P.S. 94 The Henry Longfellow
BROOKLYN NY 11220 Map
P.S. 94 The Henry Longfellow
Principal Janette Caban, who has been at the school since 1999, says this tone has been part of the school's identity for many years, long before she became principal in what she called "a smooth transition" in 2004. Academics are unquestionably the main focus; students in all grades are expected to read and write at home every night, and test scores are solid, especially in science. But there is also room for kids to play as kids, both in visual arts and dance classes, and during the course of the regular school day.
PS 94 is the only school in Brooklyn with a dual-language Chinese program (in which students spend half the day in lessons taught in Chinese, the other half in English), and there is also a dual-language Spanish program. Students in these popular programs, which have waiting lists, stay at school until 4 p.m., longer than the rest of the school. PS 94 also has English as a Second Language (ESL) classes for new immigrants; but its bilingual program (in which students receive content instruction in their native language in addition to English instruction) has been jettisoned. We were impressed by the academic rigor in the dual-language instruction and the resolve of students in the ESL classes to speak to each other in English.
In most classes we visited, students were confident about talking about what they were learning. In a 4th grade dual-language Spanish-English class where students were reading independently about science topics, the reading levels varied widely, but no matter whether they were reading a basic primer about outer space or a wordy, detailed text about the components of blood, students were comfortable discussing the topics at hand. In a 1st grade class where the teacher was reading aloud a book about the history of Thanksgiving, kids were inquisitive and vocal, asking questions such as "Why did Christopher Columbus survive?"
As its seasoned staff retires, the school is hiring replacements, many of them inexperienced. To bring them up to speed, Caban has run a "new teacher academy" to supplement the training required by the city Department of Education. In addition, they benefit from the school's practice of having all teachers work together to plan the curriculum. Some of the new teachers are real gems, such as the 2nd grade ESL instructor whose personal tale about breaking his ankle entranced his students at the start of a workshop on personal writing. Others are still finding their stride, including one whose lesson included a participatory component that asked children to make loud noises when they noticed rhyming words in the poem she was reading aloud; this task kept some children on target but seriously distracted others.
Caban said teacher training has recently concentrated on improving literacy instruction, and she now hopes to strengthen the math program. Because of its track record of success, PS 94 is exempt from the curriculum required by the city for most public schools. While it does use the city's approach to reading and writing instruction, it has replaced the city's Everyday Math program with the TERC Investigations math curriculum, which has been the subject of complaints in some schools because it focuses on abstract concepts rather than basic skills. Caban said teachers and students at PS 94 "do well with TERC," despite its mixed reviews elsewhere.
Parents are "wonderful" but "very passive," Caban said, noting that they are beginning to speak up more on curriculum issues. The school runs a program for toddlers, and its ESL and GED programs for adults usually attract about 30 or 40 parents. And while parents may not be active, they apparently are happy with the school. Most families that move away from the neighborhood nonetheless keep their kids at PS 94, Caban said.
Space is a big challenge, Caban said, even as the number of students enrolled has dropped with the neighborhood's demographic shifts. The school has a brand new playground, but its gym is cobbled together from classrooms on the third floor, leaving Caban without a way to strengthen health and physical education programs, as she would like. In addition, reducing class size has also reduced the space available for other activities. With half of students labeled English language learners, the school could benefit from more small group instruction, but there is little space for this to take place.
For middle school, most students move on to MS 20, the neighborhood school, but a healthy number go to the District 15 gifted programs at MS 51 and MS 88.
After school: "A real after-school program" that can accommodate all students is on the school's wish list, Caban said. Currently, the Brooklyn Chinese-American Association and the Virtual Y run programs, and the school offers test preparation twice a week for students in grades 3 through 5. The school band meets weekly.
Special education: The school has two "self-contained" classes (for students with special needs only) and offers special education services to many other students who require them. (Philissa Cramer, November 2006)