P.S. 139 Alexine A. Fenty
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Welcomes an ethnically diverse population, strong arts
Friction between principal and teachers.
In a neighborhood with large Victorian homes and modest apartment buildings, PS 139 boasts strong arts programs and a nationally ranked chess team. The school’s ethnically diverse population includes new immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Mexico and Haiti. More than 30 languages are spoken at the school.
The school leans progressive in the lower grades—focusing on the process of learning rather than memorizing dates. Play and choice time are especially important up through grade 2. Assistant principal Sarah Darrell said kids are not expected to sit still for long periods of time.
Students take trips to museums, farms and other locations to take their studies beyond school walls, and there are gardening/farming classes in addition to music, art, dance and science. Homework in the younger grades is about 15 – 20 minutes per day and students choose from a menu of activities to do at home that may include math games as well as more traditional worksheets.
Kindergarten classrooms have colorful rugs and small tables and chairs, and 1st grade classes have desks in groups to encourage discussion. On our visit kids were calm, chatty and busy working for the most part. We heard no yelling or raised voices. Some students were reading in various areas of the room.
Physical activity is important. All children participate in gym at least twice a week. Play coaches help monitor recess and free periods. Children go outside unless it’s raining or exceedingly cold. Parents help out at recess and during lunch.
The dual language classes are about half native Spanish speakers and half English speakers with open enrollment (no testing or interviews) in K and 1st grade. Instruction takes place in English for half the day and Spanish for half or the day, or on occasion alternating days.
Staff members reach out to all parents, making a point of inviting Urdu, Bengali, Spanish and other non English-speaking parents to join the school’s leadership team to provide diverse representation, according to parent coordinator Megan Demarkis. Translation is provided. Special events, designed to help ease parents into the new school setting, include a breakfast for Urdu-speaking families only.
School surveys point to friction between the principal and teachers, however. Roughly one-third of the teachers reported the principal is not an effective manager, and about half of the teachers report concerns with discipline and order. The percentage of teachers who would recommend the school to other families is below the citywide average.
The school uses the Responsive Classroom approach. To help kids develop a sense of belonging, teachers start the day with a morning meeting. Kids work with a teacher in large and small groups, and they may make some choices about how they learn, for example, they may choose what book to read or which activity to do to study math facts.
Most students enroll in afterschool classes, such as chorus, band, guitar, violin and orchestra. There are two outdoor play spaces with updated climbing and play equipment.
Admissions: Neighborhood school. (Katherine Esterman, November 2017, phone update November 2018)Read more