P.S. 124 Silas B. Dutcher
BROOKLYN NY 11215 Map
P.S. 124 Silas B. Dutcher
An established, thriving Park Slope institution, PS 124 serves neighborhood stalwarts whose grandparents graduated from 124, as well as newer arrivals, including lots of Central American and Mexican families. The 124 community is warm and inviting, with creative, dedicated teachers, outstanding guidance, and cozy, well-supplied classrooms, often with classes as small as 16 or 17 pupils.
Building and location: On a shady stretch of busy Fourth Ave. in Park Slope, across the street from car-supply shops and new high-rise luxury apartments, PS 124's 1899 building is a low-profile neighborhood constant, often overshadowed by its famous neighbor up the hill, PS 321. Indoors, the school's well-maintained floors and classrooms can't help but hint at a century of wear. Classrooms have oak cupboards and pre-World War I woodwork. Principal Annabelle Martinez's office has a working fireplace.
School environment and culture: On the day we visited, we met grandparents who graduated from PS 124 as had their siblings, children, nieces and nephews and who now volunteer at the school as Learning Leaders. A strong sense of family and community underpins the small school; both the guidance counselor Joanne Manna and parent coordinator, PS 124 graduate Donna Maxil, keep an eye on students and families in need. They organize food drives and provide holiday provisions (including shopping sprees donated by the nearby Pathmark), warm winter gear, and other supports. The playground, dedicated in 2008, honors two brothers fatally struck down in traffic, and members of the extended family continue to visit the school.
Teaching and curriculum: Despite the old-school warmth, teaching is progressive and highly attentive. The school's innovative music education and visual arts programs integrate social-studies content. On display were paper "wampum belts" that fourth graders had printed using carved Styrofoam blocks as part of a lesson about Native Americans. Fifth-graders worked in teams to create original illustrated narratives (comics) about characters from 19th century novels (They had read the simpler, pared-down "Illustrated Classics" versions of the novels.)
The children show deep familiarity and ease with the Columbia University Teachers College workshop-model basics like "guided reading" and "learning centers," and eagerly volunteer answers and comments. Hallways showcase abundant student artwork and writing. Some rooms have more modest supplies of books and displays of student work, especially in contrast to the kindergarten room hung with gingham curtains or other rooms bursting with books, art strung on clotheslines, kites, collages, and children's writing. All classrooms have working computers; laptops on carts are in frequent use, and the school publishes its own blog. A technical consultant helps teachers master technology integration with classroom work, and a full-time librarian, on staff since 1993, keeps the library open early and late for students and families.
Martinez, a former assistant principal at MS 136, says her middle school experience makes her leadership stronger. "I know what the expectations are already - I know what children are expected to know and to do in middle school." Male teachers are more abundant at PS 124 than in most other grade schools. One second-grade teacher, Tom McMurrer, has a classroom that buzzes with happy industry - and came to school on Halloween in complete Big Bird regalia.
Partnerships and programs: PS 124 is a true part of the South Park Slope community. The local Astoria Bank has a student saving program to teach students how to use a bank account, the school holds student art shows at the bank and local cafes, and second-grade students attend weekly after school swim sessions at the Ninth St. YMCA.
Family participation: "I have great families," says Martinez, who values traditional parent meetings, workshops and parent-teacher conferences, as well as impromptu conversations with parents. The parent coordinator teaches parents how to read English. She also won a grant to help families living doubled up in apartments to relocate to their own apartments. The school does have student turnover. Some immigrant families elect to return to their home countries, while others move to areas where housing costs are more reasonable. Other families move to less expensive neighborhoods in Staten Island or Bay Ridge, but continue to commute to the school.
After school: Students from PS 124 and other area schools can participate in a YMCA-administered afterschool program, with recreation and homework help. Saturday school runs from the fall through the spring standardized-testing season, and focuses squarely on test prep.
Special education: The school has one self-contained "bridge" class for children in first and second grade; the class will ‘age up' with the current students, to become a second-third grade in 2009-10. For 2009-10 the school anticipated adding a new kindergarten-first grade class.
English Language Learners: The school absorbs a steady flow of new English speakers. Because new students arrive in the country and at the school year-round, teachers and students are accustomed to translating for newcomers. Still, the infusion of new students, including some who have never been to school in their home countries, means that teachers often must revisit classroom basics while other students move ahead.
Language instruction is both formal and informal at PS 124, and is well-integrated into music classes, math lessons and other academics. Teachers easily move between Spanish and English when teaching a new child a classroom game, coaxing a new arrival to try out a few new words or phrases. Some students receive ‘pullout' language instruction, working in small groups outside the regular classroom. Others work on language acquisition with a specialist during English Language Arts lessons, or during social studies instruction. The transition from ‘regular' schoolwork to ‘language study' is organic and seamless; students participate eagerly, and prompt each other when language gaps occur.