P.S. 9 Teunis G. Bergen
BROOKLYN NY 11238 Map
P.S. 9 Teunis G. Bergen
PS 9 is a school on the move, providing an education rich in arts and social studies that emphasizes creative thinking skills. Its progress, despite a bruising and unsuccessful fight in 2011 to keep out a charter school, is attracting more families from the Prospect Heights community each year. Parents have linked arms with an open-minded and passionate administration to improve academics, bring in resources, up-to-date facilities and equipment in a school that offers both a district gifted and talented program and Spanish-English dual language.
The school is consciously making an effort to rise to the top of Brooklyn's academic pile with extensive professional development. "People say, wow, look at [PS] 321 or Brooklyn New School," said Sandra D'Avilar, who has been principal since 2004, "and I say, all right, but every step they make, I'm right behind them."
Like many schools, PS 9 is under pressure to raise its test scores, and D'Avilar sees it as a group effort. "I have an open-door policy," she said, "because I can't do this alone." The school holds Saturday academy for the ten weeks before the exams, during which some administrators and parents volunteer their time to teach children test-taking techniques. Parents receive a letter outlining how their child is doing on the predictor tests and have access to a website to help them hone their skills.
But D'Avilar says she makes sure that test prep does not replace learning. "We are a child-centered school that allows children to explore and find their voice," she said.
Children spend an hour each Friday in a non-academic activity of their choosing, including African dance, bookmaking, newspaper, and "science outside the box." There are about 15 kids in each activity taught by paid consultants and volunteer experts.
The school yard boasts a new, separate play area for the youngest children, and all students have recess every day. A light and airy library is filled with books, and classrooms are bright and filled with student projects that reflect the school's commitment to hands-on learning.
The science room is packed with live animals. On the day of our visit, a fourth grade class was on its way outside to study clouds. Each kindergarten has a pet hamster or some kind of fuzzy rodent.
The cafeteria, staffed by parent volunteers in addition to school aides, is noisy and boisterous but not out of control. The youngest children eat at 10:50 a.m. and have a snack in the afternoon.
Children in classes we visited were engaged, working in groups and raising their hands enthusiastically to answer questions. Reading rugs were evident in all lower grades and some of the upper ones as well.
Some parents have expressed concerns about there is not enough challenging work in the upper grades. But others point to the growing number of children who are staying from kindergarten through 5th grade, forgoing other schools with more name recognition. "The ability of the staff and administration to re-learn and adapt," said PTA president Laura Jaffe, "it's just awe-inspiring."
Beginning with the 2012-2013 school year, 30-minutes of homework will be mandatory for kindergarteners ("we call it home-fun," said D'Avilar). First and 2nd graders have no more than an hour of homework every night. Third through 5th graders must read for an hour at home, in addition to another half an hour of homework on average.
PS 9 has the basement and first floor and shares the library, gym, auditorium, playground and cafeteria with Brooklyn East Collegiate Charter School and MS 571 (closing in 2013), which are on the second floor.
Special education: There are self-contained classrooms in every grade and joint classes with general and special education students in kindergarten and grades 3, 4 and 5. In a show of a flexible approach to different learning abilities, we met one child in a self-contained class who goes to the Gifted and Talented classroom for math.
Afterschool: The Parent-Teacher Organization runs an enrichment program that couples homework help with piano, guitar, drama and dance.
Admissions: In 2011, about 25 children of 260 entering kindergarteners were from out of zone. There is usually more room in the upper grades. The G&T program takes only children from District 13. The 2011-2012 kindergarten G&T class was strikingly less diverse than the rest of the school. The dual language program is open to all of District 13 and sometimes accepts from out of district, especially native Spanish speakers. (Meredith Kolodner, February 2012)