BROOKLYN NY 11215 Map
A small, sweet school with an arts-focus, PS 295 in South Park Slope has a stable staff, including many working artists, and attracts parents from all over Brooklyn. A focus on math has brought standardized test scores up and students get lessons in dance, drama, and studio arts every week. The school welcomes students with special needs with a Collaborative Team Teaching (CTT) class on every grade.
Building and location: Located on the border between rapidly gentrifying South Park Slope and Latino Sunset Park, PS 295 shares a sprawling building with a popular arts-focused middle school, New Voices for Academic and Creative Arts. The 100-year-old building has been refurbished and boasts dance studios, drama rooms, and a new stage, complete with sound and lighting system, in the auditorium where PS 295 puts on its annual musical performances.
The building's interior is nicely painted and there is a welcoming library shared with New Voices. It lacks a full size gym, however, and the outdoor play space is limited. The noisy cafeteria, split in two different sections, is inconveniently located in the lobby.
School environment and culture: There is a warm and friendly atmosphere in the school; everyone knows every child by name. Art work fills the hallways, as do children's self-portraits and projects, examples of students' writing are posted in classrooms.
Teaching and curriculum: Principal Deanna Marcos was a teacher, literacy coach, and assistant principal at PS 295 before becoming principal in 2006. She has made math a high priority and it has paid off, with math scores rising 30 percent between 2004-2008. Math lessons happen first thing in the morning; for the youngest children, it could be as simple as counting the number of children in class that day. The school uses a combination of the hands-on TERC curriculum, used in District 2, and more standard workbooks. Teachers lead test prep activities in the weeks before the state exams and kids get individualized attention, in interventions or three-times-a-week enrichment classes throughout the year. Many classrooms were closely following the Readers and Writers Workshop model, with students choosing and reading books at their reading level, and sharing information with a partner; we also saw small groups of students sounding out letters in a phonics-based approach to reading.
The arts flourish here with fulltime professional art, dance, and drama teachers. A dance teacher integrates dance with literature, beginning as early as pre-kindergarten. We watched four-year-olds creatively tumbling to a dance based on Eric Carle's Little Cloud. In a 5th grade drama class, some students were actors, others were directors or stagehands. Technology takes something of a backseat to the arts; there are some overhead projectors, as well as a few laptops, but they are not much in use.
Each grade goes on seven field trips, tied in to the curriculum. Second-graders studying New York take a trip to Rockefeller Center and walk over the Brooklyn Bridge: 3rd-graders studying China visit Chinatown. Hands-on projects abound both in and out of the art room. Second graders studying the Lenape Indian tribe visited the Museum of Natural History and learned how to make things "from scratch," sewing native American pouches. The sewing project carried over into math, where children learned about design and symmetry.
Family participation: Parents sponsor annual events, such as a dance-a-thon that raises between $5,000- $10,000, and a Spring Arts Festival, in which children show off what they have learned. Once a month, parents meet in the library for a Friday "Bagel Bits" get-together with the principal, after which they are invited into the classrooms to read aloud. Several parents volunteer in the library; one teaches a weekly ESL class for other parents, but in general it has been "hard to get non-English speaking parents involved," according to Parent Coordinator Shari Pulido. She said she is making it her goal to make Latino parents "more visible." Parents created the school's website which features clips of the school musical.
After school: A YMCA program offering homework help, games and activities runs until 6 p.m. daily. Four days a week, parents run a program that features classes such as ballet, piano, cooking, yoga, and storytelling and is attended by more than 100 kids.
Special education: The school takes particular pride in its special education program, which has a wait list and serves nearly one-third of the population. There is a CTT class on every grade and several classrooms have as many as five adults (including paraprofessionals) along with the designated classroom and special education teachers. While we saw disruptions from children in a few classes, teachers and administrators told us they were working to find different placements for students who, they said, needed a self-contained class, which PS 295 does not offer.
English Language Learners: Eighty students, about 20 percent of the population, are learning English; most are Spanish-speaking from Mexico and Puerto Rico. There are also students from Arabic-speaking countries, such as Yemen. English learners are also encouraged to attend a weekly after school program.
Admissions: Neighborhood school. In past years, there have been 20-25 seats available for kids from outside of the zone.
After graduation: The majority of students go to New Voices. Other popular choices are MS 88, located on the same block as the school, and MS 51. A few students go to Arts and Letters, located in District 13. (Pamela Wheaton, February 2009)