P.S. 32 Samuel Mills Sprole
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Growing gifted program and extraordinary special education
Space constraints and no general education classes
Long known for its innovative approach to special education, PS 32 is an attractive option for children with a range of abilities, including those in the gifted program that was launched in 2011. Enrollment has grown by more than 150 students in the past decade, a sign of the school's popularity in both the neighborhood and the district as a whole.
The school was a pioneer in teaching high-functioning children on the autism spectrum, placing them in very small classesfewer than 16 childrenwith typically developing children and two teachers, one of whom is certified in special education. This program, called ASD NEST has become a model for the city and teachers from other schools visit to learn about it.
Teachers have discovered that many of the techniques that help children with autism who are high-performing academically but have difficulty socially, can help other children as well. Every class, except for those in the "gifted" program, has two teachers and a mix of children in general education and those with special needs.
All children at PS 32 get "life skills" classes where they learn how to navigate social situations. Each class has a "break area," a comfy corner where a child may take a minute to calm himself without leaving the room or being punished with a "time out." There are bins of "fidgets," little hand-held items that children can fiddle with, noise-cancelling headphones, and comfy cushions and bouncy balls for students to sit on.
Teachersmany of whom helped shepherd in the ASD Nest program a decade agofind ways to reinforce good behavior: Instead of getting in trouble for hitting, a 4-year-old who loves pirates is given a gold coin whenever he goes 15 minutes without putting his hands on another child.
"It's all about self-regulation," one teacher said.
In addition to ASD-NEST classes and gifted classes, the school has team-teaching classes that mix general education and children with special needs, but no classes for just general education children. Principal Denise Watson-Adin says she would like to add general education classes as the school grows. "It's a little hard to have needs met when there is such a wide range in the class," she said. "You can only do so much because you have such a wide span."
Watson-Adin, former assistant principal and 5th-grade G&T teacher at PS 10, became principal in 2015. She is greeted by hugs and hellos from children in the hallways; she welcomes parents with evening "fireside chats" and monthly First Fridays, where parents may come for coffee after morning drop-off.
"Trust is a big piece of being family friendly," she says. "You need to know what's going on."
Fundraising events build community, such as a masquerade dance, a spring fling and an auction. Parents volunteer, including one grandmother who is in the attractive library almost daily. "Farmer Fred" comes to the school twice a week to work with kids in the garden, funded by the PTA.
Parent Coordinator Angela Bowie, who has been at the school since 2003, said that many more zoned parents are choosing to come to PS 32 than previously, attracted by the increasingly family-friendly environment and improved academics. "We were a diamond in the rough and now we're being polished," she said.
The building is shared with a middle school, MS 442, but, in a big shift, slated for 2019, that school will move out as PS 32 expands, building an addition. That means that the rather cramped portable buildings in the school yard, housing lower grade classrooms will disappear, although the new building might encroach on the spacious play yard.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: Every classroom with the exception of G&T, has students with an IEP. All have at least two teachers and sometimes numerous para-professionals.
AFTER SCHOOL: The PTA runs a paid after-school program from 2:40 to 5:15 pm; Good Shepherd Services has a free program open to everyone until 6 pm.
ADMISSIONS: Neighborhood school. G&T students are admitted based on a citywide test administered by the Department of Education. The DOE places NEST students in the school after a series of interviews and assessments. (Pamela Wheaton, February and March 2016)Read more