P.S. 377 Alejandrina B. De Gautier
BROOKLYN NY 11221 Map
P.S. 377 Alejandrina B. De Gautier
AUGUST 2007 UPDATE: In fall 2007, PS 377 will have 6th and 7th grade classes, in addition to the elementary grades. By fall 2008, it will be a pre-K - 8th grade school, according to Parent Coordinator Deborah Villanueva. Dominic Zagami became principal in September 2005. (Joanne Mejias was principal at the time of Insideschools' last visit in April 2005).
APRIL 2005 REVIEW:
There is so much space at PS 377 that the assistant principal, guidance counselor, and many other specialists use classrooms as offices, and parents have their own conference room, family room, and classroom. The extra space is a luxury in the New York City public school system, providing room for the school to house social and academic help programs.
Since Principal Joanne Mejias' arrival in 1999, the school has improved greatly. Mejias added a playground, plucked 14 students from special education classes and placed them into general education, where she said they belonged, and slowly improved tests scores. In 1999, only 20 percent of students were reading at grade level, according to the Department of Education, but by 2004 that number had jumped to 42 percent. The principal also has increased the number of programs to help struggling students. Children in all grades who need assistance are taken to a room where they work one-on-one or in small groups with a teacher for 40 minutes everyday. Another program, Primary Project, helps children improve their social skills. Once weekly, one to three children meet with an adult for 35-40 minutes to play in a large classroom filled with toys and slowly talk about personal issues. Two social workers and the school psychologist also work with the program.
Perhaps most important, after determining that teaching methods at the school were problematic, Mejias set out to change them. "They were used to students sitting in rows, and the teachers preaching at the front of the class," said Mejias. "I needed to hear children talking." She and the assistant principal demonstrated teaching methods to the faculty, added more teacher training, and sought out stronger teachers who were comfortable with a non-lecture teaching style.
The changes are now visible. Desks are grouped together in classrooms, a well-organized library in each class allows children to choose books according to their interests and reading level, and chalkboards are covered with lessons and student work. Teachers use a small whiteboard to write on, while children sit around them on a cozy rug. We noticed that the newer teachers at the school circulate among their students in class. They also eagerly participate in training, according to the principal. And a number of them told us that they work together, share ideas, and support one another through the ups and downs of teaching.
Despite Mejias's efforts, however, it is clear that many teachers -- especially longtime faculty members -- have failed to adjust to the new methods. These teachers, we noticed, often revert to traditional styles of teaching, rather than the group work in which children are always kept busy. In one case during our visit, a teacher sat at a desk correcting one child's work with the student, while a line of other students waited for their turn. Mejias says some teachers are apathetic about professional development. "They're at top salary. They feel they've paid their dues," said Mejias, who added that she had reduced the "chalk and talk" teachers from 70 percent to 15 percent of the staff. She would like to eliminate all chalk and talk.
Another problem is that, notwithstanding all the changes, more than 50 percent of the students are still not working at grade level, as measured on standardized tests. Mejias attributes the low scores in part to the inadequate teaching still found in some classrooms. A major obstacle, also, is that a number of children arrive for school in grades 1-5 without any prior formal schooling. Indeed, in 2004, 18 1st graders were experiencing a school setting for the first time.
Finally, children in this grim neighborhood get little exposure to the cultural amenities that children in more prosperous neighborhoods take for granted. "They come in limited. We don't have museums, Starbucks, or Barnes and Nobles in Bushwick," said Mejias, who commented that she often stares at a vacant building across the street, wishing somebody would transform the rubble into a bookstore. The school's surroundings are bleak. Old apartment buildings decay, and too many lots are filled with plastic bags and broken stoves.
The school is barrier-free and has two gyms, one of which is equipped with gear for "adaptive" physical education -- gym classes for children with disabilities. There is also an on-site health clinic that provides medical, dental, and vision care.
English as a Second Language: About 125 students receive ESL instruction. Most students speak Spanish, while a few speak Chinese, French, or Arabic. The school also has a dual-language program in which students alternate speaking English and Spanish every five days.
Special education: The school serves children with learning disabilities as well as those who are emotionally disturbed. On each grade there is a "collaborative team teaching" class -- known as CTT -- where two teachers, one of whom is certified in special education, teach a class with both special education students and general education students. There are also two bilingual and one English "self-contained" (special education only) classes with a maximum of 12 students taught by one teacher and an aide.
After school: Tuesdays -- Thursdays until 4:30 p.m. students receive tutoring. There is a Saturday Academy, with academic tutoring and a snack, from 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. The Coalition for Hispanic Families offers literacy support and counseling every day until 5:20 p.m. for grades K-5. A Girl Scouts group meets on Fridays until 5:30 p.m. The Brooklyn Environmental Center works with immigrant families Monday - Friday from 3:00 p.m. - 5:30 p.m. and provides English-language and GED classes to parents. The school offers computer classes to parents on Wednesdays, 9:00a.m. - 10:30 a.m. A Beacon program at nearby MS 291 runs until 10:00 p.m., providing recreation, tutoring, arts and sports.
Admissions: Applications into the Pre-K program are accepted in March, first-come, first-served. Priority is given to children living in the zone. Space is limited and seats fill within two weeks. (Vanessa Witenko, April 2005)