M.S. 258 Community Action School
Manhattan NY 10025
Supportive teachers offer extra help and make lessons relevant.
No music teacher.
Students at MS 258 sit up a bit straighter in their chairs when a visitor enters the classroom, yet their attention does not waver from the task at hand - whether it's reading, computing percentages, or learning the tango before a trip to the New Victory Theater. Classrooms are tidy, and students are attentive and polite, wearing light blue polo shirts and dark blue slacks. "This is not a school to play with," said an 8th grader, who confessed he misbehaved at his previous school, but no one took notice, unlike at MS 258. "They take education seriously."
This well-run school displays a winning mix of structure and free expression and earns "A" ratings from the city year after year. Teachers and parents readily say, "I love this school," and a volunteer who meant to stay only a few months is still around four years later. Founding Principal John Curry is outside every day - at the bus stop, at the deli, even phoning a father to let him know his child is on his way home. "We are there for them," said Curry.
Indeed, staff members often stay late and volunteer to help with homework. "They help you walk through the system," said a father from west Africa, who mentioned the time the parent coordinator gave him the number to call to get his child's broken glasses replaced.
In classes, teachers lead relevant discussions that make students sit up and take notice - even if they are a bit passive when it comes to speaking up. One social studies teacher brings up current events, like the Trayvon Martin killing, to draw students out, and it works: "He makes connections with the world, so it's easier to figure it out," grinned a 7th grader.
While reading scores are not as high as math scores, many students say reading is their favorite subject. "[My English teacher] is the only teacher in all eight years of school who got me into reading," said an 8th grader, who got hooked on a book about basketball player LeBron James. Every child reads 20-30 minutes a day and each room has a range of books, including the Nancy Drew series, and graphic novels, along with harder books for mature readers. Children write multiple drafts on essays and reports and learn how to edit each other's papers.
According to the Learning Environment Survey, half of the students said there is some rowdy behavior, but we did not see any on our visit. Students say misbehavior is dealt with through "send outs" - a short time out in another classroom, or loss of privileges, like trips. Some said the school is light on actual community action. "We don't do a lot of service for it to be named that," said an 8th grader.
The building is shared with MS 256 and Manhattan School for Children, a laid-back K-8 school. Some parents grumble that staff members from MSC are not as visible after school as those from CAS, but otherwise they seem to get along fine. After-school clubs include chess, cross-country, soccer, drama, student government, photography and yoga.
Special education: The school has long been at the forefront of "inclusion," integrating disabled children in general education classes with two teachers. There is also a classroom for children who are cognitively impaired. On the day of our visit, these kids were going to the Special Olympics. All children are mixed together for recess, camping trips and field trips.
Admissions: Middle school choice process. Children are interviewed. Involved parents are a plus, as are children who have a history of working well with others, but the principal stressed that staff work indiscriminately with every child who is admitted. (Lydie Raschka, May 2012)