P.S. 290 Juan Morel Campos
BROOKLYN NY 11207 Map
P.S. 290 Juan Morel Campos
Before our tour of PS 290, Principal Willena George and Assistant Principal Brigitte Newell were asked what about their school makes them proudest. "The tone," both answered in unison, looking at each other afterward and laughing at the unrehearsed moment. But after a walk-through, it was easy to understand why they had answered as they did: Teachers here suffuse every classroom with a gentle and caring professionalism that has helped students make academic strides.
Faculty members were so well dressed most wore sweaters, slacks, pressed shirts, and ties and spoke so quietly and personably to students, that I asked if they were expecting our tour. White seemed puzzled by the question. "No," she said, adding that teachers are accustomed to visitors and that for them, this was a day like any other.
Since joining the school in fall 2003, White and Newell have worked to raise test scores that were low enough to garner "corrective action" status from New York State in fall 2001. The 2003- 2004 school year saw considerable improvement, with 66 percent of 4th graders scoring at or above grade level in math (up from 44 percent five years before, in 1999) and 46 percent of 4th graders reading at or above grade level about double the number in 1999. Even with recent improvements, students must show another year of progress for the school to be taken off the corrective action list, said White.
The administration is not the only place where changes have been made. Eleven new teachers were hired for the 2004-'05 school year alone. Many vacancies created by retirements, pregnancies, and teachers moving out of the area were filled by talented new instructors. We watched a first-year music teacher accompany 3rd graders on guitar as they sang "Feliz Navidad." Afterward, she drew an ice cream cone on the board and compared the song's binary (two-part) form to the two parts of her drawing: the cone and scoop of chocolate.
A 2nd grade English and Spanish bilingual class pantomimed making a pitcher of lemonade while the teacher read aloud a story about a lemonade stand. An interactive computer program taught 5th graders about weather by having them navigate through different storm systems in a virtual aircraft.
Some teachers expressed the need for more building space. A single, large room functions as the "gymnatorium," a gym, cafeteria, and lunchroom. Some physical education classes meet in classrooms, and a number of classes meet in two temporary buildings behind the school. One upside is that some rooms in main building are large enough only to hold classrooms of 16 students, reducing the instructor-to-student ratio.
English as a second language: ESL classes for 4th and 5th graders meet after school Tuesday through Thursday, as do ESL classes for parents.
Special education: One "self-contained" bilingual (Spanish/English) special education class contains 4th and 5th grade students with special needs.
After school: A community-based organization offers arts and crafts, and music activities to children of all grades, weekdays from 3 - 5:45 p.m. Students play tennis mornings before school or may join a basketball team that practices after school and on Saturdays, and competes against other schools. Because PS 290 has been designated a corrective action school, struggling students in all grades receive a program of additional instruction Tuesdays through Thursdays, 3-5 p.m. Tutoring for 3rd graders is also available at this time, as is a "writing, art, and technology" enrichment class for advanced students, grades 3 - 5. Fourth graders receive tutoring, and children in grades 3 - 5 take a Kaplan test prep course, Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. (John E. Thomas, December 2004)