P.S. 34 Oliver H. Perry
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Robust arts and environmental programs
PS 34 is a small neighborhood school that honors its historic traditions, while keeping apace with the times. Children benefit from robust arts and environmental programs including dance, theater, music, visual arts and STEM taught in a lab with hydroponics equipment.
The neighborhood has long been home to working-class Polish and Spanish speaking immigrants. Increasingly, Greenpoint has gentrified, and PS 34 has successfully integrated the long-timers and newcomers, parents say. In 2015, PS 34 became the first school in New York City to offer a Polish-English dual language program.
While enrollment in the dual language program has skewed toward Polish speakers, principal Alain Buegoms said non-Polish speakers are on the rise, “for the exposure to another culture and language, and based on brain science research around [benefits of] dual language.”
Built in 1867, after the end of the Civil War and the assassination of President Lincoln, PS 34 is the longest continually running elementary school in New York City, It maintains patriotic traditions dating back to the 1940s, a time when Greenpoint saw an influx of new immigrants. At one time, these traditions were stressed as a way to Americanize new immigrants, said Beugoms, who took the helm in 2021, but the “modern iteration is really about diversity—a global celebration honoring nations and countries.” The school celebrates with dances, songs and readings by members of the community. It also marks Veterans Day in November, inviting veterans to speak to the children.
Students are given time to complete hands-on projects during school hours, said a parent. Her son researched African-American ophthalmologist and inventor Patricia Bath and made informational posters. Students may express what they know in a variety of ways, she said, such as in a diorama or by presenting an oral report. “Academics are important, but so is the social and emotional health of the kids,” she stressed.
All students take part in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) classes. They may study water samples from Newton Creek or visit the farmers market to purchase plants for the classroom. Children assess energy usage and waste in the building. They recycle and compost at lunch. A high point of the STEM program is the annual Eco Fashion Show, during which students wear outfits made of cast-off and recycled items.
Children study art weekly with an in-house visual art teacher. The Art Parade is a much-loved tradition for which children design a costume based on research of a famous artist. Children sample theater, dance and music through partnerships with outside organizations.
A potential downside is the lack of many hallways in the building. One must walk through one classroom to get to another. Surprisingly, the arrangement works, parents say. Teachers connect more and learn from each other in the closer quarters and children of different ages get to know and care about one another.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: The school offers SETSS (special education teacher support services), and ICT (integrated co-teaching) classes, where two teachers work with both special and general education students in one class, as well as related services such as speech, occupational therapy and more.
ADMISSIONS: Neighborhood school. The school occasionally has room for children from outside the zone. Let the parent coordinator know if you’re interested and on the waitlist. (Lydie Raschka, interviews, May 2021)