PS 340, Sixth Avenue Elementary School
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New school in a brand-new building, focus on science
Too soon to tell, small playground
PS 340 Sixth Avenue is a promising new elementary school in a neighborhood already teeming with successful schools. Started in 2014 to ease overcrowding at nearby PS 41, the school occupies several floors of a modern building that was formerly the Foundling Hospital (now located around the corner). At the time of our visit, PS 340 was serving pre-k, kindergarten and 1st grade. By 2020, the school is set to occupy all six floors of the building and have three classes per grade from pre-k to 5th.
Principal Pat Carney has a clear vision as her school continues to grow. “We think children learn best when they are engaged in work they find challenging and interesting and relates to the world around them.” Kindergartners studying restaurants take field trips to several in the neighborhood and then create their own in the classroom. When a pre-kindergarten class became enthralled by a construction project on the building next door, teachers helped them track the building’s progress with photographs and stories, culminating in a field trip to the actual site and a tour by construction workers.
During our visit, students seemed happy and engaged in hands-on activities like building and drawing. Many classes have planters and small pets like fish and snails. One class hatched chicks in their room and then took a field trip to a farm. Lowe’s has donated soil for a rooftop garden that Carney says the students will plant and care for.
For math, teachers use a combination of TERC Investigations and Context for Learning, which emphasize deep understanding of mathematical concepts. For English language arts, Carney follows the Teacher’s College Reading and Writing workshop model, a curriculum that stresses revision and group work, “with fidelity.” As the school grows, Carney plans an interdisciplinary curriculum that integrates reading, writing, social studies and science together.
Before becoming principal of PS 340, Carney was a manager at Time Inc. and taught for 15 years at schools such as popular PS 234 in Tribeca. She believes in consistency across classes and gives teachers ample opportunity to collaborate. In addition to weekly check-ins across grades, teachers focus on literacy development once a month and meet with instructional coaches from the math think-tank Metamorphosis several times a year.
Parent involvement is high, but “structured,” Carney says. The young PTA has already funded a teacher training on social-emotional skills and a residency with the National Dance Institute; it also holds several family nights and fundraisers throughout the year. There are opportunities for parents to come into the classroom for activities every Friday, and to talk directly with the principal once a month at Coffee with Pat.
The school has two full-time music teachers, one for chorus and the other for music and movement. Students also have gym, dance and visual art. An after-school program is available until 6 pm, starting in pre-k.
Although the former hospital building is spotless and roomy, it does have its quirks: The gym is a former large conference room with low ceilings, and the gleaming white halls and floors have a sterile feel, which could be helped by more displays of student artwork or some colorful paint. Besides a small side terrace, there is no outdoor space, and as the children grow older, this will become a problem. Carney says she hopes that forging partnerships with nearby organizations such as the McBurney YMCA could offer a solution.
Special education: The school has ICT classrooms, SETSS and range of push-in and pull-out services such as occupational therapy and counseling. Students have physical therapy in a large room equipped with a trampoline, and other special equipment. A District 75 program has a wing on the 3rd floor.
Admissions: Neighborhood school. In recent years, PS 340 has had room for some students outside the zone. (Aimee Sabo, November 2015)Read more