P.S. 54 Samuel C. Barnes
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STEM magnet program, lots of outdoor space for play and green projects
Population shrinking due to demographic shifts in neighborhood, low test scores
Students at PS 54 figure out how to make water filters, plant outdoor gardens and explore science in an inviting science lab and around the city as part of the schools Environmental Science, Technology & Community Wellness magnet grant. Fitness is also a focus at this small school, which has been cited by the city for its healthy school environment. Children enjoy playing in the indoor gym and planting trees in the expansive playgrounds outside the building.
Partnerships with community and environmental organizations bring in much-needed resources to this Bedford-Stuyvesant school where most students qualify for free lunch. Children go on trips with the Hudson River Stoop-Clearwater and to the Alley Pond Environmental Center, and Brooklyn Botanic Gardens where they learn to compost. Several classrooms have tanks with fish and turtles.
PS 54 students benefit from small classes; there are only about 20 students on average in each of two classrooms on every grade. The downside is that the school's population has been shrinking as the neighborhood changes. Many Hasidic families have moved into the neighborhood who don't send their children to public school. PS 54 uses both its magnet program and a Spanish dual language program to attract families from outside the zone.
Principal Anthony Pirro came to the school in 2015, replacing a longtime principal and bringing in fresh ideas. A scientist in his former career, he became somewhat of a data expert but decided he didn't like spending so much time in the lab. He changed careers and became an elementary school teacher in nearby District 16, then was assistant principal for eight years at PS 503 in District 20. His goal is to bring to PS 54 some of the same diversity and vibrant arts that are a hallmark in that school.
"I'd like this to become a microcosm of New York City diversity," he said.
He faces some challenges and a very different population at PS 54. In addition to low enrollment, student test scores are way below city average and, as a newcomer to the school, Pirro must convince longtime staffers of the need for change. He uses data—on the test scores and some safety concerns that predated his arrival—to bolster his case for the need to lift the rigor. "What we were doing wasn't working," he said.
Pirro is instituting a restorative discipline process which is more supportive than punitive of students who misbehave. He is actively seeking arts partners and working on building a strong home-school connection. Parents are invited to walk their children into the pre-k, kindergarten and 1st-grade classrooms now located on the first floor and stay for awhile. There are monthly coffees with him and publishing parties where students read their work. The school technology lab, gym and art room are open to family use every Tuesday afternoon.
In the classroom, staff developers from Teachers College Reading and Writing Project work with teachers. Children go on field trips related to their units of study: pre-k students tour the Fairway market and Green Meadows Farm; 2nd-graders studying the Earth go to the Museum of Natural History; 3rd-graders learn to compost at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden and 4th-graders devised a water catchment system for the schoolyard.
Children get a chance to shine during Friday enrichment clubs, based on the Joseph Renzulli models belief that everybody is good at something. Options include gardening, soccer, arts and more.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: About 18 percent of the students have IEPs (individual educational programs). There are ICT classes and SETSS.
ADMISSIONS: Neighborhood school. There are openings for students from outside the zone and the school offers tours. (Pamela Wheaton, December 2015)Read more