P.S./I.S. 226 Alfred De B. Mason
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Lots of individual student attention in small groups
No art teacher in the early grades
PS/IS 226 is a massive neighborhood school, serving students from pre-kindergarten through the middle school grades. It sits squarely on an entire block along a leafy residential street in Bensonhurst. Children of Italian, Asian and Hispanic heritage, including new immigrants and many children with special needs, find common ground as they salute the flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance every morning.
While the school's essential character has remained the same over the years, teachers have made smart changes to keep up with demanding new Common Core standards, and enrollment continues to rise. The school has a large population of new immigrants learning English and teachers now instruct children with autism. Principal Sherry Tannenbaum makes sure teachers and kids get the support they need by promoting small group instruction, even though classes are large, and sending teachers to workshops to learn new skills.
A native of Brooklyn, Tannenbaum says, "I love this building because you have 4-year-olds to 14-year-olds." She was the assistant principal for the middle school grades before becoming the principal in 2008 and has worked as a special education teacher. An upbeat leader, she is regarded as a good manager on school surveys, and during a tour of the building she raved about her teaching staff. [Evan Klein became principal in 2016. He has served as an assistant principal at PS 91 and at Quest to Learn.]
The school has four half-day pre-kindergarten classrooms that serve in total more than 70 students. These classrooms appeared more skill-oriented than play-oriented and the principal said pre-k students are well-prepared for the next grade because of the high academic bar in the program. We saw pre-k classrooms packed with books, papers, small counters and shapes for learning numbers, art materials, and writing activities, plus Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations. One downside at the school is that there is no art teacher in pre-k through 5th grade.
Children are screened prior to kindergarten and the top 25 are placed in an advanced "excel" class, which then continues through the grades. All children in the lower grades learn the same material but in slightly different ways. On the day of our visit every 2nd-grade class was studying Charlotte's Web, a 4th-grade book. ESL students practiced reading aloud from the book using an expressive voice; excel kids used the dictionary to find words to describe a character; four new English speakers met in the hallway to work with a teacher on a chart comparing Charlotte's Web with an easy-to-read version of Little Red Hen.
Advanced 4th-graders participate in a reading program called LightSafe, described by Tannenbaum as a "Kindle on steroids." As they read along on iPads, children predict what concealed words mean by picking from four word choices. The teacher tracks their progress on her own iPad.
After 5th grade the school loses some students to Mark Twain School for the Gifted and Talented. For those who stay, there are plenty of options. High-achieving students may take high school-level science, math and Spanish classes; out of approximately 90 students, about 30 are in these advanced classes. There is also an advanced social studies course.
Middle school students have opportunities to learn a musical instrument, play in a band and participate in soccer, volleyball or basketball. Students in grades 5 through 8 may perform in an annual musical.
After 8th grade, about 10 students are accepted to the city's specialized high schools while others attend a variety of high schools in the district including Edward Murrow and Expeditionary Learning.
ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS: English language learners are mixed in classrooms with native English speakers. ESL (English as a second language) teachers work outside the classroom with small groups until those children can keep up with the English spoken in their regular classrooms. "Kids get so much [English-language instruction] in those younger grades that by 4th grade they don't need ESL services anymore," Tannenbaum said.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: The school has a wide-range of classroom settings and services for children with special needs on all grades. On our visit, children using wheelchairs or canes threaded their way calmly through busy hallways. In addition to general education classrooms, some kids learn in team-taught classes that mix children with special needs and their general education peers; others work in a small class only for children with more serious special needs. Most classes are led by two or more adults, which may include teaching assistants or student teachers.
ADMISSIONS: Neighborhood school. (Lydie Raschka, November 2014)Read more