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Nice pre-k; new building gives school a fresh start
School needs time to build its reputation
After years of neglect, PS 191 is beginning to get the attention and resources it needs. It moved into a dramatic new building with rooftop playgrounds, science labs and a large gym in the Riverside Center development (down the street from its old building) in September 2017. It got a new name too. It's now called The Riverside School for Makers and Artists. Lauren Keville, who became principal in 2014, has introduced new writing and math programs, fortified arts offerings, and brought order to a school that once had discipline problems.
The school has long served mostly low-income children, many of whom live in the nearby Amsterdam Houses public housing development. That may change soon: The attendance zone for PS 191 has been redrawn to include less low-income housing and more middle class housing--the result of a contentious rezoning of 11 schools on the Upper West Side designed to ease overcrowding at nearby PS 199 and foster racial and economic integration.
It's too soon to say whether more middle class parents will choose the school as a result of the rezoning. But current parents--both working and middle class--praise the warm atmosphere and the dedication of the teachers. The father of a 7th grade boy with special needs said his son had been ostracized at a charter school but was embraced at PS 191. A mother of a 5th grader who didn't feel welcome at her child's previous school said "I'm totally accepted by everyone here."
The school has a mix of experienced and new teachers and Keville has taken pains to ensure they work together. "The staff has become more collaborative, said 1st grade teacher Stacie Lorraine. On one of our visits, her pupils used iPads to create comic books based on their "personal narratives." In another class, 3rd graders watched a video designed to foster empathy and the ability to see another person's point of view--part of the school's socio-emotional curriculum geared at teaching children to resolve conflicts. Fifth graders grappled with the United Nations' Declaration of Human Rights and learned the difference between writing in the active and the passive voice. Pre-kindergartners played at sand tables and put together pattern blocks.
On another visit, children in the middle school grades wrestled with algebra, practiced scenes in a drama class, and made films in the media center. The school was orderly throughout.
Keville, who began her teaching career at PS 308 in Brooklyn and who taught at School of the Future and School for School for Global Leaders in Manhattan, has introduced the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, which encourages children to write even before they know how to read and to write multiple drafts of their work. The school has adopted the Investigations math curriculum, which encourages children to learn different ways to solve problems.
Keville hired a full-time social worker and three social work interns (in addition to the school's two full-time guidance counselors) to help children deal with emotional problems that may lead to discipline issues.
Many problems remain. Although the school has robust enrollment in pre-kindergarten--four classes in 2016-17--many parents transfer their children to other schools for kindergarten, which had only two classes with fewer than 20 children each at the time of our visit. Overall enrollment has declined, and Keville hasn't worked to recruit new parents by, for example visiting child care centers in the neighborhood. "My top priority is servicing the people who are here,"_ she said. Attendance is below average, chronic absenteeism is high. Staff are still adjusting to the new teaching techniques--such as the math curriculum. Nonetheless, the school has improved significantly in recent years and seems to be headed in the right direction.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: There are self-contained and ICT (integrated co-teaching) classes.
ADMISSIONS: Neighborhood school for elementary. For middle school admission, top priority to continuing 5th-graders, then children living in zone, and then throughout District 3. Effective September 2017, PS 191 has a gifted and talented program that starts in 3rd grade. The school conducts regular tours for prospective parents. (Clara Hemphill, November 2016; updated August 2017 with new building and name change)Read more