M.S. 255 Salk School of Science
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M.S. 255 Salk School of Science
Teachers feel like trusted partners at Salk, a school that boasts good test scores. "Any teacher who is really good is not really doing a curriculum," said Principal Rhonda Perry, a former high school teacher. "They're looking at who the kids are and adapting." Many teachers have been at Salk for over five years. 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. Some of the humanities teachers are published writers themselves.
While science is a major focus so is reading and writing. Classrooms have extensive libraries, and the first thing you see when you walk through the blue doors on the 4th floor are teacher book recommendations under the heading "Books We Love."
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 two-hour class designed to boost writing and research skills. They "adopt" an animal at the Bronx Zoo for observation. On the day of our visit 6th graders were creating power point presentations using their data from the zoo. 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."
Salk is known as a school without a lot of homework--a plus for some parents and a minus for others. Unlike many selective schools, Salk does not make a priority of taking Regents exams early. All 8th-graders do take the algebra Regents exam (unless parents opt out) and the Spanish proficiency exam.
After-school activities include Shakespeare, guitar, robotics and glee. Sports include soccer, flag football, volleyball, baseball and track. The facilities are not ideal: one "gym" has padded pillars and the other is only large enough for half-court basketball. Still, the offerings have grown and students are allowed to go outside to play in the courtyard if the weather is above 36 degrees.
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.
In the classrooms, we were impressed with the seamless way teachers helped kids with the nuts-and-bolts of organization, from how to copy information onto a flash drive to how to take good notes when they read nonfiction. By roaming around the room, a humanities teacher noticed a boy in the back of a classroom who had drifted off task and was reading a book hidden on his lap. Children sat in groups of four and had partners with whom they were instructed to "pair-share," which is a quick chat on a topic, and one way to ensure drifters stay engaged.
Small supportive groups led by teachers, called "advisories," meet for half a year and students can pick an extra class they are interested in during the other half of the year. The only language instruction is Spanish.
About half of the 8th graders are accepted into specialized high schools.
Special Education: Due to budget cuts, the school lost extra adults that allowed special needs students to move more flexibly between special and general education classes. "Because we're small it's hard to create individual plans and flexibility for kids," said Perry. "We hired more staff then lost them." There is a self-contained room with only special needs students and there are classes that mix general and special needs children with two teachers, one of whom is trained in special education.
Admissions: Tours are offered in the fall. Preference is given to district 2 students. Most of the children accepted have reading and math scores of level 4 (the highest level) 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. There are over 300 applicants for about 130 seats. (Lydie Raschka, December 2011.)