UPDATE-- PS 212 has moved into the building
DECEMBER 2008 UPDATE: The Department of Education has announced that the school will be phased-out starting in June 2009. A new school will open in the building, serving students who are currently in the lower grades. It will expand one grade per year.
MAY 2005 REVIEW: The neighborhood around PS 198 has a mural of the late Puerto Rican rapper Big Pun, along with some long-abandoned buildings and hair-braiding shops. Despite the gritty surroundings, administrators and teachers we spoke to, many of whom live in the area, said they were not concerned about crime. A more difficult obstacle to deal with, Principal Judy Hunt-Hutchings told us, is the school's high rate of mobility: many students suffer interruptions of their education as their families move into or out of the area.
A barrier- free building, PS 198 has been through a much-needed renovation. "When it rained, it rained into the school," Hutchings recalled.
Other improvements have taken place in the classroom. Scores on standardized tests in math quadrupled in the last few years, so that in 2005 about 42 percent of students were working at or above grade level in the subject. English language arts scores showed an upward trend, too, and the number of students who scored at the tests' lowest level "1" is decreasing. Still, Hutchings says the school is a work in progress: The monthly "perfect attendance" roll posted outside the main office when we visited, for example, listed only three or four students in many classrooms.
The school also has suffered from a rodent problem, a subject raised by one student in an assignment to write a letter to City Hall. "Mayor Bloomberg, Can you get rid of rats and roaches at my school and at home," the note read. "We definitely have had a problem with that," the principal said matter-of-factly when asked about the student's request.
The school does offer its students bright surroundings, however. Many of its hallways were decorated according to themes in reports and other assignments. Paper vines hung from a corridor housing classrooms 5th graders had studied the rainforest. Poems and reports on rainforest areas throughout the world accompanied the dÃ©cor. Another hallway had an Egyptian theme.
In the classrooms, bulletin boards are updated every two weeks, one indicator of a strong faculty work ethic we noticed at the school. Teacher feedback in student portfolios we looked through was vigorous; the teachers made corrections, while writing comments that encouraged students and took note of their progress. The teachers' enthusiasm about the subjects they taught seemed to have an impact on the students. "Math is famous," a 3rd grade student told us. When we asked why, he replied, "Because you can find it everywhere." We were also impressed with examples of strong writing we saw, especially among kindergartners and 1st graders.
We noticed a few different tactics to improve the children's reading skills. Graduate students from New York University tutor students at the school, and one had finished helping a small 4th grade group struggling with reading comprehension. She told us that students have been reading classic novels and then going to the Broadway production of those books. Little Women was the most recent one.
A speech teacher and 20-year veteran of the school told us how she teaches students to organize essays in the same way they would make a hamburger: The top of the bun is the introduction, the bottom is the conclusion, and the "beef" is content between, she said. She uses colored paper hamburgers to show students what she means. Unfortunately, the instruction in one younger-grade class we saw did not seem similarly motivated. Students remained mostly distracted as both teachers in the classroom worked slowly with individual students.
The veteran teacher told us that PS 198 had once suffered from such overcrowding that it had had to conduct some classes in the hallways. Now, smaller class size in the school "has made a big difference," the teacher said.
Both administrators and teachers are trying to boost family involvement in the school. Programs offered for parents range from GED preparation to a series of discussions on nutrition to an occasional breakfast. Parent volunteers offer babysitting services in the large parent room of the school. And a 3rd grade instructor completing her first year of teaching told us that she hopes to approach the parents of her incoming students, to make an introduction and give her contact information to them in advance. Perhaps such efforts are working. One occupational therapist said she has noticed that parents seem to have a greater understanding now than in the past of the resources PS 198 has to offer. "More and more, parents are realizing they can ask for services," she said.
Special education: PS 198 has "self-contained" classrooms only for children with special needs in all grades, including pre-K. Some classes combine grades. The school also has a resource room, occupational therapist, speech therapists, and a physical therapist.
After school: The school offers extended-day programs in reading and math, as well as a Saturday Academy. (Paul Burkhardt, May 2005)