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P.S. 42 Benjamin Altman
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Topnotch math scores; multi-generational community with experienced leadership
Building could use another renovation; narrow hallways & no elevator
PS 42 is a large, happy elementary school with impressive test scores and a sense of community that spans generations. The school sits on the border of Chinatown and the Lower East Side, surrounded by tenements, bodegas, art galleries and high-end boutiques and restaurants. Despite the changing neighborhood, PS 42 has strong roots - at least one teacher in every grade was a student at the school, said former Principal Rosa ODay-Casiello, who was at the school for more than two decades.
In 2014, O'Day-Casiello left the school to become a mentor principal and was succeeded by Assistant Principal May Wong Lee who was also a student at the school; she returned to teach and her own children are PS 42 grads. (watch a video of Lee talking about her time at PS 42.)
Its a very salient aspect of our school, the sense of it being a community school, said ODay. Its a very caring community. The appreciation is mutual. ODays office is decked with poems and artwork former students created in her honor.
PS 42 students have outstanding math scores, placing the school in the 98th percentile of high scoring schools citywide in 2012. Students perform well on English tests, as well, despite the fact that English is a second language for more than one-third of them. PS 42 students are high-achievers, says ODay, because the school enforces good all-around learning habits. If youre a good reader or mathematician, you have a fighting chance, on state tests, ODay explained. Class size is about 25 in the lower grades and 30 in 4th and 5th grade.Learning at PS 42 is often exploratory and open-ended and teaching has a progressive flavor.
Some collaborative projects are grade-wide, inter-disciplinary units of study. For a project about bridges, second graders in all five classes researched bridges of the world, explored bridge geometry and physics, created bridge-inspired 3-D art and paintings, heard architects speak about their jobs and went on fields trips to Battery Park to see bridges. Kids even wrote letters dated 1869 to Washington Roebling explaining why they would decline or accept a job offer to build the Brooklyn Bridge. First graders worked on similar projects with classroom pets, creating hamster, walking stick or frog habitats, writing books about their pets and studying the animals real life environments. Kindergartners studying the post office oversee an in-school mail system that includes mail sorting and letter delivery service.
Collaborative studies particularly help English language learners, who get to flex their language skills when they mingle with general education classes to work on projects together, ODay said. About a third of the students are recent arrivals from China and speak Mandarin at home. ODay said shes seen the ELL population change in her years at the school - when she arrived at PS 42 in the 1990s, most of the Chinese ELLs were native Cantonese speakers. The Spanish-speaking population has dropped significantly, ODay said, although the school still offers Spanish ESL classes.
Despite language barriers, PS 42 parents are very involved. On our visit, many were helping prep for 5th grade graduation ceremony, chatting in Mandarin with some of the office staff.
Students are exposed to a variety of arts and school walls burst with student artwork. Arts partnerships include Midori and Friends, Studio in the School and a collaboration with the Guggenheim that allows students to see their work hanging at the museum. Everyone learns to play the recorder by 2nd or 3rd grade -and 2nd graders get to swim at the nearby Chinatown YMCA. PS 42 has not just one but two full-time gym teachers, a rarity among elementary schools.
PS 42s building is more than a century old and was designed by Charles Snyder, an architect who built over 100 schools in New York City. Unfortunately, many of the original architectural details were covered up when the city remodeled the school in the 1960s. The remodeling job left irregularities in the building like inconsistent ceiling heights and narrow hallways. The building is arranged to accommodate these quirks, with the pre-k and kindergarten classes in the wing of the school that seems built for smaller people.
Special Education: The school has both self-contained and ICT classes.
English Language Learners: PS 42 offers a range of options for English language learners including self-contained ESL classes that mix Spanish or Chinese and English and bilingual Chinese classes for children who are just beginning to learn English.
Admission: Neighborhood school. (Anna Schneider, May 2013; updated November 2014)Read more