P.S. 112 Dutch Kills
Queens NY 11101
Zone for the 2017-2018 school year. Call school to confirm.
Small classes in lower grades
Little time for free play, some large classes
All the people we met during our visit to PS 112the principal, the assistant principal, the teachers, the welcoming new P.T.A. president, and the childrenseemed happy to be there and engaged in meaningful work. The recently painted school is spotlessly clean (Principal Rafael Campos-Gatjens had high praise for the new custodian), and the hallways celebrate students' individual and collective accomplishments. An exhibit of tiles constructed by students who are learning English and a particularly effective mural of what the Dutch Kills neighborhood must have looked like in the early days painted by an external organization called Paint the Town, add color and cheer to the building.
Campos-Gatjens, principal since the spring of 2005, is an experienced teacher, district administrator, and assistant principal, and is enthusiastic about the school's diversity. PS 112 was overcrowded until a few years ago, when Long Island City, like most of Queens, began to experience a steady decline in student enrollment because of changing demographics. Now that the enrollment has dropped below 550 students, the school has begun using federal funding to reduce the kindergarten class size to below 20 students. Still, the 4th and 5th grade classes are up to 30 in each room.
We were impressed by the level of activity and excitement in some of the classrooms. In a kindergarten class for students just beginning to speak English, children followed along closely with their teacher as he sat on the brightly colored rug with them and demonstrated how to write numbers on an easel. A 1st grade teacher adopted a loving but firm manner as she gave instructions on how to avoid mishandling books that are taken home. She gave a "thumbs up" to one child who spoke up about good book behavior, and her routine to get students to quiet down was effective and kind.
In recent years, teachers have become skilled at carrying out the city's standardized curriculum. All the classrooms were filled with charts and vocabulary lists, as required by the curriculum. The purpose of each lesson was written next to each activity. Book baskets were filled with books marked to show different reading levels.
The school has had a stable staff throughout the years; still, along with the few new faculty members, all teachers receive support from AUSSIE (Australian and United States Services in Education) consultants who provide teacher training in reading instruction. Literacy and math "coaches" also work with teachers grade-by-grade. There are several "cluster" teachers, specialists in science, social studies, foreign language, gym, library, and computers. A new computer teacher is adept at using technology to help beginning readers.
Unfortunately, the emphasis on classroom work comes at a cost. Students take gym only once each week, and despite having recess in good weather in the large public playground adjoining the building, they spend most of the day at their grouped tables engaged in reading and writing. Every class, including kindergarten, gets daily homework in reading, writing, and math, which Campos-Gatjens said is "non-negotiable." While the kindergarten classrooms are equipped with puppets and blocks and other resources, there is an emphasis on academics that seems to limit the time for singing, painting, and free play.
Despite the emphasis on academics, the arts remain a cherished, though peripheral, component of the school. When Campos-Gatjens arrived at the school, he found 25 guitars stored away. As a guitar player himself, he started a guitar group for upper grade students. A music teacher conducts a chorus and gives instrument instruction to 1st, 2nd, and selected 5th grade students. The Metropolitan Opera Guild works twice a week with 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students.
The school benefits from several successful partnerships. Paint the Town, a citywide volunteer initiative, has contributed murals and brightened the hallways. Another organization provides after-school and summer programming for students living in a nearby public housing project. Young volunteers from City Year, a national service organization, do individual tutoring, work with small groups, and carry out other tasks, such as stocking the book room, organizing the library, and putting up bulletin boards.
PS 112 is having trouble getting parents on board with some of the changes. Although students are now supposed to wear uniforms every day except Friday, many do not, and a teacher noted that many of the parents do not follow the new policy that requires them to sign their children's daily homework. Campos-Gatjens said he plans to initiate a competition among classes to get students to wear uniforms, similar to the competition for best daily attendance that has already generated excitement about improving attendance.
Special education: There are four "self-contained" classrooms (only for children with special needs) and "collaborative team teaching" (CTT) classes in two grades. These classes mix general education students and students with special needs, and are taught by two teachers, one a specialist in special education. The school also employs several physical therapists and one occupational therapist in addition to its two nurses and health coordinator. (Dorothy Wilner and Ellen Hausknecht, November 2006)