P.S. 56 Lewis H. Latimer
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Ukelele, recorder, dance and healthy food
Enrollment is low; No free after school program
PS 56 is a nice-sized public school in a leafy area of Clinton Hill. Principal Eric Grande has brought fresh energy to the task of filling the seats at this under-enrolled school, by adding more arts, changing how reading and writing are taught, and sprucing up the building. He hopes to attract the young professionals rapidly moving into the 1880s row houses that border the school, while continuing to serve long-time homeowners and kids from the area’s housing developments.
Where there was once only one class per grade, PS 56 now offers three choices: general education, gifted and talented and the World Language Spanish program. (Reading, writing and math lessons will take place in English in the younger grades; the percentage of Spanish instruction will increase as kids get older.)
Parents wanted music so now kids study ukulele in grades K-2 and recorder in grades 3-5. They also take dance (ballroom, hip hop, tap), and art lessons in the Studio in a School program. The school has long had a reputation for its emphasis on healthy food, but now kids sample kale chips made in-house, and a recess coach organizes games. Teachers newly trained in the literacy approach developed at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, at Columbia University, are enthusiastic, Grande said.
The school still has a long ways to go in the areas of discipline, attendance and academic achievement but some parents are taking a chance. The gifted and talented program is so small it combines two grades: a kindergarten/1st grade class had 20 children at the time of our visit, and a 2nd/3rd grade class had just 15. Yet one teacher said she prefers the mix of ages because kids learn from each other, and the small size makes it easier to involve parents, she said.
Formerly assistant principal of PS 1 in the Bronx, Grande became principal of PS 56 in 2016. He invited New York Cares to clean out dumpsters-full of old stuff on the auditorium stage and to paint murals on the walls. He works closely with the principal of The Urban Assembly Unison School, which opened on an upper floor in 2012, to encourage his students to stay through middle school. In 2016, five PS 56 5th graders chose Unison for middle school; in 2017 it was a dozen. The schools have retained grants for a greenhouse in the courtyard in 2018 and upgrades to the playground and auditorium.
School tours are filled with families looking at the pre-kindergarten program but only about half stay for kindergarten, he said. They also look at G&T. More kids means more resources to serve them better. “Public relations," Grande said. "That’s my life. Trying to get kids into the building.”
Next he wants to find a way to offer a free after school program. Kids Orbit is fee-based and serves roughly 20-25 kids who participate in chess, dance and academic help. Grande said he knows it doesn’t meet the needs of all families.
The buildling also houses a District 75 program, P369 @ P351K, which is a cluster of four mixed-level classrooms through grade 5 for children with serious special needs, who join PS 56 students for some lessons.
ADMISSIONS: Neighborhood school. School admits children from outside the attendance zone and outside the district. Students take citywide assessments for entrance into the G&T program. (Lydie Raschka, November 2017)