The Rafael Hernandez Dual Language Magnet School (P.S./I.S. 218)
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Cheery and welcoming dual language school
Few seats available in the middle school
PS/MS 218 has a welcoming environment, from the security guard who greets everyone with a cheery “Good morning!” to the principal, Sergio Caceres, who exchanges high-fives and has breakfast with the students (and wears the same uniform they do). Classes are offered in both English and Spanish and children have homework in both languages, beginning in kindergarten.
As the children get older, they have more instruction in English and less in Spanish to better prepare them for state tests, given in English. Still, the school’s dual language program is designed to ensure that children become fluent readers, writers and speakers in both languages.
There is a climate of trust, and children aren’t afraid to ask adults for help, parents say. The adults at the school genuinely care for the kids, and teachers alert parents right away of any problems such as bullying. Students, many of them new immigrants, take pride in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance along with the school mottoe in English and Spanish each morning.
Parents appreciate using the school library, taking Zumba classes, and getting legal help from a school clinic that deals with immigration issues. Parents feel their culture is valued: for example, the school makes a point of selecting books that have characters that reflect the student population, which is overwhelmingly Latino.
Caceres says his pupils would benefit from more exposure to children who speak English at home. “We would love to offer the dual language to a larger community, especially black students,” he said. However, because of the school’s popularity, there are few spots for out-of-zone children.
Test scores are slightly below the citywide average, but the school does a good job helping the weakest readers improve by 8th grade, according to the city’s annual Quality Guide.
Seventh graders study algebra 1 and 8th graders take the Living Environment Regents. Caceres says students who are exposed to rigorous math and science are more confident in school, even if they don't pass the Regents exam.
On our visit, children in the middle school seemed at ease with one another and with their teachers. When the kids came across a difficult word, like “abolitionist,” they sounded it out without embarrassment. In 6th grade, students were reading Lunch Money, by Andrew Clements, out loud. In 7th grade, they took a “gallery walk,” to examine photos of the Civil War posted on classroom walls. In 8th grade, teens used a computer-based reading program that adapts to their level of skill. Middle school children are allowed to use their cellphones in the cafeteria during lunch, a sign of trust in the building.
A number of students live in shelters and the school offers practical help like giving out uniforms and book bags. It also has a psychologist on hand four times a week. The Morrisania Health Clinic offers help with issues ranging from domestic violence to nutrition. The school nurse helps children plant vegetables in the school garden and checks to make sure children who miss school because of illness catch up on their homework.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: Children with disabilities as well as children learning English are taught in dual language classes, just like everyone else in the school. After reading Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow, staff abandoned self-contained classes and integrated children with special needs into general education classes.
ADMISSIONS: Neighborhood school. There are a handful of seats open in the 6th grade. (Jacqueline Wayans, September 2017)