P.S. 21 Crispus Attucks
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Neighborhood institution has served generations of African-Americans
Tight budget because of declining enrollments
PS 21 is a community institution in Bedford Stuyvesant that has long instilled pride in children’s African-American heritage. Once a week, the whole school sings “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” known as the Negro National Anthem. In an art class, children made collages about the Civil Rights movement. In a social studies class, students wrote reports about the contributions of African-American inventors. In a music class, they learned about the Harlem Renaissance.
PS 21 has classes for 3-year-olds, called 3K; a hydroponics lab where children grow plants in water; and an “engineering class” where children learn problem-solving skills. The day of our visit, children filled small boxes with dry pasta, attached them to homemade parachutes, then dropped them from a height to see if the pasta broke into pieces. They then modified the boxes to see if less pasta broke.
Principal Leslie Frazier, who has led the school since 2012, grew up in the neighborhood and attended PS 21 herself as a child. “We’re traditional in values,” she said. “How we teach children has shifted.”
Girls wear white shirts and burgundy plaid jumpers. Boys wear white shirts and burgundy plaid ties. The school has long encouraged community service and the culture of the school fosters respect for students, parents and teachers. Reading is taught with basal readers (textbooks with excerpts of stories) and lots of emphasis on phonics. At the same time, the school has introduced new teaching methods, such as “project-based learning” in the engineering classes.
A particular focus is helping male students develop leadership skills. A service group called Young Men of Character collects canned food for those in need and visits senior citizen centers. Of the school’s 45 teachers, five are male; there are also five male teaching assistants called paraprofessionals.
Like many schools in gentrifying neighborhoods, PS 21 has declining enrollments, from 706 in 2009 to 568 in 2019, even as the school has added three 3K classes and three pre-k classes. Frazier said she has been forced to cut back on field trips, including trips to historically black colleges, because shrinking enrollments mean shrinking budgets.
Special education: The school offers self-contained classes for special needs children only as well as team-taught classes with two teachers that mix general ed and special needs children.
Admissions: Neighborhood school. Tours are generally offered on Fridays; call the school to schedule. About 30 percent of the children are from out of district. (Clara Hemphill, October 2019)