P.S. 39 Henry Bristow
BROOKLYN NY 11215 Map
P.S. 39 Henry Bristow
Park Slope parents are attracted to PS 39's small size, strong arts partnerships, interesting enrichment programs and overall philosophy.
For years, PS 39 stood as a poor cousin of other, larger Park Slope elementary schools, known more for its quaint, somewhat quirky 1877 building than for what went on inside. It even looked to neighboring District 13 to fill its classrooms. That has changed.
Since longtime PS 29 teacher Anita de Paz became principal in 2006, enrollment, though tiny by New York City standards, has increased. The school now fills virtually all of its slots with children from its zone.
"We're now a neighborhood-based school," de Paz says. "More and more families from the neighborhood are choosing to send their children here."
As the school population has shifted, PS 39 has lost its Title 1 money. And its student body is much less diverse than it once was, reflecting the increasingly affluent neighborhood.
The late 19th century building itself, while attractive on the outside, presents challenges. Despite extensive renovations, it has no internal hallways and students and staff must pass through one another's classrooms. The only bathrooms for students in grades K through 5 are in the basement, and the students use a gym across the street. A major -- and unexpected -- roof replacement project will go on until summer 2013, rendering all or part of the schoolyard unusable.
There are some advantages. "There is no hiding anything at this school," says de Paz who began teaching at the school in the 1980s. The small environment fosters PS 39's community feeling, vital for some students whose own families may not be intact. And the size and shape of the building helps keeps class size small -- from 20 to 25 students, depending on the grade,
All students take art and music once or twice weekly. The music seems particularly strong featuring teaching artists from the New York Philharmonic and students learning music composition. Other partnerships abound, enabling 3rd graders to publish poetry, pre-K kids to dance and 2nd graders to swim. Parents helped create a community garden.
Students help determine PS 39's enrichment program for grades 2 through 5. The school surveys children about their interests, then devises classes and lists them in a brochure. Students choose among projects, such as drumming, cooking, robotics and movie-making which take place in weekly sessions taught by school staff, parents and, occasionally, consultants. "The whole foundation is kids study what they want, how they want," de Paz says. "When you give choice to children, they're going to work deeper because they really have an interest in what they're learning."
Classes generally seemed engaged and even lively. To learn about balance, 2nd-graders attached clothespins to cardboard cutout lobsters and then tried to keep them from toppling. In social students, student broke into groups to compare various aspects of life in Egypt and Kenya. First graders discussed what they had learned from the book "Regina's Mistake."
PS 39's test scores, while relatively high, lag behind those of some other neighborhood schools and those of what the Department of Education considers its peer schools. The principal said test scores can provide useful data, but they do not reflect the learning that goes on at the school. "What gets lost in the mix, is that behind every score, there's a child," she said, adding that she would never want the school to become "a test academy."
A very active PTA has helped the school make up for some of the money lost due to budget cuts, including funding teacher training. Parents also worked with the School Construction Authority to insure the roof repair would be as unobtrusive as possible and helped get the street closed to traffic during recess so children could play outsid.
Special education: There are integrated co-teaching classes but no self-contained special classes. PS 39 will adjust its services to fit the students it has at any given time.
After school: In 2011-2012 there were only a few short-term programs such as chess and visual arts. The school hopes to offer a fulltime, fee-based program, in conjunction with nearby Beth Elohim.