P.S. 125 Ralph Bunche
Nice pre-kindergarten classes, small classes allow for individualized learning, swimming pool
Poor attendance, no licensed phys ed teacher, low enrollment means a limited budget
A tiny school with a sweet atmosphere, PS 125 shows how a multiracial group of parents can work together to improve their neighborhood school—even in a district with few good options.
"I remember parents would get together in the park and talk about 'Where do we go?'" said Tomoi Zeimer, whose child now attends PS 125. "Either it's a super-expensive private school or a really low-rated public school. We thought, 'Is there a way that we can go into a school and make it better?'"
PS 125 has long had a popular Pre-k, but many parents left for kindergarten. That's partly because the upper grades had a traditional approach to education, not the play-based or child-centered approach that many parents said they wanted. "There were so many parents looking for a progressive choice, but one didn't exist in the district," said Daiyu Suzuki, father of two PS 125 pupils.
Parents lobbied the principal and superintendent to adopt a less scripted approach to teaching. The principal, Reginald Higgins, agreed, and enlisted Julie Zuckerman, the principal of Castle Bridge School in Washington Heights, to serve as a mentor. Higgins worked with Borough of Manhattan Community College to help revise the curriculum and coach teachers.
Higgins plans to introduce the progressive techniques one grade at a time, beginning with the youngest children. His plan seems to be working: On our visit, the lower grades had excellent teachers, engaged kids, and beautifully equipped classrooms, and the upper grade teachers seemed excited by the prospect of change. Enrollment is increasing after a long decline.
Attendance is well below average and test scores have room for improvement. But our visits convinced us the school is moving in the right direction. "We haven't seen a final product yet," said Suzuki. "We're a community in the making."
SPECIAL EDUCATION: The school has both self-contained and ICT (integrated co-teaching) classes.
ADMISSIONS: Neighborhood school. (Mahalia Watson and Clara Hemphill, April 2015; updated August 2016)
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Manhattan NY 10027