P.S. 81 Robert J. Christen
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An emphasis on citizenship; beautiful campus
Nice array of arts but lacks music and art rooms
Housed in a stately 1925 Georgian structure in the northernmost corner of Riverdale, PS 81 has a safe and respectful tone, strong leadership and arts residencies throughout the grades.
The school works to create a cohesive and welcoming tone. Fifth graders serve as “big brothers” and “big sisters” to younger students. The parent coordinator hosts an evening of art making for families, among many other activities. When children stand to recite Shakespeare in one of the arts residencies, some speak with Russian, Dominican or Pakistani inflections, a fact this community celebrates.
Students enjoy dance, visual art, music, and drama classes. Fourth graders study American history through theater. The instructor dresses up as Henry Hudson and has kids taste jerky to envision the food sailors ate aboard ship. Each class writes a play: one takes on Henry Hudson; another the journey of the Mayflower. Theater gives kids learning to speak English a fun way to practice the language. “Some learn English so fast it blows my mind,” said parent coordinator Nina Velazquez.
Principal Anna Kirrane was assistant principal at PS 81 for nine years before taking the helm in October 2012. She arrives at 6:30 am each day to be available to anyone with concerns, and takes time to greet parents who drop by. Kirrane attended boarding school in Ireland as a girl, and is of Irish heritage; she urges all parents to "share your rich heritage with your child."
Many teachers have years of experience but the school also has a practice of hiring brand new teachers from a pool of student teachers who interned at PS 81, from Manhattan College, Fordham University, Lehman College and The College of Mount Saint Vincent.
Families may take advantage of many afterschool options in the neighborhood, and New Horizons runs a program at PS 81. Depending on the year, activities may include soccer, keyboarding, LEGO, dance, art and homework help. It’s a low-key way “to get your feet wet,” and try new things, Velasquez said.
After a year of getting to know children, teachers select 25 to 30 kindergartners for placement in the school's accelerated program, which begins in 1st grade. The make-up of the class is determined by reading levels, as well as "work ethic and ability to move forward," said Kirrane. Students usually work a grade ahead and a child must keep up with the work to remain in these classes.
There are no separate music, art or science rooms but there are two full-time arts teachers (visual art and music/drama), and the school has its own planetarium.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: Each grade features at least one ICT (integrated co-teaching) classroom, where students with special needs are taught alongside peers in general education. The school has four small "self-contained" classrooms for children with special needs only.
ADMISSIONS: Zoned, neighborhood school. (Lydie Raschka, web reports and interview, January 2020)