M.S. 250 West Side Collaborative Middle School
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Small school, small class size & field trips
Progressive approach may not work for everyone
A tiny middle school housed on the top floor of PS 75, West Side Collaborative believes in small class size and small group work. “Smaller means we get to know kids one-by-one, by name,” said parent coordinator Beatrice Rodriquez. “We nurture them.”
During a “science-immersion week” in May, students may dissect animals, examine DNA under a microscope, and launch homemade rockets in Central Park. Instead of attending regular classes, they visit green markets, the zoo, a planetarium or other science-related destinations.
Students create their own websites and build portfolios of their work. Instead of traditional parent-teacher conferences,teenstake the lead in discussing their progress with their parents. And students are not expected to be completely silent in class. “Discussions get heated because they are becoming independent, and they verbalize what they’re feeling in a passionate manner,” Rodriquez said.
Instead of textbooks, lessons draw from a variety of sources, for example, during a unit on the Holocaust, 8th graders saw a film and invited a Holocaust survivor in to speak. During a walking tour of Harlem, as part of a study of the Harlem Renaissance, students lunched at Sylvia’s Restaurant to taste its famous soul food.
While teachers are enthusiastic and uniformly recommend the school to parents, the progressive approach may not work for everyone. A Department of Education evaluation called the Quality Review said for some, the group work was too easy; for others, too hard.
Students with disabilities and English language learners in particular need “appropriate instructional supports,” the Comprehensive Educational Plan (CEP) says. Teachers observe each other and give each other feedback on lessons, to improve instruction, according to the CEP.
Teachers tutor students who need extra help during lunch, Rodriquez said. About three weeks before report cards go home, students receive a “draft” report card and, in the interim, with help from a coach, they have a chance to catch-up and possibly boost their grade.
Most students arrive in 6th grade with weak reading and math skills, and classes are frequently split into groups of four or six teens with extra adults to assist. For stronger students, the school has small honors classes in English and math, and Regents-level algebra and Living Environment classes.
West Side has a partnership with Wingspan Performing Arts. They work with students to write scripts, perform sketches and choreograph dance routines. Broadway stars visit the school and students get free tickets to shows.
Sixth-graders are not allowed to go off campus for lunch, but 7th and 8th graders may earn the privilege and about 80 percent do. Hands in 4 Youth runs a free after school program at the school.
Admissions: The school draws families from across the District 3, who often hear about it by word of mouth from happy alums. (Lydie Raschka, web reports and interview, April 2019)