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Tucked away at the top of a steep flight of stairs in Tribeca, tiny PS 150 offers solid academics including a demanding math program, hands-on science and plenty of field trips. The school's small size (with just one class per grade), super-involved parents and vibrant arts-infused academics set it apart from many large Manhattan schools.
PS 150 is one of the few city schools to use Math in Focus, a sophisticated and fast-paced approach that encourages student to solve multi-step problems. Math in Focus is based on the math curriculum used in Singapore, an island nation known for high levels of math achievement. Math in Focus covers fewer topics than most programs used in the United States and strives to make sure students understand one concept before they go on to the next. The program is aligned to the new state Common Core standards, which accelerate math instruction by about a year.
“We wanted to do what Asian countries do — take a few concepts and study them in depth,” said Principal Jenny Bonnet.”
PS 150 adopted the Singapore math program in 2013 at the request of the PTA, which paid for the new books and extensive teacher training. On our visit, teachers told us they like the math program because it provides difficult problems for strong students while offering lots of support for those who are struggling. We saw a class in which children worked on the same math problem but received different amounts of guidance: Strong students attacked the problem on their own, others received clues to help them get started and still others worked closely with the teacher, who offered more step-by-step help.
Children have semester-long projects (called units of study) that integrate science, social studies, reading and writing. For example, 2nd-graders study snakes—visiting the Central Park Zoo, observing snakes housed in a tank in their classroom, and reading books and writing essays about snakes. Other classes study bakeries, farm animals, New York City transportation, immigration, bridges, Colonial New York, and Lewis and Clark’s expedition.
Children travel to Frost Valley to take a closer look at animals, rocks and minerals; they sail on the Clearwater to learn more about the water cycle. “We do a lot of field trips and experiments,” said a student. Units of study culminate twice a year in school-wide presentations and discussion forums.
Visiting artists integrate storytelling, opera, puppetry and architecture into the school’s own art and music programs, according to the city’s Quality Review. Technology is integrated as seamlessly into the academics as the arts. During a 5th-grade science class we observed, students took notes on iPads as they watched a movie about nutrition called "Super Size Me," after which they participated in an experiment on carbohydrates and recorded their findings on laptops. A child mentioned that a study of the rock cycle culminated in student-made podcasts. Grades 3-5 visit the small basement science lab that doubles as a library three times a week.
Bonnet replaced long-time principal Maggie Siena in March 2012. Bonnet was academic director at the Special Music School — another small school with only one class per grade — and is a graduate of Hunter College.
There is no lunchroom but kids eat a delicious family-style lunch in the classrooms. The outdoor courtyard of the apartment complex serves as the gym, and this space provides a welcome central gathering spot for families in the morning. Hula hoops, balls and other games are brought out during lunch, recess and gym.
Special education: Because of its small size, PS 150 offers Special Education Teacher Support Services (SETSS) but does not offer team-teaching or self-contained classes.
Admissions: Priority to siblings and students zoned for PS 234 and PS 89. Remaining seats are filled by lottery with District 2 preference. (Lydie Raschka, October 2013, Clara Hemphill, January 2014)