M.S. 51 William Alexander
BROOKLYN NY 11215 Map
M.S. 51 William Alexander
Long known as a school with a strong academic program and outstanding performing arts, MS 51 draws many of District 15's highest-achieving students. The pride of the school is its "talent" program. Students take four periods a week of visual art, photography, instrumental music, chorus, drama, dance, or Show Choir during their three years of middle school. A Carnegie Hall grant supports students taking three years of instrumental music. Students also take four periods a week of either Spanish or French. Students are engaged and enthusiastic, and classes buzz with purposeful conversation and activity. MS 51 routinely send its graduates to the specialized exam high schools and to Beacon, Bard, and Midwood; as well as arts-intensive schools including LaGuardia and Murrow.
Math and science no longer take a back seat to the arts and humanities. Principal Lenore DiLeo Berner, a former science specialist and assistant principal at IS 88, has worked since her arrival in 2007 to make math and science as challenging as the school's other offerings. She secured grants for teacher training and upgraded MS 51’s science facilities with new tables, computers, scopes and cameras. Students enjoy regular field trips to the city’s zoos, museums, botanic gardens and the aquarium.
About one-third of the 7th graders complete an accelerated course in math; the same fraction of the 8th grade class will take the 9th grade math Regents exam. Approximately one-third of the 8th graders will take both the Integrated Algebra and Living Environment Regents. For the past five years, 100 percent of the students taking these tests have passed.
Hallways are bursting with students’ academic and art work. Photographs from recent productions line the wall near the sunny top floor dance studio and the drama room's black box rehearsal space. On the day we visited, dance students were rehearsing a routine and drama students were intently reciting monologues. That sense of abundance carries into the classrooms as well, with ample books and supplies. Some rooms feature cozy couches and seating areas for conversation.
Special education: The application process now allows all students, including those with special needs, to come in for an interview. Special education students who go through the articulation process and are placed at MS 51 participate in arts and second language study with mainstream students.
Students in the inclusive Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT) classes, which integrate general and special-needs students with two certified teachers, have the chance to forge solid relationships, as enrollment and teaching teams stay consistent through all three years that students attend MS 51.
The dozen or so students in each of the six so-called "self-contained" classes no longer spend all day with one teacher. Instead, students are now taught by multiple content-area teachers and change classrooms like all other students. Berner hopes to double the size of the ICT program from one class per grade to two.
Because it has a tiny cafeteria, the school has an open lunch policy, which students adore and parents say can get pricey. Students go to sandwich shops and pizzerias on Fifth Avenue and run off extra energy in what has become a campus in the almost complete spectacularly renovated and expanded city park next door.
Numerous teams, clubs, and activities are offered including a fee-for-service after-school program that offers academic programs as well as fun ones such as cooking, French culture club, knitting, and sports teams. Abundant fund-raising by the Parents Association helps support school extras including dances, trips, technology, supplies and scholarships for extracurricular activities. The school's Show Choir has traveled to California to perform and drama students have visited Scotland. An unusually extensive Kaplan program gives 7th graders 10 weeks of science-high-school test prep, followed up with three weeks in the early part of 8th grade.
Admissions: Restricted to students who attend District 15 elementary schools. Students must have test scores of at least level 3 and 4 on the 4th grade ELA and math tests. Applicants are also asked to provide a copy of their 4th- and 5th-grade report cards and undergo a brief interview. There are many more applicants than seats available. (Helen Zelon, updated by Mellen O’Keefe, October 2011)