P.S. 344 AmPark Neighborhood School
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Creative projects and lessons
No auditorium and a small yard
On a quiet residential street in Kingsbridge, Bronx, AmPark Neighborhood School is a known for its commitment to the environment, social consciousness and the arts. The school wears its “progressive” label proudly and believes children learn best by “doing” and engaging in issues that matter to them—like hatching and raising trout to release into the Hudson River Watershed.
The tone is less formal than some schools. Students and teachers are on a first name basis. In the younger grades, play is key and teachers take great pains to protect children’s ability to explore sand tables, build with blocks and act out stories—even in the testing age. Photos on the website show children building with LEGO, dissecting an owl pellet, identifying and planting seeds, cooking, building cars of out of recycled small milk containers, and on neighborhood walks using clipboards for their notes, sketches and observations.
The school was started in 2006 as a joint effort between local parents and the Amalgamated Park Reservoir Cooperative Housing Project. AmPark is unzoned and kids hail from all over the Bronx.
Founding principal Elizabeth Lopez Towey (who departed in 2012) was also founder of the progressive Ella Baker School. The two principals who have followed at PS 344 have by all accounts maintained the school’s progressive approach.
The school promotes a nurturing tone. Children practice mindfulness, according to the Family Handbook, such as before entering the classroom or after recess. In class, kids check in on a “mood meter” to identify how they’re feeling.
Teachers strive to make lessons creative and to connect reading, writing and science.Kindergartners study how to “Look Closely” and record information like a scientist, according to the family handbook. PS 344 has an annual science fair. Fourth-graders may work on comic strips about solids, liquids and gasses. Every grade has a reading and writing unit that has a science connection, culminating in grade four with the unit called “Reading the Weather, Reading the World.”
While teachers and families are very happy with the school, city data and the Quality Review call for more academic rigor. The school has seen improvement in test scores since the adoption of Teachers College Reading and Writing Project in 2016. This approach aims to foster a love of reading and writing. Teachers supplement math instruction with math games and small group work. Fourth and 5th grades are departmentalized, meaning that teachers specialize in literacy/social studies or math/science, while students travel between classrooms for subjects, according to the Comprehensive Educational Plan (CEP).
The building, opened in 2011, is attached to neighborhood school PS/MS 95. It has large classrooms, a science lab, an art room, a music room and a library. Full-time music and full-time art teachers have designated rooms for each. A small side yard has a rock climbing wall, a brand-new jungle gym and cushioned flooring. Older kids walk one block to the spacious Van Cortlandt Park playground, weather permitting. A multipurpose room serves as the gymnasium.
ADMISSIONS: Unzoned. Priority as follows: children living in Van Cortlandt Village/Kingsbridge Community Heights area, others in District 10, then to others outside the district. (Lydie Raschka, web reports, July 2020)