P.S. 18 Edward Bush
BROOKLYN NY 11206 Map
P.S. 18 Edward Bush
PS 18 is located in an area of Williamsburg that is culturally rich, surrounded by Italian, Hispanic, and Polish communities. The neighborhood is becoming wealthier, as evidenced by the townhouses going up next to the schoolyard to the consternation of some parents who fear they will be squeezed out by high prices. Changes happening within the school, however, are being welcomed by parents and teachers alike.
The school's five-story, century-old brick building stands out among the homes because of its height and narrowness half of the structure was destroyed in a 1970s fire. The result can be cramped quarters, and creative use of space is a necessity: lunch, and gym and art classes all take place in an L-shaped room on the first floor. Still, despite overcrowding in the building, every grade benefits from small class sizes.
The principal's office is one of the humblest we've seen, but that doesn't seem to bother Karen Ford, who took the helm of PS 18 in January 2005. Many teachers praised Ford as tireless and said she had helped lighten the mood of the school. A previous principal had made progress with test scores, enabling PS18 to shed its classification by New York State as a "SINI," a school in need of improvement.
Ford told us that when she first arrived, the school seemed sterile and unfriendly "an institutional feel to it and...very into test prep," she said. A number of parents told us they had felt the same way. As a consequence, Ford is working to give PS 18 a warmer atmosphere. Among other measures, she is working toward completing the task of moving from reading instruction based on textbooks to "balanced literacy" a method, required by the city in most schools, that favors children's literature. Students in a 1st grade we saw did well reading books they had chosen themselves for an "open read."
Ford's decision to replace Friday homework assignments with reading took some getting used to for the well-involved parent population. "The parents couldn't comprehend that at first," Ford said. Some teachers, meanwhile, doubted Ford's move to allow 5th graders to go from morning line-up to their classes on their own, but those we spoke to were impressed with the result. Field trips are more frequent now, according to teachers. The entire 3rd grade happened to be away at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden the day of our visit. African and modern dance classes have been added to the after-school program.
The school seemed orderly, and in the lower grades, student transitions between activities were smooth. When a 1st grade class started to get loud, the teacher asked the children to recite "the five magic rules of listening," and the noise diminished. Upper grades were also well behaved on our visit. A 5th grade teacher said that for minor instances of misbehavior, such as arguments between classmates, she has students write apologies to each other. When we visited her classroom, her students were working on a social studies assignment to design their own version of the Statue of Liberty and write a poem about freedom. Her students were also enthusiastic about poetry instruction. "Chameleons live in Madagascar/ Which is very, very far," began the effort by one student who creatively used the encyclopedia for inspiration. "They struggle with it, but a lot of the time, those that struggle the most turn out to have the best work," the teacher said.
Students also struggle with grammar, one teacher told us, an observation confirmed by some work we saw displayed. Corrections in capitalization and punctuation were rarely made on the papers (although we were told that some of the displayed works were final projects that teachers did not want to mark up).
A relatively uncommon feature of the school is a strong working partnership between the guidance counselor and the parent coordinator. The two, who both wear a necklace with a small frog pendant, have created F.R.O.G. (Freestyle Rap Outreach Group), an after-school program for 4th and 5th graders. Parents are given an orientation to the program, which tackles sex education and how students can deal with peer pressure. The program encourages open but confidential dialogue on issues including sexually transmitted diseases. The parent coordinator said that parent feedback about the program, which stresses abstinence, has been positive. Many parents hesitate to talk about such issues with their children, she said. But "if you aren't comfortable with it, the kids won't be either," added her colleague in the venture, the guidance counselor.
PS 18 recently received a federal grant to pay for social studies enrichment, and during our visit, administrators were discussing how to use it to develop the curriculum. (Paul Burkhardt, May 2005)