P.S. 176 Ovington
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Strong teaching and good use of technology
PS 176 The Ovington School buzzes with energy. The school is large and crowded at more than 1,000 students, but principal Elizabeth Culkin and her team manage to keep things orderly and cheerful. The school maintains a varied curriculum and a strong emphasis on small group work, even as children cram into classrooms originally intended for other purposes.
PS 186 has consistently been among the top scoring schools on the city's Progress Reports. In the Learning Environment Survey 96 percent of parents responding said they would recommend it to other families. The school is so popular in its rapidly changing Bensonhurst neighborhood that the Department of Education is discontinuing the gifted program there to make way for more children from the immediate area.
While some new parents were dismayed about the phase-out of the gifted program, Culkin thinks those familiar with PS 176 have confidence the school will be able to challenge their child, whatever his or her abilities.
On the day of our visit, the school was decorated for Thanksgiving, and preparation was underway for an upcoming holiday concert. The parent coordinator and the PTA had purchased pieces of the costumes—headbands, hats and T-shirts—for the performers. In the auditorium, younger children listened as older kids in string orchestra rehearsed. Upstairs partly painted scenery designed by the students hung outside the art room.
Technology plays a big part in the school, which has 1,000 iPods and laptops located on carts throughout the building. A 2nd-grade teacher told us she uses technology "for everything we can use it for," including demonstrating how sounds blend in reading or how a math problem is solved. We saw students looking at historical pictures on iPads and using laptops to tap into the Brooklyn Public Library system for researcher papers.
The classes we saw were packed. Some were so crowded that students had to leave their coats outside in the hallway. With an increasing number of Chinese and Spanish speaking students, Ovington provides English as a second language classes in grades k through 5. Vocabulary is key in all subjects for all students, as children read a range of books divided about equally between fiction and non-fiction. "Fiction is your humanity and your soul. It teaches what’s right and wrong,” said Culkin, who added that students transfer the skills they learn reading stories to their nonfiction assignments. Second-graders we saw were grouped by ability for reading, with some trying to master sounds while others were already reading texts.
PS 176 has long been strong in math, making use of manipulatives and pairing students by ability in groups that change from unit to unit over the course of the school year. An after school math program focuses on practical problems, such as planning trips and solving economic issues.
Students learn science beginning in kindergarten where we saw children drawing pictures of solids and liquids and tracking an ice cube as it melted. There are three specialized science teachers.
At a time when social studies gets short shrift at many schools, Ovington emphasizes history through a partnership with the New York Historical Society.
All the classes we saw featured small group work. In 4th-grade different social studies groups took on tasks related to their study of settlements. One group looked at maps of Plymouth and Jamestown, and from them tried to draw conclusion about conditions that might have confronted settlers in those communities. Fifth-graders worked on research papers, looking into how a specific event during America's westward expansion changed people's lives.
"They want the kid to really, really think," said a parent who has had three children at the school and been very active in the PTA. "They never teach to a test. It's about really getting kids to think and getting them to the next level."
After graduating from PS 176, many children go on to IS 187 Christa McAuliffe, IS 201 Dyker Heights and IS 239 Mark Twain Schools for the Gifted and Talented, which have good track records for getting their graduates into specialized high schools.
Admission: Neighborhood school. (Gail Robinson, December 2013)Read more