P.S. 38 The Pacific School
BROOKLYN NY 11217 Map
P.S. 38 The Pacific School
PS 38 has a spacious building, big outdoor play areas, creative arts programs--including dance, music and visual arts--and a faculty that parents praise. Just off the increasingly trendy Atlantic Avenue, a few blocks away from the new Barclay Center Arena, PS 38 serves an economically diverse community and has room to spare.
The clean well-lit building buzzes with music, art and activity including guitar and violin lessons for kindergartners, ballroom dancing for 5th graders, rooms dedicated to blocks and Lego, science, art and music. There are partnerships with the nearby Mark Morris Dance Group and Alvin Ailey. Fifth graders go on a trip to Disney World and 4th graders go to Washington DC.
There is much to admire at PS 38. The school’s gifted and talented classes, taught by creative teachers, are tiny, the kindergarten gifted class has only 15 students, the 3rd grade class has 16.
“We’re small. We get a lot of attention and we have the best teacher,” said one 5th grader in a mixed 4th-5th grade class.
Jean Herubin, the 3rd grade G&T teacher, introduced a Great Books program meant for middle school to her students. "They're marking up the books and underlinging phrases. Then they discuss it in a Socratic method, sharing their thoughts and backing them up with evidence," she said.
Hallways are lined with student projects, many associated with a Chinese New Year celebration at the time of our visit. Math is a strength at the school as evidenced by high test scores and projects posted around the building. The youngest children illustrated simple addition problems with cut-outs of different colored fish. In one of the pre-kindergarten classrooms, students were counting in Spanish and learning how to measure by making applesauce. Teachers were meeting to discuss implementing a new math curriculum–Singapore Math –to augment what they currently use.
In rooms dedicated to blocks and Legos, students build structures as they learn math concepts and to sort by color. The Lego room is lined with photographs designed to stimulate building.
Yet, with all its strengths, the school strives to overcome its “rough around the edges” reputation in Boerum Hill, which includes expensive townhouses and low-income housing projects. Built to accommodate 820 students, enrollment hovers around 500. Many families choose the school for its vibrant pre-kindergarten – where classrooms lead out into a private playground --but not all stay for the older grades. In 2013, there were 88 kindergartners but only 50 5th-graders. Many decamp for PS 261, a larger, very progressive school a few blocks away. “Old perceptions die hard,” the parent coordinator told parents touring the school who asked about the reluctance of some neighborhood families to send their children to the school.
A 2011 Quality Review by the district superintendent found the school to be “proficient” and excelling in the arts and other areas, but noted that “classroom requirements for behavior are not consistent school wide, resulting in confusion as to what is acceptable behavior.” Nearly all parents responding to the Learning Environment Survey said the school was safe, but some complained of occasional bullying. One parent told us he saw some behavior issues among older children on the playground, but that any issues in his child’s pre-k class were quickly resolved. On our visit, the school was orderly with only a few straggling boys quickly ushered to their classroom.
Attendance remains lower than the city wide average and that of nearby District 15 schools.
Principal Yolanda Ramirez, at the school since 2006, holds breakfasts with families on the first Monday of every month and parents say she is responsive to their suggestions. Despite this, some parents say communication could be better. They say calls to the school office go unreturned and sometimes they don’t hear about events until after the fact. About 20-30 parents attend PTA meetings, on average.
English Language Learners: Because it has space, PS 38 was designated to take in overflow from a few schools in Sunset Park, such as PS 94. This brought in a large Mandarin-speaking population who joined some Spanish and Arabic-speaking students from the school’s zone. There is a welcoming ESL room where students get instruction for part of every day.
After school: A free program is run by the YMCA. The school offers clubs and other activities for a fee, such as yoga, science, recording studio and drumming.
Special education: PS 38 has self-contained classes in every grade. While most schools have long had team-teaching classes that mix special needs and general education children, PS 38 introduced its first integrated team-teaching class in 2012.
Admissions: Neighborhood school with some room from students from outside the zone. Citywide test for entrance to the gifted program. (Pamela Wheaton, February 2013)