P.S. 217 Colonel David Marcus School
Terrific arts program, welcoming to all parents
Class sizes can get large
Once called "mini-Pakistan," this part of Brooklyn's Flatbush neighborhood is now a kaleidoscope of ethnicities and incomes, the happy outcome of a wide range of housing options in very close proximity. PS 217 sits at a jaunty angle, like a beloved landmark in a small town square, amidst gracious Victorian homes, plain brick co-ops and double-wide duplexes. Hair salons, laundromats, grocery stores and upscale eateries serve a polyglot community that works the entire spectrum of jobs and professions.
The school is large and peaceful, and offers an array of arts that allow kids to shine in many ways, whether it's singing the lead in the school musical, playing guitar or sewing a drawstring bag. Class size at PS 217 is largewe counted up to 29 in one of the upper gradesyet orderly and buzzing with cheerful and curious children.
The arts program is one of the school's finest features and culminates in dance and music festivals, a poetry slam, an art fair and theater performances. Although it is a school that serves many low-income families, it also attracts the children of business professionals who contribute money for the arts. Parents contribute talents by leading clubs on Friday afternoons such as filmmaking, gardening or Arabic. Kids meet in weekly arts clubs in grades 4 and 5 and several collaborate on two yearly theatrical productions such as an adaptation ofThe Odysseyor a production ofThe Little Mermaidin full costume.
Robert Bonilla became principal in 2016 when long-time leader Franca Conti retired. He has worked as a teacher or administrator in a wide range of settings, including a District 75 school for children with special needs, PS 165 on the Upper West Side, PS 463 in the South Bronx and PS 94 in Sunset Park.
PS 217 is a pioneer in mixing children who are learning English into general classrooms, with two teachers. "We're always kid-watching," said social worker Judy Brandwein. "We want to celebrate every child." This includes dental and eye screening, birthday celebrations and close attention to kids who are struggling academically.
In an effort to include more non-native English-speaking parents in classroom activities, the school has tapped parent leaders from each of the largest parent language groups, such as Russian, Arabic, Bengali and Spanish, to serve as translators. These leaders are available one morning a week for translation and to lead craft or learning activities.
The parent who coordinates the program has found that little changes make a big difference in parent involvement. For example, some parents were deterred by a "no strollers inside the building" rule, because they had to wake up their babies to go inside, so the school set out to change the rule. When a Nepali translator invited parents in on Friday mornings, she learned Nepali nail salon workers would miss out on their busiest day of the week, so she switched the day.
Under Bonilla's leaadership, and after a yearlong pilot, the staff adapted the Teachers College Reading and Writing approach. Teachers continue to use Go Math but have added multi-step word problems. Bonilla hired coaches to support the work in literacy, and brought in two teachers from a previous job to support the work in math, which took off like wildfire, he said by phone. Next is an upgrade in technology with money from politicians including new SMART boards and laptops. Not a single teacher left after his first year. I have a good staff, he said. It was a good year.
SPECIAL EDUCATION:Every grade has a team-teaching class that incorporates children with disabilities. There are two small mixed-age classes for children who need additional help.
ADMISSIONS: Zoned, neighborhood school. There are usually some spots for children outside the zone.An "Eagle" program for high-achievers is phasing out, starting with kindergarten in 2017-2018 and moving up the grades year by year. (Lydie Raschka, April 2016; updated, phone interview with principal, July 2017)
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Brooklyn NY 11230
Zone for the 2017-2018 school year. Call school to confirm.
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Brooklyn, NY 11230