P.S. 154 The Windsor Terrace School
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Enrichment programs for all, field trips integrated into lessons
Growing class sizes, no gym
Nestled in quiet, family-friendly Windsor Terrace, among stately brick and limestone houses, PS 154 is a just-right neighborhood school according to local families. Not too big, not too small, this close-knit school community boasts strong academics, lots of field trips and constructive parent input. The downside is limited space and a budding waitlist for kindergarten.
Literacy is the bedrock here, supported not only in school but also at home. High-quality writing covers the walls in the form of "mini-books," reports, persuasive essays and poetry. Even the youngest use "voice" in their writing, just as they speak up boldly in class to offer their opinions. Well-thumbed books are stacked on children's tables and fill baskets on classroom shelves. When children read, it's an active process, as they mark passages related to a book's theme, or jot unknown words on sticky notes. Classroom libraries are filled with lots of advanced novels and nonfiction, more than we often see on school visits.
Parents are very involved, volunteering in classrooms and raising money for special programs. "There's such a feeling of community through the schoolit feels like a small town," said Parent Coordinator Debby Wattenbarger. Parent opinions matter; for instance, teachers scaled back 2nd-grade homework based on responses to a survey sent to students' homes.
Each grade participates in a special program, such as chess, capoeira (a dance-like martial art), hip-hop and ballroom dance, all of which are PTA-funded. Fourth-graders raise trout in the science lab and release them in Carmel, New York, a project started by Principal Eric Havlik when he was assistant principal. He learned about the program through his fly fishing hobby, he said. Many students work above grade level and these special activities help keep them engaged.
The parent coordinator said the school has gotten savvier about integrating enrichment activities into classroom studies. For example, when 3rd-graders study world cultures, they also explore dance in world cultures. Trips are also integrated into social studies units; when 2nd-graders study New York City they may study, and visit, the Brooklyn Bridge; when kindergartners take a look at communities they visit a firehouse. Fourth-graders travel to Philadelphia to see historic sites of the American Revolution. "I liked the Benjamin Franklin Museum and the printing shop best," a child said.
Fifth-graders move from class to class for math, reading, and a combined social studies/writing class, as students do in middle school. This is to help them get used to middle school structures (many go on to the much-larger MS 51), and also so teachers can focus on one subject in depth. "At first I was upset but I got used to it," said a 5th-grade girl who said she is most comfortable in her homeroom, where children gather for silent reading and to eat a snack. The writing teacher said she sometimes misses having her own class, and yet, "The writing seems stronger this way," she said.
There is no gymnasium but the gym teacher takes kids outside as often as possible and they also use the cafeteria. At least once a month, children in 2nd through 5th grade go to the Brooklyn Armory for physical activity.
Class sizes have grown steadily as the school and neighborhood have gained popularity. Five kindergarten classes were whittled to four and there is a waitlist. "Our building can't sustain that growth," said Havlik. "I want to keep our science lab," he said. "I'd love to have a gym."
SPECIAL EDUCATION: The number of students with IEPs is low, though the school does have SETSS, a full-time occupational therapist and ICT classes. The special education teacher said it can be challenging working with several teachers in the departmentalized 5th-grade model rather than working with one co-teacher. "We do our best to provide what we can," Havlik said, including adaptive gym, speech and other services.
ADMISSIONS: Zoned neighborhood school. (Lydie Raschka, June 2016; updated August 2016)Read more