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Warm nurturing environment and lots of engaging activities
Many students are chronically absent
PS 340 is a friendly neighborhood school where teachers like to work, children feel supported and parents are welcome. School leaders and staff work hard to provide students with extras such as swimming instruction, ballroom dancing and activities during lunch, recess and after-school.
Principal Alexei Nichols, a former assistant principal at the school, took the helm in 2016 when its founding principal, Deirdre Burke, retired. Nichols gets high marks for leadership based on teachers’ responses to the annual NYC School Survey.
The tone throughout the school is calm and cheery. Children move around the classroom for various activities, rather than sit at desks for long stretches of time. Some teachers play soft music while children work quietly on a task. We observed one teacher playing a set of chimes when it was time for students to wrap up work and quiet down.
Teachers pay attention to students’ social-emotional needs. In many rooms we visited there were comfort corners, a spot where a child having a rough day can go to decompress by reading a book or holding a stuffed animal. Children in all grades read and write about the character trait of the month such as “respect” or “responsibility”. During lunch recess, coaches from Asphalt Green in Manhattan lead students in activities, which has a positive impact on students’ mood and behavior in the afternoon, according to Nichols.
Overall, test scores are below the citywide average, but the data shows that the school does a good job of helping students of all levels gain ground. In most classes we visited there were two or three adults working with individual or small groups of children. Book clubs, test prep and extra help are offered in the early morning and on Saturday.
Classroom instruction is a mix of teacher-directed lessons and individual work. Children sit together in groups at tables, but we didn’t observe any group work or discussions during our visit, though Nichols said students work on larger projects together.
Children read and write a lot each day. Classroom libraries are stocked with a nice range of books, including a lot of culturally representative and Spanish-language options. The school uses Columbia University's Teachers College Reading and Writing Program where students read books of interest in a range of topics and write and revise multiple drafts of work across many genres. We observed first-graders writing about a small moment in their lives. After struggling for a bit to come up with an idea, a boy opened his writing folder and found inspiration from a collage of images he created of things he liked to do.
Teachers also weave in structured lessons in phonics and reading. Math is taught using the EngageNY curriculum. Computer science instruction is offered in select grades and there are plans to expand it school-wide, according to Nichols.
The school faces some challenges. A lot of children are chronically absent, meaning they miss more than 18 days of school each year; nearly a third of students live in temporary housing. Staff members “adopt” chronically absent students by touching base with them during the school day and following up when they’re out. A dedicated STH (students in temporary housing) counselor works with students and their families at the school and through weekly visits to nearby shelters. The school also keeps a supply of clean clothing and personal hygiene products to give out to students.
In addition to visual arts instruction offered in each grade, 4th- and 5th-graders learn ballroom dancing. Partnerships with various organizations also provide instruction in film-making, architecture and Taiko drumming in select grades. Second-graders get swim instruction at a local YMCA.
There is a nice range of after-school activities including gaming, robotics, academic help and sports. Students may also participate in a range of activities such as tennis, swimming and racquetball at the nearby Apex athletic complex at Lehman College.
PS 340 is housed in its own building in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx. It is tucked away in between PS 86 and the Walton High School Educational Complex. A new wing to the school building, slated to open in 2021, will bring much needed common space including a library, “gymatorium” (combined gymnasium and auditorium), music and dance rooms, and pre-k classrooms.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: There are self-contained and ICT (integrated co-teaching) classes. For English language learners (ELL) there are transitional Spanish-English bilingual classes in the younger grades. In the older grades, there are ELL-concentrated classes that are taught in English.
ADMISSIONS: Neighborhood School. PS 340 typically has space for some students from outside its zone. (Laura Zingmond, October 2019)Read more