P.S. 69 Vincent D. Grippo School
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Arts-infused curriculum in well-organized school; bright, inviting building
Cramped quarters despite rezoning
Theres a lot to like at PS 69, a well-organized and joyful school on the border of Brooklyns expanding Chinatown. Its approach to teaching all studentsmany of whom are Chinese-speakingis through exploration of the arts. PS 69 was chosen as a showcase school of the arts in 2014, a demonstration school where teachers from around the city visit see how arts are infused into the curriculum.
Every child gets lessons in music and visual arts, thanks to a schedule that rotates every seven days. Some youngsters learn to play the violin, beginning in 1st grade; theres a band and a chorus for older students, theater with TADA and dance lessons. Teachers recognize the connection between language and music.
We pay special attention to music, said Jaynemarie Capetanakis, principal since 2006. Music is that pathway for English.
Visual art projects connect to the curriculum. Fifth-graders studying explorers of America in social studies learned about a different kind of exploration in art class: how the Terracotta warriors were discovered by farmers in China. The lesson was enriched by the art teachers summer in China as a Fullbright fellow.
More than half of the students are not fluent English speakers, yet the schools state standardized test scores are well above the city average. The principal credits the work of math and literacy coaches who regularly meet with grade teachers to go over lesson plans, help adapt curriculum and conduct regular teacher training. Teachers need a peer to turn to whos an expert in their area, said Capetanakis.
There is a consistency of instruction throughout the classrooms, with children learning the same vocabulary sounds, based on the Orton Gillingham method. Much learning is done actively with body movements mimicking text, and visual aids such as pictures to supplement verbal lessons.
Teachers have regular one-on-one meetings with children, and those who need extra help work in small groups with the reading intervention teacher.
The building is sparkling, with lots of nooks and crannies where parents, children and teachers can congregate for meetings or small group lessons. There is a full-size gymnasium and an auditorium that seats 300, but the new school quickly outgrew its zone. PS 69 has been rezoned at least three times since its founding in 2002 to ensure there is enough space to adequately educate the students.
The principal stood firm against dividing the library or doing away with the art studio to add another classroom, amenities she considers crucial to children, many of whom live in cramped conditions. Instead the city made the zone smaller and built two new schools, PS 310 and PS 971, just a few blocks away. Still the kindergarten has had a waiting list every year since 2005, and sometimes children from other grades are sent to an overflow school. The building enrolls some 860 students, instead of the 650 it was built to serve.
Class size is largeup to 32 in grades other than kindergarten, but the principal doesnt complain: We make the most of what we have so every room is just right.
Her positive tone carries throughout the school. Children are reminded to be kind to one another at the end of each days announcements. Acts of kindness are rewarded with a book and an invitation to breakfast with the principal for the child and his parents.
Classrooms are well-stocked with books, manipulatives and other learning materials. There is a block corner and puzzles in kindergarten but no time for free play, other than recess. Art and music are integral to the school day and built into the lessons.
For reading instruction, PS 69 uses the citys Ready Gen materials. We decide what skills and strategies to use and how to make it our own, said reading coach Dana Marinaro. We T-C-afy it, she said referring to the schools longtime affiliation with the Teachers College Reading and Writing curriculum.
The Brooklyn Chinese American Association offers an on-site after school program, and after-school academic enrichment begins in January. Twenty-two different groups come to pick up children for programs elsewhere.
ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS: The majority of the 58 percent of students considered to be English language learners speak Mandarin. There are a few transitional bilingual classes and a few self-contained ESL classes especially in the lower grades.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: There are two small classes for students with special needs only but many of those children spend at least part of the day in other classrooms, the principal said. Unlike many schools which offer ICT classrooms, PS 69 prefers that teachers work individually, or in small groups, with students with special needs, rather than in a larger classroom setting with two teachers. What we find is that children blossom with one-on-one instruction, said the principal.
ADMISSIONS: Zoned school. There is frequently a waitlist for kindergarten but all zoned children have the right to return in 1st grade, space allowing. Sometimes late-enrolling older students have to be sent to neighboring schools due to lack of space. There are no scheduled open houses or tours but zoned parents can request a visit to the school. (Pamela Wheaton, October 2015)Read more