PS 126 Jacob August Riis/Manhattan Academy of Technology

Phone: (212) 962-2188
Website: Click here
Admissions: neighborhood school/selective program
Neighborhood: Lower East Side/ Chinatown
District: 2
Grade range: PK thru 08
Parent coordinator: REBECCA JOHNSON

What's special:

Strong academics and a wide array of sports

The downside:

PTA isn't as well-funded as some other District 2 schools

The Inside Stats


Our review

A sweet, engaging place, PS 126/Manhattan Academy of Technology (MAT) is a combined elementary and middle school with strong academics and an impressive array of sports. Jacqueline Getz, who became principal in 2011, has worked to strengthen the social studies curriculum and to better integrate special needs children into regular classes.

The elementary school serves neighborhood children from Chinatown and the Lower East Side, representing a range of races, ethnicities and income levels—including children from nearby housing projects and those from a homeless shelter that's just on the other side of the school's playground. It does a good job teaching English to kids who speak Spanish or Chinese at home. Kids were happy and well-behaved in every class we visited.

PS 126 is a place where teachers can perfect their craft, and in doing so they offer children of different races and income levels thoughtful, rigorous, progressive education. Getz, formerly principal of the Manhattan New School, is a pioneer in helping teachers hone the kinds of in-depth social studies and science investigations that are popular at many schools today. Reading, writing and science come together in an investigation of birds in 2nd grade, for example, and 5th-graders spend two months studying prairie ecosystems to support their Westward Expansion unit. The school uses Math in Focus, a Singapore-based math program, and a math consultant works with teachers, who also visit each other during math lessons to offer feedback. Nearly all teachers responding to the Learning Environment Survey said the school values professional development.

The middle school, called MAT, is open to children from across District 2 and middle class parents from neighborhoods like Tribeca clamor for admission. Teachers do a good job giving extra help to the children who need it while offering a challenge to the top students, even though students aren’t grouped by ability. For example, a strong reader may be assigned a complex book about World War II, while a struggling reader may be assigned an easy one—but all can take part in the same class discussion. Eighth-graders may take the algebra and earth science Regents exams. Most classes have two teachers. Teachers may work with a small group of students, or even one-on-one.

In a middle school history class, teachers brought the Bill of Rights to life by using newspaper articles about the gun control debate to discuss the Second Amendment; and articles about police “stop-and-frisk” tactics to discuss the Fourth Amendment. Students wrote letters to their elected officials to encourage them to take a stand on these issues.

The school has two art teachers and two music teachers that serve all grades. The physical education teacher, John DeMatteo, has assembled 51 teams in 27 sports—exotic sports like surfing and more traditional ones like soccer and basketball. The fitness room has exercise bikes attached to video games—making exercise fun even for kids who might otherwise prefer to be couch potatoes. 

The building, constructed in the 1970s, has wide, shiny corridors, clean white walls and doors trimmed in yellow, red, blue, lavender, green and purple. Large windows let in plenty of sunlight, and there are views of the Brooklyn Bridge just a few blocks away. A climbing wall (with fake rocks) on the back of the stage in the auditorium gives kids a place to stretch their legs. One possible downside: The PTA isn’t as rich as at most District 2 schools, and cannot raise as much money for extras.

A large proportion of graduates attend specialized high schools, including LaGuardia, and District 2 schools, such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Millennium. Beacon High School is also popular.

Special education: The school has long served children with a range of special education needs. The school has dismantled the so-called “self-contained” special education class and moved those students into integrated co-teaching classes with two teachers, one of whom is certified in special education.

Admissions: Zoned elementary school. Fifth-graders from PS 126 get first priority to the middle school, but students from anywhere in District 2 may apply. (Clara Hemphill, October, 2012)

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