John Ericsson Middle School (M.S. 126)
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Gardening, recycling, composting, chess, robotics
Academic achievement has a ways to go
On the eastern edge of McCarron Park, MS 126 is a small middle school with a focus on the environment. Students collect food scraps at lunch, which go into the solar-powered compost bin they built with La Casita Verde, a community garden in Williamsburg. They grow basil and Swiss chard on school grounds. A partnership with the U.S. Navy allows students to create their own land and underwater robots in an after school club.
The school has long struggled with discipline problems, but there has been improvement in culture and tone under the leadership of Maria Ortega, a Williamsburg native and former MS 126 student, who took the helm during the 2014-15 school year.
Test scores still have a ways to go, especially in math. Students arrive with low skills and roughly 25 leave mid-year, to go back to their home country, in some cases Yemen, or to attend a charter school in the area, a school staffer told us. Some students live in temporary housing.
MS 126 has lots of support including a psychologist in the building and other mental health providers. As a community school, it is able to offer adult education programs, and provide students with extra academic help twice a week until 4:30 pm. MS 126 uses the well-regarded Middle School Quality Initiative (MSQI) to boost reading, according to the Comprehensive Educational Plan (CEP).
John Ericsson, the school’s namesake, was a Swedish-born engineer and inventor who helped design a famous ironclad battleship, the USS Monitor, which was built and launched in Greenpoint in the midst of the Civil War. The Greenpoint Monitor Museum keeps this history alive by presenting workshops, in period uniforms, to MS 126 and other area students, in a classroom space inside the middle school building.
MS 126 welcomes parents. It offers an evening orientation in May for incoming 6th grade parents with translators, according to the CEP. Some staffers speak Polish or Spanish, two of the most common home languages, along with Arabic. Parents are welcome to visit classrooms.
The school has a full-time chess teacher and students take trips to Liberty Science Center and El Museo del Barrio. A green team monitors recycling efforts in the cafeteria, or may offer food tastings of arugula or pink coleslaw, a staffer said.
Special education: MS 126 offers self-contained classes as well as integrated co-teaching (ICT) classrooms in which students with special needs are mixed with students from the general population. ICT classes feature two teachers, one of whom is certified to teach special education.
Admissions: Open to students and residents of District 14. (Lydie Raschka, web reports and interview, April 2019)