PS 414, Brooklyn Arbor School
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Organized, welcoming school with environmental focus; super-involved parents
New school is still growing into its ambitious mission
Not too "traditional" and not too "progressive," parents say that Brooklyn Arbor, PS 414, occupies a middle ground between a rigid "teach to the test" philosophy and an unstructured "let the kids decide everything" approach. Founded in 2012, as a replacement school for PS 19 which was phased out due to years of poor performance and declining admissions.
True to its name, there is a commitment to an eco-friendly environment and plenty of time is spent in play and exploration. The hand-picked young staff and parents alike say founding principal Eva Irizarry is a "visionary." "Children's well-being is top priority," one parent told us. A Spanish-speaking grandmother said every morning is her grandson's "best, greatest day!"
Beginning at 8 am the principal, assistant principal and parent coordinator welcome families outdoors. The "drop off" scene reflects the changing neighborhood: Hipster dads on bikes, moms in yoga pants, and Dominican families, all welcomed alike by Parent Coordinator Maria Molina, a Spanish-speaking Williamsburg native.
The tone is orderly and calm, much like Irizarry, a native of the Netherlands. Some student work is on display in classrooms but not enough to overload students. "This is purposeful," said Irizarry. "Everything should have a purpose and should be used: [there should be] natural light, shades up, not too much visual distraction and clean organized, labeled bins. It should be easy for kids to navigate."
A playroom is dedicated to unstructured play and visited daily by pre-k and kindergarten students and by appointment by other grades. "We feel it is important for kids to use imaginative play," said Irizarry. "Teachers do a lot of observation in this room."Students go out every day, even in inclement weather. Teachers, school aides and recess coaches from Asphalt Green organize games but mostly they facilitate children's play in the spacious school yard.
Dual language classes (one on each grade) are equally mixed with the mostly Dominican native-Spanish-speakers and English speakers; an enviable ratio that many schools can't achieve. Students are instructed in Spanish one day, English the next.
In an ambitious schedule, all students get "specials" once a week in art, wellness (healthy food), science, physical education and technology, as well as a weekly greening class, focused on environmental sustainability.After dismal results on 3rd grade exams in 2014, Irizarry made changes: She reduced class size by opening up an extra 4th grade class, asked teachers to provide more small group instruction and to share best practices. Fourth graders were reading "The Big Hike" - after a question "what is a hike" on the 3rd grade exam revealed that students were unfamiliar with the term. PS 414's first grade of test-takers were mostly children who came from PS 19, as that school was being closed, and were performing well below grade level, Irizarry said.
Parents are super active. They lead lessons on Family Fridays and pay for a music program with Turtle Bay Music School . In addition to monthly evening meetings, the ParentAssociation board meets on Friday mornings. Famlies frequently help chaperone the school's more than 200 yearly field trips. Parents and staff say communication is great. Every classroom has a weekly newsletter and each teacher has a school email account and uses text message apps to stay in touch with parents. Teachers told us the principal is very responsive to their needs and requests.
Special education: There is an Integrated Co-Teaching Class on every grade and two self-contained classes for students with special needs.
Admissions: Zoned school. Families may choose between PS 319, an early childhood school across the street, and PS 414. Students from PS 319 come to Brooklyn Arbor in 2nd grade. Students from outside the zone may apply through a magnet grant. In the first few years there were many openings for students from outside the small zone. Monthly Friday tours for prospective parents begin in November. (Pamela Wheaton, Ella Colley September 2014)