P.S. 51 Bronx New School
Warm school; fosters independent, active students
School may seem too informal for some
Founded in 1988 by District 10 parents, Bronx New School continues to provide a progressive, lively program for students. While some classes can be boisterous, children are relaxed and happily immersed in interesting projects.
It’s an informal place: Children call teachers by their first names and no uniforms are required. Children are unusually articulate and speak freely with adults. On our visit, 3rd and 4th graders explained to us in detail their research on different kinds of sharks—describing how, for example, hammerheads attack their prey by swinging their heads from side to side and generating electric shocks. In one class, children discussed whether zoos are good for animals. In a theater class, they discussed the difference between being yourself and acting.
"Our children talk a lot. We foster that," says principal Paul Smith. This, along with a light approach to discipline, can make the school seems a bit disorganized. For example, in one class we visited, 1st graders took an unusually long time to settle down on the rug to hear their teacher tell a story. But the school is proud that it encourages children to work independently, to collaborate and to think critically, making mistakes along the way. The school has a warm staff with more male teachers than is typical in an elementary school.
The school underwent some wrenching changes in the summer 2011, when a toxic chemical was discovered at its old site on Jerome Avenue. The discovery caused anxiety among parents and staff and forced the school to relocate to a former Catholic school building about two miles away at the other end of the district. Although busing was provided, some families decided not to make the move. At the new location, there are more English Language Learners than there were at the old location.
The new building was still undergoing repairs at the time of our visit, but when the renovation is complete it will have many amenities the old building lacked, including a gym.
The school provides no designated test preparation during the regular school day, but offers a Saturday Academy for about six week that most students attend. "A strong curriculum will lead to strong testing," Smith says. "We don’t want children to be stressed out about tests.
Parents must sign a contract promising to be involved. The school requires every parent to sign a contract. "You can't just drop them off and leave but have to continually support the child's work," says assistant principal Min Hong. Participation, though, has waned since the school moved.
Special education: Most students are provided with special ed services in their regular classrooms though there is some team teaching.
Admissions: Bronx New School is open to students from anywhere in District 10. Students are selected by lottery. (Gail Robinson, February 2013)