PS 372, The Children's School
Brooklyn NY 11215
Children with special needs learn alongside typically developing children in every classroom
Space constraints at main school site with two separate buildings, satellite site is one mile away
One of the most sought-after schools in Brooklyn, The Children's School is a pioneer in educating special needs children alongside their typically developing peers. Skillful teachers manage to challenge strong students while giving struggling students individual attention and extra help.
Some children have mild learning problems while others have severe emotional or academic difficulties. Some have high intelligence and unconventional behavior. But children are used to one another's idiosyncrasies. Classroom outbursts are dealt with quietly and quickly, with assistant teachers quickly removing a troubled child or bringing one onto a lap.
Every classroom has at least two teachersoften more. "There are lots of grown-ups," said veteran 2nd-grade teacher Steve Quester. "I can't tell you how much time I spent in the hallway yesterday with one of the top readers. It's all about careful groupings."
Children might not stay with one teacher for the whole day, but move around depending on the activity and their skills. For a math lesson, for example, the school's six 5th-grade teachersthree general ed and three special edeach took a group of children.
Later, children were divided by reading ability. Each chose a book with a social theme and were asked to share how the book's theme was reflected in their lives. One boy read a book about disabilities and shared that his brother had a disability; his partner said he "couldn't really hear that well" when he was younger which caused a speech problem. His classmates could relate.
We heard teachers use warm and supportive voices and saw engaged kids in all classes. Kindergartners confidently shared their short "essays" about which character traits they shared with Max or Ruby in the children's story, "Bunny Cakes."
"I am like Max because I am determined," one little girl read. "Because I do the monkey bars."
"Raise the roof for this girl," the teacher said. After all sat quietly cheering on the readershands in the airthe teacher put on a lively video and children joyfully sang and danced to "Five Little Monkeys."
Academics are firmly in place in kindergarten, but movement is built into the day as is time for dramatic play, block-building and art. By the end of kindergarten, many children choose to read or write at center time, she said.
"A teacher has to know how to incorporate both [academics and play] to make learning fun," she said.
Second-graders built bridges as part of a six week program with The Center for Architecture Learning by Design program, long-funded by parents. They visited the nearby Carroll Street Bridge in Gowanus and walked the Brooklyn Bridge to learn about different kinds of bridges and how they work. Speech teachers came into the room along with classroom teachers and assistants to help children construct bridges out of cardboard boxes, string and glue.
The PTA has a corner of the cafeteria and does fund-raising for programs like Learning by Design and a collaboration with Mark Morris Dance Group, where children learn to choreograph their own dances, some even performing with Mark Morris dancers. Together with the science teacher, students were responsible for starting a school garden just outside the gymnasium. Each class is assigned a garden plot.Students grow and harvest basil to eat on Pizza Fridays. Since the school is open year round for special needs kids, produce is harvested all summer.
Founded in 1992, the school hums along steadily even after changes in leadership. In 2015, longtime assistant principal Rosa Amato (Ms. Rosa) took over when Artie Mattia (Mr. Artie) left. Despite a few hiccups along the way (some members of the PTA complained in 2016 when an early morning drop-off program was changed for security reasons), most staff and parents said the transition has gone smoothly.
A downside: The school is awkwardly housed in two locations separated by a play yard. A satellite site for students on the autism spectrum is a mile away at MS 113.
ADMISSIONS: District 75, the district for disabled children, determines assignment for the 40 percent of seats set aside for children with disabilities. The general education children, who make up 60 percent of the seats, are selected by lottery open to residents of District 15. Siblings get priority. Half of the general education seats in pre-k and kindergarten go to children from the northeastern half of the district (Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Greenwood Heights and Cobble Hill); half go to children from the southwestern half (Red Hook and Sunset Park). In 2016 the school began to set aside one-third of the open seats for students who are learning to speak English or who qualify for free and reduced lunch. In 2016 there were more than 600 applications for just a handful of kindergarten spots. Nearly all the pre-kindergarten seats went to siblings of current students. (Pamela Wheaton, June 2016; updated August 2016)