P.S. 316 Elijah Stroud
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Piano, violin and Shakespeare
Some teachers feel the strain of change
This neighborhood school offers an exhaustive list of extras including piano, dance, chess, computer coding, debate, yoga and gardening. Pre-kindergartners study violin. Fourth-graders write and produce a drama based on a Shakespeare play. Several big performances bring everyone together in the auditorium each year.
Three pre-kindergarten classes are equipped with blocks, dress-up corners, and hands-on math and science activities. A gifted and talented class opened in 2013 with kindergarten and will grow each year. There are small classes for bright kids with autism.
In this gentrifying Prospect Heights neighborhood, PS 316 serves mostly longtime local families, some of whom are the offspring of former students. Parents say they are happy their kids have a chance to shine in so many ways. "My son receives engaging lessons from the science, drama, art and music teachers," wrote parent Jennyfer Bagnal in an email. "It is wonderful that these classes begin in kindergarten and continue through all six years."
When Olga Maluf became principal in 2011, the school was struggling with autocratic teaching, raised teacher voices and kids sitting in the hall due to poor behavior. Parents voted with their feet by finding other schools but now they're coming back; enrollment and attendance is up. A former teacher, coach and liaison for city and state school improvement, Maluf quickly brought order, the arts and a knack for prioritizing budgets.The school's quality review went from "developing" to "well-developed" since her arrival.
In some ways PS 316 looks old-fashioned, with kids, in uniforms, walking in boy and girl lines, and banners proudly extolling the school's accomplishments. We saw workbooks open to the same page, which may mean some kids are not working at a level that's just right for them. But we also heard meaty conversations between teachers and kids, and saw teachers pause long enough to give kids time to formulate answers. Most teachers routinely defined big words.
Teachers have trained in a technique called VTS (visual thinking strategies), to learn better questioning techniques. The school is piloting C8 Activate, neurological brain training from Yale University. In this program children work on computers and in the gyma kind of "cross training"to strengthen areas such as attention, pattern recognition, memory and the ability to block out distractions. Maluf is a big believer in resiliency. "The harder you work the better you become," she said.
The music and science programs are particularly strong. The lower school science teacher surveys frogs in the wild in his spare time, bringing knowledge back to the kids. He has students conditioning their pet fish by shining a red light at feeding time. The science department has its own website.
There is a lot going on and some teachers multitask: The music teacher is also the basketball coach, and the science teacher is also a drama coach. The school is working to become an International Baccalaureate program, offering a rigorous course of study accepted internationally, which requires a lot of teacher input and training. Although the majority of the teachers are on board with the changes, some friction shows up on school surveys. Maluf said it's due to growth. "I didn't come in here and say we are changing everything at once," she said. "I had a five-year plan."
Bagnal said that staff members always make themselves accessible. "Never have I seen them dismiss or downplay the well-being of a child or parent," she said.
About half the students stay in the building to attend Elijah Stroud Middle School and the other half go to a variety of middle schools in the area.
There are two on-site after-school child care programs but nothing for pre-k yet. After-school clubs include music (violin, drums, keyboard), sports, gardening and chess.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: In addition to the NEST program for kids with autism, there are ICT team-taught classes that mix kids with special needs and those in general education in one room. Specialists for speech and other supports each have their own spacious classrooms in which to work with children.
ADMISSIONS: Neighborhood school.(Lydie Raschka, March 2015)Read more