Robert Fulton (P.S./M.S. 8)
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High-performing school in a high-income neighborhood; innovative partnerships, projects and math program
Overcrowding in elementary; middle school in shared building with metal detectors
Tucked away in a quiet corner of Brooklyn Heights, PS 8 has active parents, an imaginative curriculum and a special focus on social studies. It hums along like a well-serviced vehicle. MS 8, the middle school founded in 2012, is several blocks away on the fourth floor of the George Westinghouse campus at 105 Tech place (718 875-1021).
Thematic social studies units are at the heart of the curriculum at both sites. Second-graders create a "Box City" of restaurants, banks, a hotel and even an Irish pub from cardboard boxes, and learn about community, business and architecture in the process. Each "citizen" is given $100 per day to "live" in the city and must figure out how to pay taxes.
Fifth-graders learn to argue for a cause they believe in as part of Project Citizen, a program designed to encourage participation in government. One group was avidly seeking more physical education time—PS 8 students only get one gym period per week—citing research that shows too many children are obese.
Disappointed with the city math curriculum, the PTA purchased Bridges in Mathematics, the first public school in the city to adopt it. The program emphasizes manipulatives, such as counters, rulers and other tools to help kids visualize math.
The PTA has raised close to $1 million each year. (The day we visited was the eve of a golf tournament fundraiser). The money pays for teaching assistants and a long-standing collaboration with the Guggenheim Museum to bring teaching artists into the school and to take 3rd- and 4th-graders to the museum where they learn to become docents.
Classrooms are clean with well-defined centers. This lends a calm atmosphere even in the art room where soft music was playing. Missing is the clutter of hanging paper charts—the use of SMART Boards suffice, teachers said. Parents may bring their children right to their elementary classrooms.
Middle school students must pass through metal detectors to be consistent with the practice of the other schools in the high school building, said Principal Patricia Peterson, former assistant principal and math consultant at PS 8 who took the helm in 2017. Once inside, they sit in a designated section of the cafeteria before climbing to the fourth floor together.
Upstairs, MS 8 is bright, welcoming and filled with artistic student work, such as “identity maps,” peace signs and collages. The identity maps are a starting point for a study of American history. Our 8th grade tour guide got excited as he led a group of parents into a 7th grade social studies class. “Everything we did in this class was memorable,” he said, describing how it opened his eyes to the African slave trade, Native Americans, European settlers and their impact on “America as we know it.”
Several times a year, students do explorations, dropping all of their other studies for two weeks, to look into questions such as "What is courage?" They invite speakers and develop projects about courageous people such as Martin Luther King, Jr. All 8th graders take algebra and living environment Regents classes.
A downside of the small size is that it’s hard to offer much in the way of sports and music, Peterson said, but the art teacher helps kids prepare portfolios for arts high schools.
There is a free after school program at both sites, plus a fee-based program based on teacher’s passions like newspaper, jiu-jitsu and many other choices. The middle school building lacks an outdoor yard but teens have access to the full-size gymnasium and may go outside at lunch with a parent’s permission.
MS 8 graduates get into some of the top high schools in the city: In 2016, two students were accepted into Stuyvesant, and 10-12 into Millennium Brooklyn. Midwood and Murrow are other popular choices.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: There is at least one ICT (integrated co-teaching) class on every grade. PS 8 enrolls some severely disabled children, including some who are non-verbal and have one-on-one assistants.
ADMISSIONS: Zoned, neighborhood school. Despite a 2016 rezoning to alleviate overcrowding, PS 8 had a kindergarten wait list in 2017 and there is no longer room for pre-kindergarten classes. Continuing 5th graders get priority in admission to the middle school, as do zoned students, and there is space for other District 13 students as well. (Pamela Wheaton, PS 8, May 2016; Lydie Raschka, MS 8, November 2017)