P.S. 51 Elias Howe
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Tap-dancing, music, art and theater classes
Part-time physical education teacher
PS 51 has a joyful atmosphere, a strong focus on the arts, and an experienced staff that works together as a team. The administration manages to make parents of different races, income levels and nationalities feel welcome with events like family basketball games, movie nights and international potluck suppers. They also offer English classes for parents. The student body includes children whose parents work at the nearby Chinese consulate, as well as children who speak Arabic, Korean, Spanish or Bengali at home.
The seven-story building, opened in 2013, is unusually 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.
Children were happy and engaged in the classes we visited. Longtime principal Nancy Sing-Bock believes young children learn through exploration and play. Every pre-K-2 classroom has blocks in addition to books and objects for learning math. She received her masters degree in administration from Bank Street College and has visited Reggio Emilia, Italya mecca for teachers interested in cutting-edge ideas in education. Sing-Bock has brought some of those ideas to PS 51.
The younger grades pick two big themes each year such as architecture or transportation, and within these themes children explore their questions. One class became interested in blueprints brought in by an architect and so kids drew their own blueprints; another became fascinated by the pipes running below ground when they visited the 2nd Avenue subway construction. Older children may study topics such as the history of the Freedom Riders and the Civil Rights movement and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Kids said they like their twice-a-week science classes, where they get to dissolve M&M'S in water and vinegar, and learn about paper chromatography. The school has long uses the Engage NY math curriculum, a discovery approach emphasizing different ways to solve problems. It includes old-fashioned math drills, called "sprints."
But its the arts programming that really sets PS 51 apart. Teaching artists from Rosie's Theater Kids lead children in song and dance at the school, and everyone takes tap-dancing lessons at nearby Maravel Arts Center. Fifth graders attend Broadway shows like Matilda.During lunch and after school, a music teacher leads an Orff ensemble, recorder, drum, ukele/violin ensembles and chorus.An art teacher incorporates themes from academic units into childrens work; for example, children studying trees in science and social studies made drawings of trees.
Families are embraced at PS 51 and increasingly active. Every month they are invited to watch their children at work in school. This way the school has been able to educate and alleviate worries parents may have about unfamiliar-looking math homework or other aspects of the school's creative curriculum.
Sing-Bock and the staff have worked hard to build a community among parents and children of different backgrounds, by, for example, asking parents who speak different languages to serve as cultural ambassadors at PTA meetings and including both newcomers and old-timers on the School Leadership Team. Parents are invited to share their skills and knowledge with their childrens classmates: a bus driver talks about his work when children study transportation; a bus boy talks about his work when children study restaurants. The school offers parent workshops on topics such as how to deal with sibling rivalry.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: There are ICT (integrated co-teaching) classes on every grade level. English language learners are assisted in smaller groups as needed. Speech and occupational therapists work with children in their regular classrooms, rather than removing them from class. A separate District 75 program also shares the playground space and lunchroom with grades k-2. "We believe in mainstreaming and having all schools in the building work and collaborate together," said Sing-Bock.
ADMISSIONS: Neighborhood school. Out-of-zone children are sometimes admitted in the late summer or early fall. The school also houses a pre-k center, administered separately, whose seats are open to children regardless of where they live. (Clara Hemphill, October 2015; updated by phone, August 2016)Read more