I.S. 227 Louis Armstrong
Queens NY 11369
Enthusiastic, experienced teachers
Emphasis on basic academics may not challenge very high achievers
Every weekday morning about 40 buses converge at Louis Armstrong Middle School, carrying more than 1,000 children in grades five through eight, who speak some 37 native languages. The make-up of the student body mirrors Queens as a whole: the school was founded in 1979 as a court-ordered experiment in racial integration. Parents and staff cherish their Civil Rights Movement ideals.
The school has a well-equipped building and an experienced teaching staff. Some teachers have been there for decades. "I value, particularly, the educational freedom we're given," said Anne Paskewitz, a long-time social studies teacher. "We can be who we are. It's home." Independence is also a value appreciated by students, who take charge of graduation, open house, and student government. The school made Halal food available in the cafeteria when student council members raised the lack of it as an issue. Students in need get extra assistance in academic intervention and the Queens College after-school program, run by graduate students. In turn, IS 227 students assist area elementary school kids and visit a nursing home for their Career and Community service projects. The school benefits from up to 21 Queens College student teachers per semester.
Students in grades 6 through 8 are divided into three "houses," each with an assistant principal and roughly 500 students. Each house is divided into grade level "clusters" comprised of four or five classes. Teachers in each cluster work as a team to plan lessons together and talk about student progress. Students go out for recess in the large asphalt yard.
William Fahey, who became principal in 2009 after 10 years as a principal in parochial schools outside New York City, encourages teachers to analyze test data to improve instruction. He has added an additional five periods a week for all 5th and 6th graders in English Language Arts and math to shore up basic academics. "We're working on our writing," he added. "The ELA exam is showing signs of gains." This foundation allows for more opportunities in 7th and 8th grade, he maintained. In the lower grades students are exposed to an array of art, music and dance electives; in 8th grade they concentrate on just one and shape portfolios for high schools such as Frank Sinatra or LaGuardia. Eighth graders may take Regents-level math or science. French and Spanish are also offered. Sixty science students visit a space program in Canada each year.
On our visit, 8th graders were reading and summarizing newspaper and magazine articles and had recently composed typed literary essays on Of Mice and Men. Fifth graders were listening attentively to a funny teacher's "true life" story about buying cigarettes for his mother as a child. A geology class was busy drawing contour lines on a map. Rapport between students and teachers was relaxed yet orderly. There are up to 14 classrooms per grade and we saw lots of excellent teaching, particularly in science - where big personalities prevail - and in English.
Classroom walls are filled with colorful hand-written charts, cheerful slogans, and student work. Even the air space above has work hanging from strings stretched across the room. It's stimulating, to say the least. The exuberant atmosphere embodies the idea that satisfaction is found in the process of learning. "We concentrate on growth, not final outcome," said Fahey. Competition and external rewards are refreshingly de-emphasized.
Special education: The special education program is a model for the city in this barrier-free building. Some 17 percent of students have special needs and most are in Collaborative Team Teaching classes taught by two teachers. The school also offers SETSS and two self-contained classes for every grade. Physically handicapped children use an adaptive physical education room filled with mats and equipment. In one ICT social studies class, experienced co-teachers spoke about the special challenges of 7th graders as a whole: keeping track of belongings; breaking down long-term assignments; understanding cause and effect. Their combined expertise seemed like it would benefit all students. About 95 percent of special education students participate in a Special Olympics.
Admissions: Interested parents should attend an open house in December or January. There are many more applicants than seats. Admission is through a complex lottery system designed to maintain racial balance. The lottery also ensures that children of differing abilities attend. (Lydie Raschka, December 2010)