PS 165 Robert E. Simon
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Field trips, gifted and talented program and dual language classes
Some children miss at least a month of school
Just a few blocks from Columbia University, PS 165 teaches the children of graduate students and university professors, long-time residents of the neighborhood and families from all over the world.
PS 165 is a zoned neighborhood school that also has a gifted program, starting in kindergarten, and dual language classes, where lessons are taught in English one day and Spanish the next. These classes are designed to mix native Spanish speakers and native English speakers. About two-thirds of the school’s population is Latino.
Parents praise the school’s balance of arts and academics, including guitar classes, a rare ceramics program with a working kiln, a hands-on STEM lab, and an approach to math that is a model for other schools.
“The education is consistent,” said parent Heather Hemphill, “strong math, reading and writing, music, chess, physical education, and even movement within the classroom. It’s a school where academics are challenging without stress. My kids love learning.”
The school won a grant to develop the "The Leader in Me" program for developing social and emotional learning, and takes student leadership seriously. Third graders led our tour and student greeters met us at the door of every classroom.
We saw busy, calm, engaged students as we passed through the building. In a dual language class, a teacher led a daily “number talks” session, in which kids brainstorm different strategies for solving math problems in their heads.
“Our kids were not talking about math the way they are talking about math now,” said math coach Annelly Rodas. Test scores have been rising in recent years, and children now score above the citywide average on state reading and math exams.
“I’ve seen the school change dramatically,” said 5th grade parent Larry Lee. “The development of the curriculum stands up to anything anyone else can offer.”
The pre-kindergarten teacher was particularly enthusiastic and welcoming. Children may learn about plants in the classroom, then dig and grow plants themselves outside in a garden. Children take frequent field trips to places such as the local fire station, a farmers’ market and the America Museum of Natural History. They study the stained glass windows at nearby St. John’s Cathedral as part of an art project. We saw them bundled up and happily playing outside on a very cold day.
Fewer than half the children who live in the school attendance zone attend PS 165; the rest go to charters schools and other schools of choice. However, enrollment is inching up as the school balances expectations from families with different views on the best way to educate children. “We try to work on how to marry the traditional with the progressive” approaches to education, said principal Aracelis Castellano-Folk.
In other areas too the school seeks balance. It has a robust recycling program and sets up a self-serve water dispenser in the cafeteria but also serves chocolate milk once a week.
The school accepts students in upper grades as well as pre-k and kindergarten. A couple gifted and talented classes we saw were tiny, with just ten students.
Chronic absenteeism is a challenge; some children miss at least a month of school due to weather, travel or health issues like asthma. The school follows up with calls and incentives.
Built in 1898, PS 165 features soaring ceilings, ample natural light, two indoor gyms and two outdoor playgrounds as well as meandering narrow halls, a too-small cafeteria, and other architectural quirks. It shares a building with Mott Hall II middle school. The schools have separate entrances.
Admissions: Neighborhood school. District 3 children may apply to the gifted program or to the dual-language program. (Lydie Raschka, January 2019)