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P.S. 161 Pedro Albizu Campos
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Safe, orderly school with plenty of arts
Low test scores and poor attendance
PS 161 is an orderly, plucky neighborhood school that, despite numerous challenges, maintains a well-rounded curriculum featuring performing arts, music, technology and a Spanish dual language program. Both children and staff seem happy to be here.
Teachers work hard to provide children with a safe environment and plenty of enrichment. Second-graders swim at PS 125 once a week. Students attend performances at City College of New York, adjacent to the school. CCNY instructors helped children put on their own production of The Lion King. Carnegie Hall worked with the school for five years to roll out a top-notch arts program that includes musical theater, string and chorus ensembles. Two instructors from The Lucy Moses School give violin lessons to children in grades 2 to 8. (Interested kids may continue with lessons after school once a week at Lucy Moses near Lincoln Center.) In 6th through 8th grades, children enjoy debate, chorus, LEGO engineering and numerous other electives.
Principal Price Haynes, who became principal in 2011 after 30 years as a teacher and assistant principal, has a no-nonsense demeanor, but also interacts with children in a tender way. She knows each child not just by name but by circumstance. She is well-respected by the staff.
The school serves a high needs population, including many English language learners and children with special needs. Around 95 percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunch. Some children have mental health issues, are in foster care or have unstable living arrangements.
Chronic absenteeism is high, and many families are new immigrants so children may go back and forth to their home country for long periods of time. There are children who had not consistently attended school in their home country, called Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFE). Children who have low literacy skills in their native language have more difficulty acquiring new skills in English.
"We are a family here so we take care of our own," says literacy coach Maddy Block. "If the kids need something on top of the curriculum, we will find it and give it to them."
Children have access to the library at 6:45 am each morning and can stay until 6 pm in the evening. "It's their home within the school especially when it gets stressful in class," said Peter Kornicker, director of development. A lot of kids need remedial work, but for those who are advanced there are programs in place. The Young Eisner Scholars (YES) and Harlem Education Activities Fund (HEAF) take kids into their program at 6th grade and stay with them all the way through to college, helping them get into great high schools along the way.
There is a great deal of effort put into building engagement with families--newsletters, a school website, family math night, parent workshops and overnight family trips every spring to destinations such as Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington, D.C.
In 6th grade, to ease the transition from elementary school to middle school, the kids have two teachers, one for math and science and one for humanities. In 7th and 8th grade they have a teacher for each core subject. A mentorship program with middle school teachers provides support for the transition to high school. Mentors meet four to five times with the entire 8th grade from September through the last week in November, take kids to the borough high school fair, have workshops with parents to guide them in how to read the large high school directory and help them to complete the application form.
Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) systems are school-wide with a set calendar of different themes each month that build on the schools culture such as community, friendship and safety.
There is an elementary and middle school after-school program, ExpandEd, run by Harlem Dowling. Rehearsals for debate, chorus, drama performance, sports teams and other activities keep the building open and provide a safe haven for students.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: The school has ICT (integrated-co-teaching) classes that mix students with special needs and their general eduation peers with two teachers. Smaller, self-contained classes are available for each grade level from k-8. Mental health services are provided on-site by Northside Center for Child Development. Services available in Spanish, English and Arabic languages.
ADMISSIONS: Neighborhood School. (Mahalia Watson, November 2015)Read more