P.S. 69 Journey Prep School
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Nurturing school gets kids excited about learning
Classes spread across three buildings; no gym
With its striking, sun-drenched library and flourishing vegetable garden, PS 69 Journey Prep is an inviting place to go to school. Together teachers and the principal work hard to devise strategies to energize and engage students who live in one of the city's poorest neighborhoods.
At a time when many schools use scripted lesson plans, Principal Sheila Durant says she values spontaneity and leaves many decisions to her teachers, who pick and choose from various programs. Teachers work with two coaches -- one in math and one in reading -- and advise one another on what works in the classroom. In the lower grades, teachers can opt for aspects of the Reggio Emilia method, which seeks to harness children's curiosity to help them learn.
PS 69 developed a reputation for being a high-quality school in a tough neighborhood under the previous principal, Alan Cohen. Cohen retired in 2010 but the school's energy and commitment to its students has continued under Durant, who had been the assistant principal. It is a school where the custodian builds a bridge for students to use in science experiments and where two teachers spent the previous evening putting together an engaging video for the next day's class.
Writing is key, even for kindergartners. Students are expected to read independently by the end of kindergarten. Those who don't may be held back, although efforts are made to bring the child along without that. "If any child isnt learning, we need to do something different," Durant says. The school also provides extra math for high-performing students.
Children read a lot of nonfiction, with social studies incorporated into the reading program. Many lessons are interdisciplinary,
On the day we visited, PS 69 was marking National Kale Day. For 4th graders, this involved a trip to the school's garden with the science teacher to record their observations of kale plants (and to discover how, when dried, the vegetable turned into tasty kale chips). Younger children read books about vegetables and wore silly kale hats. One class whipped up a batch of kale juice.
Durant strives to bring a range of experiences to children who might otherwise not have them. A chef comes in once a week to work with students. There is an archery program, and an etiquette class for 5th graders culminates with a sit-down dinner in the library.
The school also has counselors and other staff to help students who may come from troubled homes. It offers peer mediation, where 5th graders try to help students resolve conflicts. Students are repeatedly reminded to be kind to one another. "I want them to be smart but I also want them to be good citizens, good people," Durant said.
Along with the garden, the heart of the school is its vibrantly colored, well-equipped library, created with the help of a $2 million donation from the Robin Hood Foundation. But the school facility has limitations. While grades 2 through 5 are in the main building, 1st grade occupies an annex, and pre-K and kindergarten are in colorful trailers on school grounds. The school does not have a gym so has set up a fitness room.
Special education: PS 69 has team teaching classes that mix general and special education students and two self-contained classes. Durant, a former special education teacher, says she tries to move children out of the self-contained classes, even if they require help from a paraprofessional in the more mainstream classrooms.
Admissions: Neighborhood school. (Gail Robinson, October 2013; updated by phone, August 2016)Read more