P.S. 249 The Caton
BROOKLYN NY 11226 Map
P.S. 249 The Caton
At PS 249, halls are decorated with children's work and furnished with small chairs and benches where parents read with their children. "Grandparents" easily spotted in bright red Department of Aging jackets help watch over little ones, and a pleasant conflict-resolution teacher visits classrooms starting with kindergarten, teaching children what "conflict" means with a read-aloud. There is always a buzz of activity, even on Fridays, when children typically are distracted by thoughts of a school-free weekend.
That's mostly because of "Super Science Fridays," an entire school-day each week devoted to science-related instruction. "Attendance on Fridays was kind of a challenge," says Principal Elisa Brown, so she had to come up with something special. Students may conduct experiments in class, build volcanoes with the science teacher, and devote themselves to non-fiction books during reading period. "When they leave on Fridays, they leave with a project, something they made, and in a calm, happy tone," Brown says.
An early childhood school that draws from a neighborhood with many immigrant families speaking Spanish and Caribbean-basin languages, PS 249 gets quite a few students who arrive with little grasp of English. To serve these "English Language Learners," the school offers a self-contained English as a Second Language class, where, on each grade, students are taught everything in English. One such kindergarten classroom smelled of fresh popcorn, while the teacher taught her students about the five senses and allowed them to see, smell, and taste the popcorn. Despite their excitement in anticipation of the treat, the children were engaged in the discussion and answered her questions.
In addition, the school started a Spanish/English dual-language programin in 2002, and for these classes, the day's schedule is split into lessons in both languages. Kindergartners start with one period a day in which they are immersed in their non-native language; upper grades have more. The hallways are also split, clearly denoting with signs which rooms are designated for English immersion and which for Spanish immersion. These rooms face each other, so that when students or teachers change classes, they don't have to travel very far. In a kindergarten class of English-proficient children, the science teacher had students experiment with color, and asked them what hues they thought would appear when they mixed the yellow and blue paint on their desks. They had no idea how to answer before happily mixing the paint with their hands, but shouted "verde!" when the magic color appeared.
In recent years, the school has looked for ways to develop the arts curriculum, and children seem better off for it. It received a grant to fund artists from the Ifetayo Cultural Arts Facility, an arts and cultural organization, to teach kids African dance, drama, creative writing, and art.
"I'm gonna wake up with a positive attitude, build my mind...I am focused, I am disciplined, I have pride in myself," 2nd graders in the drama class sang and chanted on the day of our visit, as they stood ready for their lesson. Most of the children enjoyed this familiar opening activity; they smiled easily as they opened their hearts and minds to the free-spirited instructor, who addressed the students as "my brother, my sister." A group of students in the African dance class got solo time, several seconds to wiggle and show off their moves while peers clapped to the beating drums.
Third graders take part in a music education program in which three musicians visit twice a year and teach the children about instruments in a fun way. Having brought a van-load of instruments with them, the musicians tickled the children's fancy with their playing and engaged them in lessons even in Spanish for the bilingual class about the saxophone, cello, and drums.
Of course, it can't be fun and games all the time. There are some traditional aspects to the school, too. Children dress in tidy uniforms, read from science textbooks, and take spelling tests. To prepare 3rd graders for the city's standardized reading and math exams, which determine if they will move on to the 4th grade, the school assesses students with tests at least three times a year. Everyone begins the day by doing a math problem. There are also before-school, after-school, and Saturday test-prep sessions.
Long an early childhood school, in 2012 PS 249 added a 4th grade and will become a K-5 school in the 2013-2014 school year. There are some concerns that the building may become overcrowded with the added grades. Previously students moved on to either PS 22 and PS 375 and had no chance to continue their language studies, because the other schools lacked dual-language classes.
After school: Community organizations such as Ifetayo and the Church Avenue Merchants Block Association hold extracurricular programs after-hours and on Saturdays in the building that are free-of-charge for PS 249 students.
Admissions: PS 249 has had available seats for children outside the zone in the past. (This school is featured in New York City's Best Public Elementary Schools. Catherine Man, January 2005; updated January 2013 with information about school expansion)