Jose de Diego Magnet School of Visual Arts and Sciences (P.S./M.S. 84)
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Dual language program, strong leadership and parent involvement
Middle school is a work in progress
There's a lot to like about PS 84. Once a struggling school with low enrollment, PS 84 has transformed into a popular neighborhood option thanks to strong leadership, a sought-after dual language program, lots of parent involvement and a rich curriculum. In 2014 it added a middle school.
The tone throughout the large building is sweet and cheery. Children walk calmly in the hallways and are well-behaved in class. We saw lots of writing, group work and creative projects across all subjects and didn't observe any difference in the quality or pace of instruction between dual language and other classes.
Principal Sereida Rodriguez-Guerra took the helm in the middle of the 2009-10 school year. A public school parent herself, Rodriguez-Guerra grew up in the area and proved adept at building consensus among the longtime, predominantly Hispanic residents and the more affluent newcomers to the schools Williamsburg neighborhood. For instance, during Hispanic Heritage Month, which occurs at the beginning of the school year, students learn about important contributions from the Hispanic community, but also work on projects about their own cultural heritage that they share with their classmates.
"In the beginning, I sat in on every school committee to make sure everyone felt welcomed," said Rodriguez-Guerra. That's changed. We have very active parents from all backgrounds and there are lots of ways to be involved. Parents fundraise to support enrichment activities, but they also help out with school tours and in the library; they happily show up for class and school-wide events such as the annual Halloween parade.
Children in all grades benefit from strong instruction. After what Rodriguez-Guerra described as a detour through Ready Gen, a Common Core English curriculum that lacks supports for English language learners, the school now draws from multiple resources for English and math. The school switched to the Teachers College Reading and Writing Program, which encourages students to read a large amount of books of their choosing and at their skill level as well as write and revise multiple drafts of work on a variety of topics. Teachers also draw from other curriculum to weave in explicit instruction in phonics, spelling and vocabulary.
The middle school is a work in process and Rodriguez-Guerra and the teachers are open to rethinking decisions as well as learning from other middle schools. PS 84 teachers are working with instructors from the Institute for Collaborative Education, a well-regarded portfolio assessment school in Manhattan, to incorporate more projects and presentations into the English curriculum. In response to a survey of its first group of 6th-graders, the school added elective classesrather than scheduling an entire class for an activity. Students can choose from classes such as art, robotics, technology, hip hop and band.
Middle school students wear uniforms of black bottoms and collared school shirts. Each year 5th-graders vote on the shirt color their grade will wear for all three years of middle school.
There are two dual language classes per grade in the elementary school, which allows for the Department of Education's preferred method of side-by-side classrooms with separate teachers for English and Spanish. Students spend a whole day immersed in one language in one room and then switch the next day. All other elementary school classes have Spanish instruction once or twice a week.
The middle school doesn't have a formal dual language program but all students learn Spanish. The goal is to phase in dual language instruction once the younger kids, who were in the dual language program since kindergarten, move on to middle school, according to Rodriguez-Guerra.
Art and science are not afterthoughts at this school. Students take art classes and teachers are adept at weaving art into lessons and projects across all subjects.
There are separate science rooms for grades pre-k to 2, 3-5 and the middle school. In 2015, the school opened a rooftop green house featuring state-of-the-art hydroponics equipment. Staffed by a full-time teacher, the green house functions as an additional science classroom, with students in all grades visiting for lessons, though students in the older grades will visit it more frequently. Early grade students grow fruits and vegetables in their dedicated science room, which has its own hydroponic equipment.
Special education: Every class that is not dual language follows the ICT model of two teachers (one certified in special education) serving a mix of general education and special needs students. There is also an ASD Nest Program for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). ASD children are in what the school calls micro ICT classes, which are smaller than typical classes and serve a mix of general education and ASD NEST students.
After school: The Greenpoint YMCA runs a free program on-site for elementary school children. Middle school students have their own after-school activities such as robotics, step, chorus, band and 3-D printing. There are also fee-based programs in the neighborhood, which will pick up PS 84 students and escort them to the off-site activities. Two teachers run a street hockey program at the school.
Admission: Zoned students only for grades k-5. The school typically has spots open for out-of-zone pre-k students because many zoned families opt for alternative pre-K options that offer extended day care. For grades 6-8, top priority goes to continuing 5th-graders, and then to District 14 students or residents who sign in at an admissions event. (Laura Zingmond, October 2015)Read more