P.S. 97 The Highlawn
BROOKLYN NY 11223 Map
P.S. 97 The Highlawn
UPDATE: Kristine Mustillo has succeeded Gail J. Levine as principal of PS 97.
FEBRUARY 2005 REVIEW: PS 97, housed in a big old red brick building, is so popular that some people buy homes in its Bensonhurst neighborhood just so their kids can attend. Even though the school is crowded with about 200 more children than it was designed for, Principal Gail Levine seems to know just about every child by name.
Kids, who greet Levine with hugs, are clearly used to seeing her in the classroom. She comes in and sings with the kindergartners sometimes. Kids also get a kick out of her collection of stuffed animals, which sing and dance to such tunes as "Do You Love Me Now That I Can Dance." They were on special display for February, Valentine's month. Levine says she is "the first face" students see in the morning at PS 97. And in this community oriented school, well-mannered children "will stand there and hold the door for you," she added.
In a 5th grade math lesson on probability, students listed on a chart what was certain, possible, and impossible. Under the "possible" column was "Ms. Levine is the best principal," just above "February has 28 days." Long gone at PS 97 are the days when desks were in rows. Now it's "accountable talk," where kids learn to discuss subjects in a soft voice. In one creative 4th grade class, kids had devised their own story board in preparation for making comic books. They had also designed their own newspaper. Workbooks are still used for grammar, and one day a week is reserved for test prep.
For several years, the school had a magnet grant for media and technology. Although the funding is gone, the administration remains committed to the program. The school has a well-equipped television studio Studio 97 with sophisticated editing equipment and seven video cameras. Large screen TVs can be found in every room, and every Friday the president of the student government addresses the school on television. Kids write scripts and make documentaries, adding their own digital special effects. A special education class in the studio the day of our visit was making a documentary about astronomy.
Arts are another focus of the school, which runs a program with the American Ballet Theatre for older students. The day of our visit the art teacher was at the Frick Collection with a class of 5th graders.
The school, located in an Italian and Jewish enclave, educates children and even grandchildren of alumni. The day of our visit, 10 moms active in the PTA, all longtime neighborhood residents, were sitting around a table in the parent room. "I came here," said one mom. "My mother and her family came here." In fact, her mother still works as an aide at the school. One long-timer who can't get enough of PS 97 is a retired custodian who comes back Monday-Thursday to work, just for the love of it, with a 3rd grade class. "I can't stay home," he told us.
Still, times change and PS 97 is much more ethnically diverse than it used to be. Many neighborhood families are being forced out because of rising real estate prices and moving to "Jersey" or Staten Island, the mothers said. Increasingly, Asian families are moving in, many of whom work long hours and have little time to commit to the PTA, the mothers said.
None of this has diminished the popularity of the school, which is so overpopulated that it has had to set up portable classrooms in the schoolyard.
Special education: There are three small classes only for children with special needs and a 2nd - 3rd grade bilingual (Spanish-English) class for kids with special needs.
Admissions: There is very little room for students outside the neighborhood, and, in fact, parents are known to use phony addresses to get in. Siblings are given preference in admissions.
After school: After-school arts programs in theater and dance culminate in the staging of an original production. (This school is featured in New York City's Best Public Elementary Schools. Pamela Wheaton, February 2005)