P.S. 11 William T. Harris
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Successfully serves a wide-ranging population
Very small gym, building getting crowded
PS 11 knits together a wide-ranging population that includes children who live in the Fulton Houses public housing development and those growing up in Chelsea's lofts, condos and brownstones. The G&T (gifted and talented) program draws students from Battery Park City to the Upper East Side. Parents raise money to pay for specialists on every grade who work with struggling students and high-achievers, and help fund the arts.
The school has grown by more than 350 students since Principal Robert Bender arrived in 2005, and is now barely able to accommodate all the kindergartners in its zone. Bender has earned one (almost two) master's degree, taught in an elementary school, and run a theater company and a family restaurant. When he took the helm at PS 11 he found it to be starkly segregated, with mostly Black and Latino kids in general education classes, and White and Asian students in G&T. The division was "so glaring," he recalls. "We started with the arts and food to get families to talk to each other more."
The school has had unusual success in forging one big happy family. Now students with special needs, those in general education classes, and children in G&T mingle in a variety of ways. They perform in musicals together, go camping and travel to Washington D.C. On Thursday afternoon children join together and take part in fun classes they choose, such as ballet, photography, tap dancing or airplane-making. The ballroom dance team and the chess team mix children from different classes. The science teacher shares his passion for bird-watching in an after-school program open to all. Parents told us there is little academic or social division between children in G&T and those in the regular classes.
Parents turn out in large numbers to visit classrooms on Family Fridays, and attend an evening where they pick workshops of interest to them, and then the kids share a meal. Potluck dances, attended by 600-700 people, are held in September and June on the playground with a DJ.
The school has tried to balance academics with exploration and directed play in kindergarten and 1st-grade classes. Children choose topics, which they explore two or three times a week during a 50-minute period. For example, a small group of children explored space and made planets out of papier-mch; another group made a castle and dressed up as kings and queens.
The faculty receives regular training in literacy instruction and visits from a math coach. There is one reading specialist who works with struggling 1st-graders. On our previous visit the parent coordinator said graduates "are brighter and more prepared for middle school," due to increased consistency in instruction.
In place of report cards, portfolios are sent home with children's work samples, teacher and student reflections, goals and a variety of assessments.
The school has a big yard, a small yard, a rooftop play space and a dance room but no real gymtwo classrooms with a wall removed serve the purpose.
On cold days kids dance, play soccer, enjoy arts and crafts or watch a movie inside. Second- through 5th-graders have swim lessons in the pool once a week.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: ICT (integrated co-teaching) classes on every grade mix children with special needs and their general education peers. Kids with strong verbal skills are often placed in ICT classes as role models for children with verbal delays, the principal said.
ADMISSSIONS: Neighborhood school. Admission to G&T is according to Department of Education standards. Typically, the pre-k does not have enough room for all the children with older siblings at PS 11. Nearby PS 340 has a pre-k center with five classrooms.(Lydie Raschka, December 2015)Read more