P.S. 120 Carlos Tapia
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Strong art program and pre-k
Test scores have a way to go, younger grades have recess indoors
Located just off noisy, industrial Flushing Avenue, PS 120 has long served students in the low-income neighborhoods of District 14. The school has high teacher retention rates and encourages school spirit with popular events like dress-as-your-favorite-teacher day. Friendly adults and an emphasis on tradition (pre-kindergartners greet the principal in unison), aim to give students the structure and confidence they need to succeed later in life.
Principal Liza Caraballo-Suarez grew up in the nearby Marcy Houses in Bedford-Stuyvesant. A self-proclaimed product of the DOE, Caraballo-Suarez works hard to give students opportunities to rise up like she did. On the day of our visit, 5th-graders were on a field trip to Long Island University. Caraballo-Suarez sees these college outings as an important part of childrens educational identity.
Although the schools magnet grant for social studies through the arts has expired, PS 120 remains dedicated to multiculturalism and has a robust arts program that helps fulfill that mission. A full-time art teacher works with each class once or twice a week in a designated art room. Each year the schools multicultural focus manifests in a school-wide artistic project such as this years planned festival of festivals, exploring the cultures of nations such as Poland, Mexico and the Philippines.
The schools longstanding pre-k program, which increased from three classes to five in 2014, is one of its strengths. Each class has up to 15 students with a full-time teacher and assistant, and pre-k students have their own renovated, protected playground. On our visit, kids in yellow and grey uniforms were preparing to have lunch provided by CookShop, a program of the NYC Food Bank that offers hands-on classes in nutrition with recipes the children help to make each week. These classes are then tied into lessons; for example a lesson about wheat in cooking might be followed by reading The Little Red Hen.
Seasoned pre-k teachers also listen to student interest, helping to make learning relevant and meaningful. For example, after one group of children became enthralled with dinosaurs, the school planned a trip to the American Museum of Natural History. But next years students had a different obsession: Japan. So the museum trip was scrapped in place of a trip to the Japan society and a unit on Japanese art.
In the upper grades, PS 120 faces many of the same hurdles as its peer schools, including low attendance and test scores. To foster reading and writing skills the school supplements its DOE-provided curriculum with a Teachers College writing program for more rigor.
A math consultant coaches new teachers and modifies the schools DOE-provided GoMath program as needed for pacing and accessibility. Students in several 4th-grade classrooms working on long division and essay-writing appeared focused and participated when asked. However, the innovation evident in the pre-k classrooms seemed mostly absent in the upper grades, where in classroom after classroom we saw teachers at the SMART Board while kids watched. An administrator countered that all classes incorporate group work as well.
The school has reduced student absenteeism through the work of an attendance committee and family outreach coordinator, although attendance remains a hurdle. In addition to calling home and providing incentives like a pizza party for kids with 100 percent attendance, the school has worked with Woodhull hospital to educate parents about managing asthmaa common ailment for kids in the neighborhood. Administrators have also arranged bus transportation for students living in shelters.
The school shares its large building with a small District 75 (PS368) program and a English as a second language program for adults. During recess older students spill out into the adjacent city-owned public playground, while younger children are encouraged to play in the gym and auditorium instead, an administrator said, where teachers set up games like hula hoops and jump rope. Students in k-5 get gym twice a week, and the gym teacher organizes intramural sports for 3rd- through 5th-graders during lunch.
PS 120 offers ELA and math tutoring and a fee-based Kid Orbit program after school. The school has no music program, but to pick up the slack, the principal has brought in a free, after-school program called Jazz Academy. Sixty-six kids work with musicians on guitar, saxophone, gongas, violin, keyboard and other instruments twice a week for 90 minutes.
Special education: PS 120 has three mixed grade self-contained classes each with twelve students and one special education teacher. There are no ICT classes, but older children will rotate between general education and self-contained classes throughout the day, depending on the subject. The school has its own part-time occupational, speech and physical therapists. A psychologist, social worker and family worker are shared with PS368.
Admissions: Neighborhood school. PS 120 received a magnet grant as the Multicultural School for Social Studies through the Arts. Although the grant has now expired students can still apply for the school through the magnet process. In reality however, very few students come to PS 120 through these channels. (Ella Colley, October 2014)Read more