P.S. 51 Elias Howe
Share this school
Strong arts programs
Chronic attendance a work-in-progress
PS 51 has an unusually rich arts program with full-time music, visual arts and dance teachers. The school manages to make parents of different ethnicities and income levels feel welcome by holding events such as family basketball games, movie nights and international potluck suppers.
The modern seven-story school building, opened in 2013, is bright and well-equipped, with two science labs, two outdoor play yards, two gyms, an art studio, a library, a music room and a health clinic. The school is expanding into the building's extra space, from two classrooms per grade to three.
Principal Stephanie Lukas took the helm in 2017. A native New Yorker and former assistant principal of PS 40, she has set out to strengthen and bring cohesion to academics and improve attendance.
Children were happy and engaged in the classes we visited. Pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students enjoy daily “choice time” in block building, dramatic play and more. First through 5th-graders participate in choice time once a week with a different focus for each grade: block building, LEGOS and puzzles in the younger grades; board games, arts and crafts and more in the upper grades.
The school uses the Teachers College Reading and Writing Program, which offers children choice in the topics they read. They write multiple drafts and learn to edit their own work. Interest in reading and writing has gone up, the principal said, even if it had not yet been reflected in state test scores at the time of our visit.
In math, each child makes use of a math “tool kit” containing small counters, dice and geometric shapes. Eureka Math builds strong “mental math,” Lukas said, the ability to visualize numbers and solve problems in your head.
Like the city as a whole, the school has begun to de-emphasize the school’s long thematic social studies units, like a long-standing one about the Hudson River here. Teachers still take children on field trips to local cultural spots including the Hudson River, museums and Broadway shows but now they follow social studies guidelines for each grade from the city, such as a study of the neighborhood in 2nd grade.
Younger students visit the science lab once a week and also study science in the classroom. Third through 5th grade classes get science lab twice a week. A new rooftop garden has become a focal point of the science curriculum.
However, the arts programming is what really sets PS 51 apart. The tidy music room is filled with intriguing instruments from around the world. In addition to learning to read music in classes, the music teacher leads an Orff ensemble, as well as recorder, drum, Ukulele/violin ensembles and chorus during and after school. The art teacher incorporates themes from academic units into student work in her bright top floor art studio, and we observed a patient dance teacher at work with young children.
Families are embraced at PS 51 and active in the life of the school. They lead prospective parent tours and help out in the garden. Parents who speak different languages—such as Arabic, Korean, Spanish or Bengali—serve as cultural ambassadors at PTA meetings; there is live translation for anyone who needs it. Parents share their skills, knowledge or customs: a bus driver may talk about his work during a study of transportation; another may educate kids about Ukrainian Christmas.
Attendance is a work-in-progress; almost one-third of the children miss at least a month of school. Some kids are absent because they travel to home countries far away or may be dealing with the struggles of living in temporary housing, among other factors, the principal said.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: There are ICT (integrated co-teaching) classes on every grade level that mix up to twelve children into general education classrooms. Speech and occupational therapists work with children in their regular classrooms, rather than removing them from class. A small cluster of classrooms that make up a separate District 75 program for children with severe disabilities shares playground space and the lunchroom with grades k-2.
ADMISSIONS: Neighborhood school. Out-of-zone children are sometimes admitted after the school year begins but it is rare. (Lydie Raschka, December 2019)