P.S./I.S. 157 The Benjamin Franklin Health & Science Academy
Brooklyn NY 11205
Zone for the 2017-2018 school year. Call school to confirm.
Close-knit pre-k-8 community where all adults know all students
Persistently low student achievement, losing space to charter school
PS/IS 157 is a safe, orderly school that serves a sizable Latino community with almost daily new arrivals from the Dominican Republic and Mexico. Located in a largely Orthodox Jewish neighborhood on the Williamsburg and Bedford-Stuyvesant border, the school has not yet begun to attract gentrifying newcomers but maintains its traditionally loyal Hispanic base.
Even families who move away, forced out by rising rents, continue to send their children to PS/IS 157, traveling from as far away as the Bronx, administrators said. In a school where one-fifth of the students are still learning to speak English, many staff members are bilingual and even PTA meetings are conducted in Spanish, a parent said. All letters sent home get translated and there are interpreters for school workshops and meetings. As of 2016 the school offers a Spanish-English dual language program.
The principal, Juliana Notaro, said she stresses the importance of attendance and coming to school on time to newcomers, impressing upon them "the rules and regulations that we keep in place that create a safe environment."
The staff is loyal. When former principal Maribel Hulla was promoted to become a District 14 assistant superintendent in February 2015, the school didn't skip a beat in the transition to Notaro, assistant principal since 2003. Parent coordinator Christia Rodriguez has been at the school since 2000.
The old-fashioned building is kept clean and gleaming, although the space used as a gym is adjacent to the cafeteria, making for noisy areas at the school's entrances. Instead of a large playground, there are smaller courtyards at two entrances.
Children, many of whom come from area homeless shelters and the nearby Lafayette Gardens public housing development, are well-behaved, sitting with hands folded awaiting the start of the lesson in one 2nd-grade class. The school has adopted the city's test-aligned curricula, Ready Gen and GoMath. We saw lots of teacher-led instruction and students filling out worksheets. Students are grouped by ability for math and literacy and frequently break into small groups for different tasks. Pre-kindergarten rooms are bustling with block and dress-up corners, children dancing, singing and pretending to be the animals in a song. In one pre-k classroom there was even a show-and-tell activity.
Academics are not neglected."[My son] came out of the whole experience with a great foundation for kindergartenreading and writing three- and four-letter words, independence with basic life skills like opening a milk carton, and ease with new people," a mother told Insideschools. Kindergartners and 1st-graders had excellent penmanship and writing skills. There's an emphasis on good grammar, spelling and punctuation, with weekly spelling tests in many classes.
Administrators point to the challenges of teaching a large immigrant student population; many parents don't speak English or are illiterate and unable to help with homework. Weekly test prep has been instituted for grades 3-8, in response to low state test scores. The principal also noted that "a lot [of students have] passed the NSESLAT," an assessment which tests children's proficiency in English. Nevertheless, persistently low student academic achievement remains worrisome.
Most 5th-graders stay for middle school and have younger siblings at the school. They wear different uniforms, have lockers in some classrooms and travel between classes. But grades 6-8 don't seem to have the energy of a stand-alone middle school. Class size is smallabout 20 students per classbut there are few electives or extras other than art, music and Spanish.
PS/IS 157 is part of the Middle School Quality Initiative, a public and private program that aims to boost literacy in low-performing schools with such features as a debate team and an extended school day. Children learn new academic vocabulary in all subjects along with debate, reasoning and argumentative skills. Administrators from other schools visit to see how it has been implemented, the principal said.
Middle school instruction was mostly teacher-led with students filling out workbooks. Literature circles were just beginning in ELA classrooms, as students in an 8th-grade class discussed a book in which a girl tries to save bonobos.
The school's first 8th-grade class graduated in 2014. Most grads stayed close to home for high school, attending nearby schools such as Brooklyn Prep or Williamsburg Art & Architecture.
The Beginning with Children Charter School was scheduled to move into the building in 2015. PS/IS 157 protested the co-location which will cost them space, and make sharing the small cafeteria and facilities more complicated, administrators said.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: PS/IS 157 has a large special needs population, making up about one-quarter of the school. There are six self-contained classrooms, most bridging several grades. All have the same large, bright classrooms as the other rooms. Some children on the autism spectrum are included in regular classrooms. There are ICT classrooms on most grades.
ADMISSIONS: Neighborhood school but many students come from outside the zone and district. For middle school, preference goes to continuing 5th-graders. There is no screening for other applicants. (Pamela Wheaton, March 2015)