gray plaid for girls; gray slacks and a tie for boys), the class will receive tickets. If, however, the same class runs down the stairs on the way to the cafeteria, tickets will be subtracted. When a class accumulates a certain number of tickets, it is asked to work on a literacy project and a math activity (such as writing a story and creating a bar graph) showing how it earned the tickets. The class is then awarded a pizza, popcorn, or ice cream party.
On the day of our visit, the children at PS 68 were remarkably well behaved. Whether listening attentively to their teachers or engaging in activities with their classmates, these children showed respect for adults as well as each other. The relationship between students and adults is formal. Students call teachers by their last names and greet the principal in unison each time she enters a room. When we spoke with 5th grade students, children stood and gave their names before answering, and did not interrupt each other.
Many students are immigrants from the Caribbean and have varied educational backgrounds. Other children transfer to the school after having been unsuccessful in the local parochial schools. With these needs in mind, regular classroom instruction is supplemented with math and literacy assistance in the after-school program. Children also receive weekend and holiday homework packets, and, for those approaching standardized testing, "test sophistication" activities help students tackle the exams with a strategy for success.
The classrooms were very large and bright. Living plants, colorful art projects, and enormous chess pieces filled the entryway and main office. In addition to a large play yard, the school has a smaller courtyard with playground equipment designed for younger children.
Admissions: Unfortunately for those not living in the school's zone, PS 68 is full to capacity and rarely admits children from outside the neighborhood.
Special education: The school has "self-contained" classrooms (children with special needs only) as well as classrooms where two teachers lead a class comprising one-third special education students and two-thirds general education students.
After school: The program features academic enrichment as well as chess, chorus, boys' and girls' basketball, and cheerleading. (Melanie Acevedo, January 2005)