M.S. 255 Salk School of Science
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M.S. 255 Salk School of Science
The Salk School of Science was founded in 1995 as an unusual collaboration between District 2 and the NYU Medical Center. It was designed to expose city kids to science in a systematic, serious and engaging way. Although classrooms are crowded, and sharing space with PS 40 can be a juggling act, Salk's popularity with students, teachers and NYU undergrads who tutor through America Reads, helps lower the adult-student ratio.
Teachers feel like trusted partners at Salk. “Any teacher who is really good is not doing a curriculum,” said Principal Rhonda Perry. “They're looking at who the kids are and adapting." Many teachers have been at Salk for over five years. All the science teachers have become lead teachers in the Urban Advantage Program at the American Museum of Natural History, a partner program, which promotes real world research and investigations.
Science is certainly a major focus of the school. Students may visit an anesthesiology lab or learn about cloning cows from an expert. Teachers can access a database with over seventy research scientists, professors and doctors willing to give a presentation or assist with lesson planning. NYU graduate students volunteer as "mentors," offering after-school homework help and social support for struggling students.
Reading and writing are emphasized in all subjects, and some of the humanities teachers are published writers themselves. Classrooms have extensive libraries, and students are encouraged to read fiction they enjoy in book clubs. In math, students may keep journals on problem-solving; in science, research and observations are balanced with persuasive essays, such as on the pros and cons of nuclear energy.
According to Perry, visiting alumni have said they felt best prepared for college in terms of the writing skills they acquired at Salk. Sixth-graders participate in Science, Expression and Exploration (S.E.E.), a weekly, two-hour class designed to boost writing and research skills. They "adopt" an animal at the Bronx Zoo for observation and create PowerPoint presentations using the data they collect. During our visit one girl said she and her partner had posed the question: What is the effect of sun, shade and water on a brown bear's behavior? "It was hard to decide on the question," the 6th-grader said, "but we saw them playing in the water and sitting in the sun, so we decided the environment was important."
The transition for incoming 6th-graders is gentle. Although all students are allowed to go out into the neighborhood for lunch, new students must wait until mid-October after they've gone out with a 7th- or 8th-grade "big buddy." The first few days of school are filled with community building activities. Parents are invited to a welcome tea at the medical center and "Passion in Science" day, when classes are cancelled and participants sign up for mini sessions taught by NYU staff.
Small supportive groups led by teachers, called "advisories," meet for half a year and students can pick a fun elective, such as sports, puzzles or creative writing, the other half of the year. The only language taught is Spanish.
About two-thirds of the 8th-graders are accepted into specialized high schools.
Special Education: Each grade has an ICT (Integrated Collaborative Teaching) class that serves a mix of general and special needs children and is led by two teachers, including one certified in special education. The school also has a flexible, multigrade self-contained class for students with special needs. Students in that class start the year spending most of their day in the self-contained classroom. By mid-year, students spend most of their day in general education classes and return to the self-contained room for extra support and instruction in select subjects as needed.
Admissions: Tours are offered in the fall. Preference is given to District 2 students. Most students accepted earned high scores on the 4th-grade math and reading tests, but there is no formal cutoff to be considered for admission. Applicants are given a three-part entrance exam that includes a science experiment, a chance to talk about a favorite book and some other informal questions. "We try to make it active and fun," said Perry. (Lydie Raschka, December 2011; updated Laura Zingmond, February 2014)