I.S. 281 Joseph B Cavallaro
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Focus on marine biology and oceanography
Teachers working to improve student discussion in class
IS 281 in Gravesend is a zoned neighborhood school with screened “talent” programs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) open to children from across District 21. It also has dual language programs in Mandarin and Spanish that admit children from across Brooklyn.
The school is part of Brooklyn Marine STEM Education Alliance (BMSEA), a group of more than 30 schools (elementary through high school) seeking to give students skills to support studies in marine biology and oceanography. These topics are especially relevant to a school like IS 281, located not far from the waterfront in Coney Island. The schools collaborate to raise trout, horseshoe crabs and oysters. They participate in coastal cleanups and the Underwater Robotics-US Navy Sea Perch Competition, according to the BMSEA website.
Academics at IS 281 work in harmony with this project by strengthening STEM skills in the talent programs: STEM Computer (APP Design, Computer Game Design, Programming); STEM Math (ASME Engineering, Geometer’s Sketchpad, Virtual Enterprise); and STEM Science (Lego Robotics, Hydroponics, 3-D Printing, Aeronautics).
The school also offers dance, music (vocal and instrumental) and art. The large, well-kept building has an attractive auditorium, high-quality science labs, a TV studio and a renovated dance studio.
Enrollment is up at IS 281 and the school has seen an improvement in instruction, culture and tone in recent years. Teachers visit other middle schools and visit each other’s classrooms to strengthen their practice.
One area that still needs work, according to the city’s report called the Quality Review, and NYC school surveys, is class discussions. Some teachers say students don’t build on each other’s ideas. The Quality Review says students don’t take ownership of discussions in most classrooms.
IS 281 shares a building with Coney Island Prep Charter Elementary School.
Admissions: Students may take the District 21 talent test or enter the school as zoned students. The dual language programs give priority to students who speak Spanish or Mandarin. (Lydie Raschka, web reports, May 2019)