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Strong literacy program
Classroom technology is limited, space is tight
In the heart of Brooklyn, the neighborhood of Kensington draws new immigrants from Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Haiti, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, the Darfur region of Sudan, Poland, Russia and many other places. PS 134 welcomes them all; more than one-quarter of its student population is learning English. It has a strong literacy program and excels at helping struggling readers and writers improve. Teachers are experienced and tend to stay at the school for many years.
It's a challenge to meet the needs of so many new English speakers, said principal Debra Ramsaran, adding, "some older children have never been in school before." Yet the education department said the school is "well developed," in all areas, the highest rating a school can receive on their 2014-2015 Quality Review. A literacy specialist, Ramsaran became principal in February 2008 after serving as assistant principal for six years. "She runs a tight ship," said a new teacher, admiringly.
The school has a calm tone and many classrooms have a homey atmosphere, with curtains, plants, rugs and books. Children wear uniforms and are notably courteous to one another. When we stopped by classrooms, they were generally quiet and orderly, and we sometimes had trouble picking out the teacher because he or she was sitting alongside students at tables or on the rug.
In addition to help from two literacy coaches on staff, who work directly with teachers to help develop and revise lessons, all teachers receive support from Teachers College, Columbia University, for their reading and writing instruction, which the school has used for many years.
Teachers strive for balance in their literacy programs. For example, children sometimes pick the books they want to read and other times listen to the teacher read aloud; they study phonics, grammar and word study, and they meet in small reading groups with a teacher. They do lots of independent reading to become stronger readers. Everyone reads the same "book of the month," focusing on a quality such as "pride" or "trust."
A full-time math coach helps teachers mix in lessons from GoMath and other sources to make sure students learn a mix of skills and problem solving.
Each grade has one "Eagle" class for high achievers, which make it easier to address thei specific needs, said Ramsaran. An academic specialist gives children a short test when their parents sign them up for kindergarten to determine whether or not the student should be placed in the Eagle class. On our visit, this specialist was listening to a child recite numbers, as her parent filled out paperwork to enroll. At a glance, we couldn't tell the difference between Eagle and general classes, which are equally ethnically diverse and study the same content.
The school works with the Brooklyn Botanic Garden on its science curriculum and there is a science room that children visit once a week up through 3rd grade, and twice a week in grades 4 and 5, for "hands-on" experiments, said the teacher. "Cluster" classes also include technology, gym and music. Additionally, children learn how to dance and take trips to Covenant Ballet in the older grades. They study the American Revolution and visit the historic Fraunces Tavern Museum. On St. Patrick's Day, they sample green bagels; in the fall, they visit a farm and pick pumpkins.
Because the main building is strapped for space, kindergarten and 1st grade classes are housed in portable classrooms behind the main building. The space has been turned into an inviting early childhood center. Classes are large but we saw that children are often put into smaller groups for instruction. PS 134 only offers pre-k when there is room, depending on the number of kindergarten children who enroll. However, close by is the Joan Snow Pre-K Center at 1139 Coney Island Avenue.
The principal said the teachers "would love to improve in technology." For now, they want to retain their computer lab, but hope to incorporate more iPads and laptops for in-class use along with teacher training in how to use them.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: The school serves children in team-teaching classes called ICT (integrated co-teaching), which mix children with special needs and their general education peers in one classroom. There is one small "self-contained" class for children with more serious disabilities.
ADMISSIONS: Zoned neighborhood school. There are scheduled tours for prospective parents in February. (Lydie Raschka, March 2016)Read more