P.S. 119 Amersfort
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A Haitian-Creole speaking counselor really connects with immigrant kids and their parents
Teachers need to be encouraged to experiment more
Children dressed in blue plaid jumpers, blue trousers, and yellow shirts begin the day by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and singing the Star Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful. The principal, speaking over the loudspeaker, then offers announcements and congratulates children for good behavior, such as lining up beautifully before class.
A traditional school in a well-kept, 100-year-old building, PS 119 serves many children whose parents are immigrants from the Caribbean, as well as families from Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Pakistan. A Haitian-Creole speaking guidance counselor helps parents and kids navigate the new culture. Teachers describe the parents as hard-working homeowners, many of whom work several jobs to support their families. "The children are very respectful. The parents are very supportive," said Lucille McLaughlin, the supervising school aide who gave me my tour.
PS 119 is a structured school. Rules are clearly posted in the classrooms and in the cafeteria. "Use bathrooms only with pass," a sign in the cafeteria says. "Freeze when you hear the whistle on the schoolyard." The names of children with perfect attendance are posted in the corridors, as are photos of children named as a "good citizen" of the month for being particularly kind, respectful, or honest.
"I think children love structure," said principal Lisa Fernandez, who grew up in the neighborhood and attended public schools nearby as a child. "I think they like to know what to do and what's expected of them."
Teachers say there is a sense of camaraderie and shared purpose, and the staff goes beyond the requirements of the teachers' labor contract to make the school function well. For example, teachers volunteer to supervise the lunchroom and schoolyard a rarity in New York City public schools since the contract relieved them of those duties.
Fernandez trained at Columbia University's Teachers College with Lucy Calkins, an expert in teaching writing, and is working with the staff to adopt her method of encouraging children to write multiple drafts of their papers before "publishing" them. PS 119 has begun to introduce the new citywide curriculum, which includes teaching children to read from works of literature rather than textbooks. Fernandez, while proud of her staff and the school's accomplishments, hopes to encourage them to "think outside the box" more.
Many teachers still favor tried-and-tried methods and the children seem to respond well. In one class, children did math the old-fashioned way, writing four-digit math problems on the blackboard. In another, children discussed European explorers of New York, and other figures from the age of exploration such as Christopher Columbus, Giovanni da Verrazano and Samuel de Champlain.
"It's quiet. There are not a lot of children out of the classroom," McLaughlin said as we toured nearly silent corridors. "If they are out of the classroom, they have to have a pass or be with a teacher. In the cafeteria, they don't get out of their seat without permission."
Special education: The school offers part-time services to children with mild special needs.
After school: The school offers music, art, dance, and chorus, as well as academic help. (Clara Hemphill, November 2004)Read more