J.H.S. 383 Philippa Schuyler
BROOKLYN NY 11237 Map
J.H.S. 383 Philippa Schuyler
Children come from as far away as the Bronx and Staten Island to attend Philippa Schuyler School for the Gifted and Talented drawn by challenging academics and daily "major electives" that include art, dance and steel pan the Caribbean musical instruments made of metal drums. The steel pan band is the pride of the school.
Principal Barbara Sanders, a former assistant principal who has led the school since 2003, has sought to maintain the school's tradition of high academic standards while softening what some considered a sink-or-swim attitude toward students who were struggling. In years past, children who couldn't keep up the fast pace of the school were sometimes asked to leave. Now, Sanders said, teachers work with them to help them succeed.
Homework, while heavy, is not the grueling 4-hour-a-night ordeal it was some years ago. Sanders said some children commute an hour or more to school, and expecting them to do many hours of homework is unrealistic. Nonetheless, children we spoke to said they studied about two hours a night.
Sanders has worked to make the school more welcoming to boys who, in years past, were more likely than girls to leave. She has hired at least 11 male teachers, a male assistant principal and a male parent coordinator. (The PTA president, incidentally, is a man.) She has also added more sports and physical education classes; boys often play football in a park near the school before school begins.
In many respects, Philippa Schuyler is a traditional school. Girls wear white shirts and blue plaid skirts; boys wear white shirts and neckties. Children learn old-fashioned (but useful) skills in classes in public speaking and diction. Some of the classrooms have desks in rows, and there is plenty of emphasis on textbooks and worksheets. At the same time, some teachers incorporate progressive techniques in interdisciplinary projects. In one social studies class, for example, children took part in a "colonial day" in which they dressed in period costumes, churned butter, made soap, made ink from fruit, wrote with a quill, and danced the Virginia Reel.
Students have many experiences outside the classroom. Sixth graders climb mountains on an overnight trip to the Adirondacks, while 7th graders spend the night at an environmental camp in the Poconos. Art classes visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan; drama students write their own play and perform it on Broadway as part of a program called Fidelity Future Stages.
The 3-story, red brick building is a bit drab, with brown tile corridors. Some of the desks are chipped, and some of the paint on the classroom walls is scuffed. On the positive side: an old parking lot is being transformed into a new playground, complete with tennis courts and a baseball diamond.
Fifteen or 20 percent of graduates go on to private day or boarding schools, some on full scholarship. Of a graduating class of about 300, 40 students typically go to Brooklyn Tech, about 10 to LaGuardia, half a dozen to Stuyvesant and a handful to the other specialized schools. Benjamin Banneker, Clara Barton, Midwood and Murrow are also popular choices.
Philippa Schuyler is the site of a regional suspension center for children who are suspended from other schools. The day of my visit, two students were in the suspension center in a wing separated from the rest of the school.
Special education: The school has six special education classes, whose pupils are assigned by the borough enrollment office. These children may take electives with pupils from the rest of the school.
After-school: Sports including tai chi, tennis and basketball are offered after-school and on Saturdays through the Department of Education CHAMPS program.
Admission: Any child who lives in the city may apply for admission. Applications may be picked up in person between October and January. Students may enter from 5th to 7th grade, with most entering in 6th. Students must take the Otis-Lennon School Abilities Test (OLSAT), usually administered in March. Parents are invited to attend an orientation session while children are taking the exam. Some parents hire private vans to bring their children to school.
This school is included in New York City's Best Public Middle Schools. (Clara Hemphill, March 2008)