PS/MS 394 Mary McLeod Bethune Academy
Brooklyn NY 11213
Warm environment where kids feel safe
Space tight in shared building
SEPTEMBER 2010 UPDATE: The building is shared with the Explore Empower Charter School.
2003 REVIEW: Clad in a white shirt with a tie around her neck, Principal Claudette Murray welcomes students in an outfit similar to the tidy uniforms the kids wear at the Mary Mcleod Bethune Academy, PS/MS 394. Her demeanor is warm and her voice is mellow, two reasons why she gets a lot of greetings from kids in the cream colored hallways throughout the day. Younger children approach and, without warning, wrap their arms around her middle as if hugging a teddy bear, while older students wave hello.
MS 394 began as a middle school, grades 6-8, but it is also a thriving elementary school now. Murray added pre-kindergarten classes after the middle school was established, because such programs were scarce in the neighborhood. Since then, she continues to add on a grade every year transforming the school into a seamless pre-K 8th grade program. There have been obstacles in the past with building renovations and lack of classroom space that halted this expansion and resulted in having to transfer some of the children to another elementary school in order to be promoted to the next grade. Murray is confident though that the current crop of 3rd graders will enter a new, on-site 4th grade class and then graduate to a new 5th grade the following year.
In the pre-kindergarten and elementary school classes we saw, students were attentive and eager. Math teachers used \"manipulatives,\" objects such as fake coins, to teach arithmetic, and this method seemed to get the kids excited. Wooden lofts with cushions stood out in pre-k and kindergarten classrooms. Rules for writing were taped to every desk for easy reference; they also were on signs decorating many classrooms. First graders displayed a strong grasp of basics as they wrote about their experiences at Christmas.
In the middle school, students seemed as engaged as their young counterparts. Eighth graders discussed articles from the Tuesday science section of The New York Times or prepared to take the biology Regents exam, and 6th graders worked in groups studying famous authors and their writing styles. Seventh graders take a twice-weekly \"career\" class where they learn about professions, sometimes through guests such as the visiting bankers who discussed the business world. Middle school students may volunteer to help younger children, offering a helping hand during lunch periods or in classrooms.
Like all teenagers, however, the middle schoolers have moments when they stray. Some of the older kids allow themselves a fairly loose interpretation of the dress code, for example, and during our visit noise exploded in the 8th grade corridor after lunch. Some kids seemed out of control, and nearby lower-grade youngsters who filed in and out of rooms in orderly fashion stared at the commotion. The normally soft voice of the principal, who attributed the unruliness to the absence of a dean that day, changed into a bellow that scattered the crowd, along with help from teachers there.
Admissions: The elementary school is unzoned and open to all District 17; the middle school is selective. For the gifted and talented academy, students must score a level 3 or 4 on state tests and also take the OLSAT exam. See the middle school directory online (pdf) for more information. (This school is featured in New York City\'s Best Public Middle Schools.(Catherine Man, December 2003; updated admissons 2013)