Mosaic Preparatory Academy
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Administration cultivates a positive environment for a high needs population.
A young teaching staff has its work cut out for it to improve low reading scores.
Mosaic Preparatory Academy, established in July 2008, replaces PS 101, which was closed due to weak academic performance. At Mosaic students are called scholars and are encouraged to believe that college is within their reach.
It's still too early to tell whether the administration will be able to raise a Phoenix from the ashes of the former school, but some progress has been made in academics, although standardized test scores remain low, and a character education program has made a big difference in behavior, according to administrators.
Building and Location: Mosaic is the zoned school for an East Harlem neighborhood that includes three large public housing complex. It is one of four schools in a monumental five-story brick building, next to the noisy elevated Metro-North train tracks. In 2009-2010, the 100-year-old building was shared with 8th graders from PS 101, The Harlem Success Academy 3, and a District 75 school. With separate entrances, lunch periods, and two gyms there is little interaction between the schools.
Principal Lisette Caesar established her school's identity by painting common areas in a calming palette of beige and maroon. All teachers or "professors" honor their alma maters by painting doors in the college colors and hanging the college pendant. A partnership with New York Cares and Jones New York provided an expansive new playground and patio as well as some warming touches to soften the institutional feel of the building. Mosaic also benefits from a beautiful and well-equipped Robin Hood Foundation Library.
School Environment and Culture: Caesar has focused on wiping out all traces of PS 101. "We needed to get rid of all reminders of that failure and build a positive setting for our scholars," says Caesar. Improving student behavior was also crucial. "I learned right away that we had to work on the way the children treated each other," she said.
The approach she uses comes from a storybook about buckets. Positive actions fill buckets and negative actions "dip" or take away from buckets. A gentle reminder from Caesar about bucket-filling has the immediate effect of quieting a loud scholar. Caesar and her staff run a tight ship to minimize rambunctiousness during classroom changes. Students are not allowed to linger and are constantly reminded to tie their shoes. The hallways and classrooms were mostly well-kept and a leaking water fountain was quickly addressed. Most students wore the school uniform and those who didn't were sternly warned to do better.
Teaching and Curriculum: Mosaic professors are young; 70 percent of them have less than three years in the classroom. "They need lots of professional development, but they don't mind putting in extra time and they are so tech. savvy," said Caesar.
Each classroom considers itself a college and features a bulletin board about that school. Each grade visits two local colleges a year.. Tech-savvy teachers used Smartboards and Palm Pilots to quickly analyze assessment data, so instruction and interventions can be tailored to a scholar's needs.
We saw a variety of teaching styles, from lectures and the teaching of cursive handwriting to 4th-graders, to center-based activities where small groups of students worked independently . In the upper grade science lab, the teacher was holding forth in a traditional lecturing style as he tried to get scholars to grasp the role of a plant's roots, a lesson that failed to capture student interest. Caesar noted the lack of equipment in the room and said she is actively seeking grant money to meet that need. In the lower science lab, there was a hands-on experiment in process. Considering that 20 youngsters were sorting sand, pebbles and gravel, the work was being carried out neatly and proficiently.
There are dual language classes, with instruction in English one day and Spanish the next. A dual language 1st grade teacher showed off a Spanish autumn-themed book she had written and illustrated because she couldn't find published material to meet her needs. Admission to the program is by parental choice.
The art program ties in well with academic subjects. To complement their social studies curriculum, an art exhibit featured drawings of Native Amerticans and models of cultural artifacts. Second-graders swim every week at Asphalt Green. Friday enrichment clubs include robotics, chess, newspaper, photography, puppet-making, and music recording.
Family Participation: For parents, Caesar offers weekday aerobics classes, and computer training sessions on Saturdays. ESL and healthy cooking workshops are also offered regularly. An active Parents Association raises funds to bring in counselors and to fund parent activities like scrapbooking.
Partnerships and Programs: Marymount students tutor students in math and science on Saturdays. New York Cares brings in volunteers and money to paint and refurbish the school. The Music and the Brain program paid for 30 keyboards for music classes. A Save the Music grant from VH1 funded a full set of band instruments..
Afterschool: An extended day program which includes small group instruction, enrichment, and tutoring is mandated for all students in grades 2, 3, 4, and 5. Children in grades 3, 4, and 5 go to tutoring on Monday, Wednesday and Friday; sports activities are offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Saturday there is a New York Cares Sports Academy for 1st and 2ndgraders; older students can attend five-hour tutoring sessions. Marymount College students work with first- and second-graders who are struggling..
Special Education: About 15% of students have individualized education plans (IEPs). There are several self-contained classes and one collaborative team teaching class.
English Language Learners: About 20% of the student body are English Language Learners. ESL teachers offer support both in and out of the classroom. (Sara Doar, November 2009