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PS 126 Jacob August Riis/Manhattan Academy of Technology
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Strong academics and a wide array of sports
PTA isn't as well-funded as some other District 2 schools
A sweet, engaging place, PS 126/Manhattan Academy of Technology (MAT) is a combined elementary and middle school with strong academics, an impressive sports program and a dynamic community spirit.
The elementary school serves neighborhood children from Chinatown and the Lower East Side, representing a range of races and ethnicities—including children from nearby housing projects and those from a homeless shelter that's just on the other side of the school's playground. It does a wonderful job teaching English to kids who speak Spanish or Chinese at home and works with two language consultants from CUNY. Kids were happy and well-behaved in every class we visited.
PS 126 is a place where teachers can perfect their craft, and in doing so they offer children of different backgrounds thoughtful, rigorous, progressive education. The level of teacher collaboration and planning is impressive. Reading, writing and science come together in an investigation of birds in 2nd grade, for example, and 5th-graders spend two months studying prairie ecosystems to support their Westward Expansion unit. The school uses Math in Focus, a Singapore-based math program, and a math consultant works with teachers, who also visit each other during math lessons to offer feedback.
The middle school, called MAT, is open to children from across District 2 and middle class parents from neighborhoods like Tribeca clamor for admission. Teachers' excitement for their students' progress is palpable and they do a good job giving extra help to the children who need it while offering a challenge to the top students, even though students aren't grouped by ability. For example, a strong reader may be assigned a complex book about World War II, while a struggling reader may be assigned an easy one—but all can take part in the same class discussion. Eighth-graders may take the algebra and Earth science Regents exams. Most classes have two teachers. Teachers may work with a small group of students, or even one-on-one.
In a middle school history class, teachers and students brought the Jazz Age to life by creating their very own speakeasy with costumes, readings from Langston Hughes and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and even a bar serving root beer. Students are encouraged to engage in the city around them, starting the year off with a study of their own neighborhood's gentrification. After studying the history of nearby Catherine Street (the area was first a boat slip and then a popular public market), students petitioned local officials and worked with the Parks Department to have plaques installed in spring of 2016. Kids have even started their own website, LESyounghistorians.com.
PS 126 prizes the arts and has two art teachers and two music teachers that serve all grades. The music program is very strong and kids seemed to clearly enjoy the change of pace. On the day of our visit, we saw a music student from NYU leading 8th-graders in a lively warm up, using their own bodies as percussion instruments to work on rhythm and beat. In 6th grade, children choose to major either in visual art or band.
The physical education teacher, John DeMatteo, has assembled 51 teams in 27 sports to create the largest middle school sports program in the country, including exotic sports like surfing and more traditional ones like soccer and basketball. The fitness room has exercise bikes attached to video games, making exercise fun even for kids who might otherwise prefer to be couch potatoes. Students are not cut from teams; instead, there is a range of levels for each sport and most middle schoolers participate. (DeMatteo also helped create the city's CHAMPS Middle School Sport and Fitness League and continues to oversee its management.)
The building, constructed in the 1970s, has wide, shiny corridors, clean white walls and doors trimmed in yellow, red, blue, lavender, green and purple. Large windows let in plenty of sunlight, and there are views of the Brooklyn Bridge just a few blocks away. A climbing wall (with fake rocks) on the back of the stage in the auditorium gives kids a fun way to build strength.
One possible downside: The PTA isn't as rich as at most District 2 schools, and cannot raise as much money for extras. Still, that hasn't stopped administration and teachers from securing an impressive array of programs and specialized equipment through grants and personal appeals to donors. In addition to a gazillion field trips, extras include chess and swimming.
In fall 2016, Carlos Romero took the helm at PS 126/MAT after having served as assistant principal of the middle school since 2004. He replaced seasoned administrator Jacqueline Getz, who called Romero's promotion "well-deserved." Getz is the founding principal of a District 2 Middle School called 75 Morton, which opened in 2017.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: The school has long served children with a range of special education needs. The school offers ICT (integrated co-teaching) classes with two teachers, one of whom is certified in special education.
ADMISSIONS: Zoned elementary school. Fifth-graders from PS 126 get first priority to the middle school, but students from anywhere in District 2 may apply. (Clara Hemphill, October 2012 & Aimee Sabo, June 2016)Read more