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P.S. 25 Bilingual School
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Energetic prinicipal at the city's first bilingual school; a special focus on science
Still working to bring up achievement for English language learners
The first Spanish and English bilingual school in the city, PS 25 uses hands-on science lessons to teach children English. Children learn English vocabulary and science concepts in the school's Exploration Center, which has bearded dragons, turtles, fish, a mini-greenhouse and artifacts from around the world.
Principal Carmen Toledo took the helm in 2008 and quickly brought order and consistency to a school which had poor attendance and no coherent philosophy of instruction. In the past, many teachers gave Spanish lessons without a clear vision of how to also teach children in English.
Parents may now choose English-only classes, transitional bilingual (in which children gradually move from Spanish to English-only lessons) or dual language classes (in which they learn to be fluent in both English and Spanish.) Children who have been in a bilingual class without making adequate progress in English receive instruction from a licensed English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher, who offers lessons in English only.
Despite better attendance and achievement, Toledo acknowledges that she and her teachers have more work to do: “We’re still low in terms of meeting state standards,” she said. “We’re the highest percent in this community, but we’re still all in the bottom. It’s devastating but it’s an eye opener: we all have our work cut out for us.”
What gives her hope is the way her teachers are motivated to “do their own learning.” They know, for example, that a big challenge they face is to encourage English language learners to speak up more in class, to improve their writing, to ask questions and to build their vocabulary.
To achieve this, teachers provide language lessons through the lens of science and social studies. Kids take field trips to the botanical gardens, the American Museum of Natural History, the Bronx Zoo and the Sony Wonder Technology Lab. They read nonfiction books and science magazines. Not content to show children pictures of the natural world on Smartboards and in textbooks (although they do that too), teachers bring in live specimens. While some lessons are dry - gluing pre-cut leaves onto pre-cut trees in kindergarten to learn about the seasons - others come, literally, to life, like a project in which kids took cuttings and seeds to propagate spider plants.
Every week students visit the Exploration Center on the first floor, a neatly organized room packed with insects, rocks and minerals, skulls, shells, plants and more. Jackie Garcia, an ESL teacher who serves more like a science guru for the whole school, helped set-up the center with other staff, based on Toledo’s dream “to push learning to the next level.” Although the center looks like a museum, it’s very hands-on, and Garcia said she doesn’t like to label everything because she wants children to “think and ask.”
Technology is equally important for English language learners according to Toledo and so she has attempted to extend the benefits of a technology grant, that has since ended, by hiring one of the grant’s trainers to serve as the school’s multi-media teacher. On the day of our visit he was using words like “browser” and “Google Chrome” to orient second graders to the computers.
PS 74 uses the Go Math books recommended by the city and teachers also use elements of Everyday Math, which they used for many years. A math coach visits once a week, and there is a standalone writing teacher for grades 2-5.
Admissions: Children zoned for PS 161 or PS 25 may choose either school. Parents living in District 7 who prefer bilingual education for their children may choose PS 25. (Lydie Raschka, September 2013).