P.S. 307 Luisa Pineiro Fuentes School of Science and Discovery
Lots of science helps new immigrants learn English
Cramped facilities, no playground
With two full-time science teachers, PS 307 offers a much richer science curriculum than most elementary schools. Children do experiments in class three times a week and go on regular trips to the American Museum of Natural History, the Bronx Botanic Garden, or Green Meadow Farm in Queens.
The school does a particularly good job teaching English to new immigrants, and teachers and administrators say science is the secret to their success. “Even if they are not English-speaking, they can do the experiments,” said science teacher Christine Dieckmann. “It helps them learn the language.”
Children may study the life cycle of butterflies, or learn about gravity by rolling marbles down ramps, or find out about heat transfer by warming pennies in their hands (and comparing them to cold pennies they haven’t touched). They make electrical circuits with wires and batteries, scratch different minerals to find out which is the hardest, and study live ants in housed in classroom ant farms.
Children pick up academic vocabulary by talking to one another about the experiments. For example, a child who doesn’t speak English may use a balance in class, and learn the word “balance” in the process.
“Having the experiments in groups helps a great deal, because they have conversations, they use vocabulary,” said assistant principal Debra Springsteen. A struggling reader may be withdrawn in most classes, but come alive in science. “A child who can’t read—you’ll see a different version of that child in science class,” she said.
Arthur Horan, who teaches science to the younger children, was a museum educator at the American Museum of Natural History. Dieckman, who teaches the older children, was a middle school science teacher.
Classroom teachers and science specialists work together to help make sure children learn to read well. “We’re not just teaching science, we’re teaching literacy,” said Principal Yolanda Valez. “It’s not just about experiments, it’s about reading non-fiction.”
PS 307 has solid programs in reading, social studies and math as well as science. While some schools have spelling bees, PS 307 has a “multiplication bee” to see how well children can do word problems quickly. A theater class teaches children different versions of the Cinderella story—Chinese, Mexican and American. There are some traditional touches: children recite the Pledge of Allegiance every day. They also learn ballroom dancing.
The school has better than average test scores, despite the fact that most child are poor enough to qualify for free lunch, the vast majority speak Spanish at home, and several dozen are homeless. Valez says attendance is better than average because she warns parents against taking their children to their home countries for extended vacations—a common practice among some immigrants.
“I come down on them pretty hard,” she says. “When you have a job, you don’t tell your boss you can’t come. It’s the same with school.” Sometimes if parents have to go, she helps arrange for the children to stay with another family and continue school. Office staffers call parents individually when kids miss school—and don’t use the automatic robo-calls that some schools employ.
Another reason the school is successful: most children start in pre-kindergarten, rather than kindergarten or first grade, as is common in many low-income neighborhoods where parents prefer to keep their children in full-day child care until school is obligatory.
Housed in a former synagogue, the building has cramped, windowless classrooms, narrow hallways and no playground. Instead of going out to play for recess, children watch videos in the cafeteria. Despite the limited facilities, the school is popular among parents and usually has a waiting list. The schools is named for the founding principal who died in March 2012.
Middle school choices include Eagle Academy, Jonas Bronck Academy and MS 244. Some children attend “Summer on the Hill,” a year-round enrichment program for disadvantaged youth at Horace Mann, a private school in Riverdale.
Special education: The school offers self-contained classes, team teaching, and special education teacher support services (SETSS). Rather than take children out of class, SETSS teachers offer extra help in children’s ordinary classroom.
Admissions: Neighborhood school. Register early. There is always a waiting list for kindergarten. In recent years, children who registered late were assigned to other schools in the neighborhood. There are occasionally open seats in the upper grades. (Clara Hemphill, December 2013)
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Bronx NY 10468