P.S. 304 Casmir Pulaski School
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A Saturday program for parents and children; dedicated parent volunteers
A transient population makes it tough to teach kids to read
JULY 2010 UPDATE: PS 304 closed at the end of the 2007-2008 school year because of consistently poor performance. The school reopened in the fall of 2008 under the name Young Scholars' Academy for Discovery and Exploration. The building also houses Brighter Choice Community School.
MARCH 2004 REVIEW: PS 304 is a small, friendly neighborhood school in Bedford Stuyvesant, which enrolls not only kids who reside in the neighborhood but also those staying in one of four nearby shelters for victims of domestic violence. We saw two such families touring the school, seeking to enroll their children. The children are met and welcomed by an understanding office staff and administration and many times even after they have found permanent housing, the children choose to remain but the nature of their problems and transience, makes it challenging for the school to teach them and ensure that they keep up their attendance.
The day of our visit there were many teachers who were absent either at staff development workshops regarding the new curriculum, or just absent on an unseasonably snowy March day. Substitutes were likewise not available, so children were split up and placed into other classrooms for the day, always a tough situation. We didn't see much disruptive behavior, but it was also difficult for consistent lessons to be taught. In some classes, older students acted as assistants, and all available "specialty" teachers (such as science and art) were put into service, taking over whole classes for the day.
The science classroom was especially inviting and students praised the teacher, saying, in the words of one, that they got to do "lots of interesting stuff". We saw homemade biomes ecological communities of different environments, with kids growing grass, cacti and tropical plants. The music teacher did double duty in the library, watching over a school-wide book fair. We didn't meet the popular art teacher but we saw lots of evidence of his students' work in the "gallery" outside the 3rd-floor art room. Fifth graders studying Egypt created murals representing the pyramids, hieroglyphics and the sphinx. Walls in the hallways and classrooms were colorful.
The Columbia Readers and Writers curriculum, which encourages kids to read fiction rather than textbooks and to work in small groups, was in use in all the classrooms along with a heavy dose of phonics. The youngest students in a special education class we visited gleefully chanted letters and their corresponding sounds, before standing, stretching, and then joining their classmates to read books. All rooms had large rugs in the corner which were usually in use and most had rocking chairs. The school has received new furniture, mostly small, round tables where children can comfortably sit together for the sharing time so much a part of the curriculum.
Test scores remain quite low at PS 304, and therefore it is a school that parents are eligible to transfer out of under the mandates of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. About 20 families chose to do so in the 2003-04 school year, but an equal number chose to enroll. The school has classes in computer and job skills for parents. Parents get involved at 304 some 300 showed up for the March parent-teacher conferences. The parent coordinator - newly appointed at the time of our visit - visited the neighborhood shelters to impress upon parents the importance of getting involved in the school. Parents get prizes such as a flower for attending meetings. There are many parents who volunteer at the school daily, including the bilingual PTA president who stayed around the school to talk to parents in the morning, helping to translate and to let them know about a new after-school academic program sponsored by an organization called "Platform Learning."
After School: An academic program for all students is offered several times a week as are chess and dance. A Saturday academy is open to parents and students.
Special education: There are three "self-contained" special education classes for children with special needs only. One is for the lower grades, one for 3rd grade and another for 5th graders. (Pamela Wheaton, March 2004)Read more