P.S. 312 Bergen Beach
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Diverse lively school, interesting student projects
Far from nearest subway, not enough kindergarten seats for all the pre-k students
PS 312, a large school with a suburban feel in a remote corner of southeast Brooklyn, is a lively, sometimes noisy place where the students are interested in learning and having fun.
In recent years, PS 312 has seen an influx of children from Russia, Haiti, China, Pakistan and Korea. Children of different races and ethnic groups seem to mix easily and get along well. "Kids in the playground really, truly embrace one another, says Sungmin Yoo, who became principal in 2014. They care for one another."
PS 312 in Bergen Beach is close to Jamaica Bay and the Kings Plaza shopping mall. The Department of Education's environmental study center is next door. Classes visit the center often and, in some parts of PS 312, children can hear the sound of gobbling turkeys.
Yoo has encouraged the development of "project-based learning units", particularly in science and social studies, in which students collaborate to try to solve "real world" problems. Kindergartners interviewed people working in the school, researched what people in those positions did and then presented a slideshow on their findings.
School leaders think such lessons not only help teach basic skills, but also encourage children to think deeply, talk about issues with each other and plan how they will approach and solve problems. Plus, Yoo says, the children like it. "Learning should encompass fun," she says.
Throughout the school year, all children take music, art, dance, writing, technology and physical education classes from specialized teachers. Fifth-graders may participate in a range of clubs, and every spring brings a number of year-end activities. "We really try to make every kid who enters the door into a well-rounded person by the time they leave," says Assistant Principal Laura D'Onofrio, who has been at the school in various capacities for more than 25 years.
While the school has fairly strong test scores, what is most apparent to a visitor is the energy and enthusiasm of this very diverse group of children. A 3rd-grade class for high-performing students was loud as children discussed how various groups fared during the Civil War, but the sometimes boisterous conversation kept to the issue at hand. Opinions came hot and heavy before the teacher said they had to move on to another topic. "I really love the way you guys are challenging each other," she said.
Instead of a packaged curriculum, the school teaches English with a variety of regularas opposed to textbooks and articles. Students do not get lots of homework, but are expected to read books at home that they choose with guidance from their teachers and to keep records of what they read and when. They also are required to read at least six books over the summer. In math, teachers have been working to incorporate more problems that might occur in real life and that involve a number of steps.
The school does not have an official gifted and talented program but offers one enrichment class in all grades except pre-k and kindergarten. These classes, Yoo says, follow the same curriculum as others, but move at a somewhat faster pace.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: PS 312 offers a team-teaching class mixing students with disabilities and their general education peers at every grade level and also has some self-contained classes for students with disabilities.
ADMISSIONS: This is a zoned school. The Department of Education selects children who will fill the 54 pre-k slots. Not all of them can remain at PS 312 for kindergarten, though the school gives priority to siblings of current students. (Gail Robinson, May 2016)Read more