P.S. 503 The School of Discovery
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Diverse and welcoming school with a rich, progressive curriculum
Crowded, no library, very late lunch
PS 503, The Discovery School, is a vibrant and welcoming school that serves a diverse community of students between Sunset Park and Bay Ridge in Brooklyn. English language learners, children with special needs, and general education students enjoy a lively, progressive curriculum and learn side by side with at least two teachers in many classrooms.
NinaDemos became principal in 2015, but she has worked at PS 503 since 2000as a teacher, learning specialist and assistant principal. She also grew up and lives in her schools zone.
Parent and community involvement is impressive, as is the schools eagerness to create a welcoming environment for its largely Hispanic and Chinese immigrant community.On our tour, more than 100 parents participated in a morning math workshop held in the auditorium. As an assistant principal explained elements of the schools math curriculum to parents in English, three people stood in the back speaking quietly into headsets, translating the talk into Spanish, Mandarin and Arabic. Throughout the school, even more parents were in classrooms that morning, joining their children for the monthly family day.
PS 503 is a big and growing school with 1,110 students in k-5, up from 750 in 2006. The principal said that one of her big challenges is making a big school feel small. Indeed, with almost 2,000 children in the building shared with PS 506, space and scheduling are very tight. Some students do not eat lunch until 1:20, near the end of the school day, and there is no library.
More than half the children at PS 503 are English language learners, and many more come from homes where English is not the dominant language. Demos acknowledges that this presents a challenge, particularly when parents are also not strongly literate in their first language. The school makes a strong effort to meet that challenge: Each classroom has two teachers for at least half the day, one of whom is certified to teach English as a second language. The school has 25 ESL certified teachers, and many more staff members, including Demos, are bilingual. Most instruction is in English, with the ESL teachers available to assist the students who are English language learners. The school makes an effort to challenge students who are English speakers as well as those who are learning English. The principal also encourages teachers to create highly visual classrooms so that all students have a variety of ways to access the curriculum.
The classrooms are dynamic, friendly places, with students moving about, asking questions, and collaborating with one another on projects. The bulletin boards display the products of a rich curriculum and of students who are producing thoughtful and complex work at different levels.
One particularly notable project was the work of a 5th-grade class on refugees. The students first studied the Syrian refugee crisis, learning about the conflict there, migration, and the fleeing of refugees. After a student volunteered that she is a refugee from Central America, the class, which is predominately Hispanic, began to study the refugee crises of 2012-2014, when many unaccompanied children crossed into the United States from Mexico. The 5th-graders thoughtful papers, maps and photographs were posted on a bulletin board outside the classroom.
Demos is concerned about the schools persistently low test scores and is considering a number of ways to bring them up without sacrificing the schools rich teaching style to test prep. Each student is closely tracked throughout the school year according to tailored goals and plans for their specific needs. The school is also improving how it communicates student performance levels, standards and progress with parents. Test scores are not reflective of whats going on here, Demos said. And, nearly all PS 503 graduates pass their middle school classes, according to the DOEs 2014-15 Quality Snapshot (PDF).After graduation, most students attend nearby JHS 220 Pershing,JHS 227 Shallow, and JHS 259 McKinley.
The school has a chess program that has won the nationals. There is also a cheerleading squad. The school and local community groups provide a variety of free after-school activities.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: There are four self-contained classrooms, and each grade has two classrooms with ICT (integrated co-teaching), where one of the two teachers is certified in special ed.
ADMISSIONS: Neighborhood school. (Elizabeth Daniel, November 2015)Read more