P.S. 81 Robert J. Christen
An emphasis on citizenship, beautiful campus
No pre-k; lacks separate music, art and science rooms
Housed in a stately 1925 Georgian structure in the northernmost corner of Riverdale, PS 81 has a respectful, unified tone; well-structured lessons; and consistency throughout the building.
Safe, predictable routines seem particularly beneficial for calming anxious children. In a happy, well-run kindergarten class, for instance, a teacher put one such child in charge of starting the timer for reading time, and the child took on this role with pride and responsibility.
Fifth graders serve as big brothers and sisters to younger students. When children stand to recite Shakespeare some speak with Russian, Dominican or Pakistani inflections, a fact this community celebrates. There are classes in dance, visual art, music and drama.
PS 81's test scores indicate roughly half the students meet or exceed state academic standardsa very respectable showing especially compared to other Bronx schools. Still, city Education Department evaluations of the school cite slightly below-average student progress compared to similar schools.
Many teachers have years of experience but at the time of our visit more than half a dozen were new, including several Manhattan College graduates who had worked as student teachers at PS 81. A young teacher said she feels like a fully contributing member of the staff. "We get heard just as equally," she said.
Principal Anna Kirrane was assistant principal at PS 81 for nine years before taking over in October 2012. She arrives at 6:30 am each day to be available to anyone with concerns, and takes the time to greet parents who drop by. Kirrane attended boarding school in Ireland as a girl, and is of Irish heritage. She urges all parents to "share your rich heritage with your child."
After a year of getting to know children, teachers select 25 to 30 kindergartners for placement in the school's accelerated program, which begins in 1st grade. The make-up of the class is determined by reading levels, as well as "work ethic and ability to move forward," said Kirrane. Students usually work a grade ahead and a child must keep up with the work to remain in these classes.
There are no separate music, art or science rooms but there are two full-time art teachers (visual art and music/drama), and the children study dance, visual art, music and drama in a series of arts residencies throughout the grades.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: Each grade features at least one team-teaching classroom, where students with special needs are taught alongside peers in general education. The school has three small "self-contained" classrooms for children with special needs only.
ADMISSIONS: Zoned, neighborhood school. (Lydie Raschka, May 2016; updated August 2016)