P.S. 15 Roberto Clemente
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Tiny classes, computer science, lots of class trips
PS 15 on the Lower East Side is sweet, orderly school where children learn to work independently, to tackle projects based on their own interests, and to take responsibility for their own learning. Children come from as far away as the Bronx and the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens to take advantage of the tiny class size, computer science lessons, and fun activities like sewing.
The school serves a range of children well. Fifth graders in the “gifted and talented” class may write research papers on sophisticated topics such as the Trail of Tears, the forced migration of Native Americans in the 19th Century. There are arithmetic drills for children who need practice with math facts and lessons in coding for children interested in computer science.
New immigrants from China, the Dominican Republic and Bangladesh get thoughtful instruction in English from a full-time teacher of English as a Second Language. There is a full-time social worker and several social work interns to counsel children who may have suffered trauma, including homeless children.
Some schools have strict rules and harsh penalties for breaking them. But at PS 15, children learn self-regulation—the ability to monitor their emotions and to calm themselves down before they lose control.
Each classroom has a “quiet area.” A child who is feeling stressed out may excuse himself from class and sit quietly by himself for a few minutes, manipulating Play Dough or fingering a “fidget toy” to reduce stress. “It’s not a punishment,” said Assistant Principal Laura Salmon, who gave us our tour. Children decide for themselves when they need a break. They may set a 5-minute timer for themselves, then return to class.
The system seems to work remarkably well. In the classes we visited, children were happy and engaged, with smooth transitions from one activity to another.
“Kids craft their own goals with the teachers,” said Salmon, who gave us our tour. “We are trying to make sure the kids really have agency. There are things they have to learn, of course, but within that we really want them to be active learners.”
Under the leadership of Irene Sanchez, principal since 2010, PS 15 has seen attendance improve and standardized test scores skyrocket. Teachers and parents are enthusiastic about her leadership, according to school surveys. For her part, Sanchez credits good teaching by a dedicated staff for the improvements.
PS 15 is part of the city’s Computer Science for All initiative. Children learn computer coding; the binary system (using just zeros and ones, rather than digits 0 to 10); and “stop motion” animation. Even the gym teacher uses technology: Children improve their skills by watching instant-replay videos of themselves after swinging a baseball bat and test their heart rate with activity monitors.
There are frequent class trips to places such as the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park, Plumb Beach in Brooklyn (to learn about horseshoe crabs), and the Queens Hall of Science.
While the small class size is a plus—some of the gifted classes have fewer than 10 children—the tiny enrollment overall means the school’s budget is small. There is no budget for a librarian, for example.
About half the children enrolled live outside of District 1, Sanchez said. Many parents who work in the area enroll their children, taking advantage of free afterschool programs that run until 5:45 pm.
Special Education: There are team-teaching classes on every grade. The school seems to do an unusually good job offering special education services without stigmatizing children. The test scores for children with disabilities are well above the citywide average. PS 15 shares a building with a District 75 school for children with severe disabilities, but there is little interaction between the two schools.
Admissions: District 1 choice. Gifted exam for G&T program. Students come from the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens. Check the school’s website for tour dates, usually on Fridays at 9 am. (Clara Hemphill, June 2019)Read more