P.S. 303 The Academy for Excellence through the Arts
Queens NY 11375
Small arts-focused early childhood school; students get lots of individual attention
Space limitations; no gym or library
PS 303, The Academy for Excellence through the Arts, is an early childhood center in Forest Hills that integrates drama, music, and visual arts into its curriculum and gives its students the chance to participate in artistic activities. Founded in 2008 Teachers and staff know the children well and provide them with lots of support and individual attention.
At PS 303, the arts are as important as math, science and ELA. The arts are not a distraction. They help our students in their academic subjects, said founding principal Barbara Leto. Movement and music are incorporated into math lessons, with students using concepts like musical beats. In lessons that incorporate music, geography and social studies, students study an artist of the month and a composer of the month to learn about the work and historical context of famous artists.
Material from traditional academic subjects is also integrated into the arts. In preparation for a performance of a rent party, mirroring the parties of the 1920s and 1930s, students studied the history of the Harlem Renaissance. During the party, students were in character as various historical figures from the Harlem Renaissance like Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes. They danced, sang, told jokes, recited poetry, and discussed the lives of the people they were impersonating. Leto told us that the students contributed to every stage of the shows development from choreography to set design.
The arts emphasis does not take away from a focus on other subjects. In science, students study the scientific inquiry method and do lots of experiments. Each year one grade participates in a science enrichment club, which gives them extra time to learn about science. One year, a classroom was turned into a rainforest with life-size models of animals and a waterfall. We dont do anything small here, said the principal. In 2013, the schools multipurpose room became a desert.
Teachers do a good job engaging students at different skill levels and frequently group students based on their abilities to ensure that they are being appropriately challenged and supported. Teachers expect high quality work from their students, they said. Between kindergarten and third grade, all students create a portfolio compiling their artistic and written work. Some would say that we are too rigorous, said Leto, adding that the students always rise to the challenge.
We know the kids really, really well, she said. The school has the feel of a close-knit community, and students, teachers, and staff seem genuinely happy to be there. The teachers, all of whom have a background in the arts, are enthusiastic and engaging. They encourage their students to be independent and to express their opinions and advocate for themselves. They learn how not to be conformists, Leto said.
Wingspan Arts runs the schools after-school program and offers art, drama, music and dance instruction everyday. Partnerships with the Apollo Theater and Together in Dance enhance the schools music and dance offerings. On Fridays, students may participate in various clubs on topics ranging from yoga to journalism to cooking. There is also an extended day academic program for 3rd graders. Some students needing extra support are required to participate, but others may also attend. In the extended day program, students work in small groups and get more individual attention from teachers.
The school is housed in a three-story building with a small outdoor playground. Due to space limitations, there is no library or computer lab, although each classroom is equipped with two computers; the school also has a mobile cart with iPads that are used in the classrooms.
After third grade, most students go to PS 196 a few blocks away for 4th and 5th grade.
Special education: The school has two team teaching ICT classesone in 2nd and one in 3rd grade.
Admissions: District 28 students may enter the PS 303 lottery. Preference is given to children with siblings already enrolled at the school. There were over 200 applicants for 50 kindergarten seats for the 2013-2014 school year. (Pauline Zaldonis, May 2013)