P.S. 153 Helen Keller
Services for a range of students; experienced teachers; active parents.
No auditorium or gym; congestion is a problem in the mornings.
Located on the massive Truman campus in Co-Op City, PS 153 does a good job serving a diverse mix of students, including those in the district's gifted and talented program, neighborhood children and special education students. The school provides a structured environment where students wear uniforms and have hefty homework assignments.
Principal Veronica Goka took over in 2008 and has taught has far away as Ghana and Liberia, but also worked at a Lutheran school in Manhattan and at PS 89 in the Bronx. She shies away from the word "traditional" when describing her approach to education but does focus on rigorous academics and seems to run a tight ship. She said teachers give "quite a bit of homework" to all students, including kindergarteners. Students also receive assignments over school breaks and there is a focus on test prep for the state exams in grades three through five. In the classes we visited, pupils were working diligently and quietly.
Goka says her approach has improved test scores, as well as the school's overall Progress Report grade, and has made the school one of the top in District 11. We found some classrooms a bit sparse. For example, kindergarten classrooms had had only book bins and small rugs for group activities. There were no play areas or blocks.
However, most of the classrooms we visited had computers and Smart Boards, and students take non-academic classes such as ballet, theater and robotics. There is also a well-stocked, inviting library, an updated science lab and a computer room with rows of Macs.
Parent participation is encouraged and, when we visited, Goka estimated that about 50 percent of families were actively involved. There is a Parents' Association office in the school with office hours posted on the door and the parent coordinator seemed open and inviting, touting his Dads for Kids program, which encourages fathers to work on projects together with their children and each other. There is a "class parent" in every class to serve as a liaison and student assemblies, presentations and PA meetings are well-attended, according to the PA president. Parents generally give the school high marks on its Learning Environment Survey, which measures how readily parents can get involved, communication and parent satisfaction with their children's education.
The school has a confusing layout, spanning several floors, but artwork adorning the hallways keeps it inviting. Outside, however, PS 153 students have to contend with other students from the six schools on the Truman campus, including middle and high schoolers, and sometimes parents and students complain about things like smoking.
Middle school: Goka said about half of her graduates go to the neighborhood school, MS 80, and the rest go to independent or parochial schools or take advantage of the city's school choice program to enroll out of the area.
After school: A partnership with Montefiore Medical Center provides homework help, arts, and sports.
Special education: The school had approximately 120 special education students in 2012 and can accommodate a wide range of disabilities. There are inclusion classes in grades three through five and pull-out classes in every grade. There are few English language learners but those that are enrolled are integrated into general education classes. There is also a partnership with a District 75 school, located in the same building, and able-bodied and gifted students mingle with those who have special needs.
Admissions: The school has a district gifted and talented program for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. The special education program is open to any student in District 11. For general education, the school is zoned for Co-Op City. (Nikki Dowling, April 2012)
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Bronx NY 10475