P.S. 11 Purvis J. Behan
BROOKLYN NY 11238 Map
P.S. 11 Purvis J. Behan
An energetic and popular principal, good arts and science programs and active parents make PS 11 one of the strongest elementary schools in District 13. Located in a gentrifying neighborhood with skyrocketing real estate prices, PS 11 is popular with neighborhood families and those from other parts of Brooklyn.
The school offers a strong sense of community, beginning at the door. Families are greeted by other parents who help direct them, a friendly security guard and longtime school aides who know every child in the school.
Alonta Wrighton became principal in 2006 and since then enrollment has been steadily climbing, from 468 to 712. The downside of the school’s growth is that class sizes have become larger–up to 31 in some rooms. Luckily a first-rate custodian keeps the large 1950s building in good shape. It has a gymnasium, art and music rooms, a computer lab, a library, a teachers’ lounge (that parents paid to refurbish), and two science labs with lots of animals and plants.
“We believe in a hands-on approach,” said Wrighton. “Things need to be experienced. Every grade appoints a trip coordinator.” There is a mandated monthly trip tied to the curriculum.
As part of a study of China, third graders visit a Chinatown restaurant, conducted online research, watched educational videos and wrote reports. Another class studied Nigeria and visited a Nigerian restaurant where they learned all about Nigerian customs.
Writing is a huge focus at the school, including monthly publishing parties. We were impressed by 1st graders writing essays after reading the book “Home Then and Now” in social studies. Essays contained a main idea and three supporting ideas. They eagerly shared their thoughts about modern day bathrooms as compared to the outhouses of the past. In older grades, students analyze characters in three, four and five paragraph essays. Essays get three rounds of editing–by the student, by a peer and by the teacher, with plenty of attention paid to capitalization, spacing and spelling.
The school has a blend of traditional and progressive practices. Children follow a dress code of white tops and blue bottoms, but are given a lot of leeway in what they wear. Boys and girls line up in separate lines and there are social studies and math textbooks in many classrooms. Bright red “communication” folders, paid for by the PTA, go home with students every night. An active student government was instrumental in getting speed bumps installed on the street next to the school.
The school’s three male teachers, a few fathers and Parent Coordinator Clement Rand run a "Boys II Men," club for 4th and 5th grade boys. The guidance counselor leads a Sister Circle after school to talk about issues of hygiene, etiquette, and puberty. She also leads a monthly class for 4th and 5th grade girls called “I am my sister’s keeper,” where girls act out topics of bullying and gossiping.
Parents help out at the door, at breakfast, lunch and recess and in the classrooms. The PTA picks up the tab for a violin program and for Playworks, an organization that provides staff that run recess and after school activities.
The three pre-kindergarten classes are sought after by district families. “It’s play-based with some academics embedded,” said Wrighton. Along with typical blocks, kitchen, and dress-up corners, children learn fine motor skills such as how to hold a pencil as they copy a brief morning message: “January 16, 2013. Good morning Pre-K.”
There are classes in art, computer, band, music and movement. First graders are taught by Mark Morris dancers, 2nd graders get violin lessons and 3rd, 4th and 5th graders get music instruction from the New York Philharmonic. Students in kindergarten through 2nd grade have "cook shop" every Friday, where they prepare dishes and learn about foods such as broccoli and cauliflower. The school's LEGO robotics team won the city championship in 2010, and had a second place finish in 2013 for strategy and innovation.
Some children leave for private or other public schools after the early grades: there were 125 kindergartners but only 89 5th graders in 2012.
Afterschool: The Dodge Y in downtown Brooklyn runs a free after school programs including a meal and arts, sport and homework help. The PTA runs fee-based enrichment programs; scholarships are available. Offerings include weaving, hip hop dance, drama video game design and robotics, athletics and yoga.
After graduation: Popular choices include IS 113 and Arts and Letters in District 13, IS 318 in District 14,and the citywide NEST+M gifted and talented school. About a half dozen students go to private schools.
Admissions: Neighborhood school. There is often room for students from outside the zone and the school keeps a long waiting list. Tours are given for prospective families. There were 300 applications for pre-kindergarten in 2012. Pre- k students are guaranteed a spot in kindergarten, Wrighton said. (Pamela Wheaton, January 2013)