Brooklyn Landmark Elementary School
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Bright, welcoming environment; upper grade G&T program
Many children show up tardy; limited afterschool
Brooklyn Landmark Elementary School (BLES) offers a bright, welcoming environment for young children in the Ocean Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn. Located in a circa 1885 landmark building (hence the school's name), BLES has the support of many outside organizations that bring arts and resources to the small school. Children are called "scholars" and there is an expectation of success.
Created as a replacement school for troubled PS 73 (Honeymooners star Jackie Gleason was a graduate), Brooklyn Landmark opened with pre-kindergarten to 2nd grade in 2013 and will grow by a grade each year, becoming a pre-k-5 school by 2016. Before opening the school, Principal Robin Williams-Davson spoke to parents in the neighborhood who had shunned the building and said, "I knew I had a big job ahead of me."
The school still faces some major hurdles, including a large portion of chronically absent and tardy kids, and a pre-k program that is still finding its groove, but Williams-Davsons high energy and aspirations are commendable. "How could this be a place that parents could be happy about?" she asked, mentioning the school's former dull gray walls and depressing atmosphere. "I put on my shorts and began to paint and change floors. We were able to make tremendous change. I want my kids to be in a space that's bright and lively."
The color of choice is bright orangewalls, book bins and even school folders match; children wear orange polo shirts, and even some teachers follow that dress code. Williams-Davson also extended her paintbrush to the dark, cramped rooms that made up the basement cafeteria, choosing the one room with windows as the place where BLES children would have lunch, looking out on the small playground.
Beyond sprucing up the building, Williams-Davson rounded up community partners to bring in resources. The neighborhood has 11 temporary housing shelters, and about 16 percent of students come from them, making for a transient population. There are two full-time social workers from Partnership with Children, plus interns, to work with families, and in this structured environment, students are well-behaved. Change for Kids brings in arts residents and one-on-one tutors.
The building, shared with PS/IS 73 until 2016 and a new middle school, BEES, is still a work in progress. The layout is confusing, with classrooms on different floors. There is no full-size gymnasium; physical education is taught in a large room and another room is used for movement classes.
Academic instruction begins as early as pre-kindergarten where four-year-olds watched a video of how a frog develops and then cut and pasted photos of the lifecycle onto paper. More advanced students wrote their own descriptions of the life cycle and drew pictures. Similarly academic activities, such as learning about countries and states, seemed like loftyif somewhat inappropriatecurriculum for children so young. A block corner, where kids can build and learn through experimentation with weight, shapes and gravity, was a welcome sight.
The green science lab is invitingneatly laid out with a gecko and corner full of science books. Children grew plants and took them home for Mother's Day and watched as butterflies hatched. Each child gets two periods of science a week.
The school devotes more than an hour a day to math instruction, using the city's GO Math curriculum but adapting it to its needs. Fridays are problem-solving days when students do word problems.
There are two classrooms on every grade, and class size is small; many classrooms have at least two adults, including para-professionals. There is an emphasis on community building; every Friday, there is a community circle assembly when student successes are celebrated and the book of the month is discussed. A Scholar Learning Council of "awesome advocates" meets weekly with the principal to discuss ways to improve the environment. One example: Bathroom manners were lacking, children said, so the council posted signs encouraging everyone to flush the toilets.
"You can start with something small and use your voice to change the world," the principal said.
Most students live near the school, said Williams-Davson. Even so, attendance and late-arriving students are a problem. We saw one mom dropping off her son at 10 am, well past the school start, because she had overslept. Williams-Davson said that parental involvement and empowerment are very important to her and regularly sponsors activities such as a father-and-son breakfast and basketball game to encourage parent participation.
In 2016, the Department of Education began a district-wide gifted and talented program for students entering 3rd grade.
Special education: There are integrated co-teaching classes. A half-dozen children have been assigned crisis para-professionals.
Admissions: District 23 choice but most children come from the Ocean Hill neighborhood. (Pamela Wheaton and Giselle Inoa, June 2014, updated July 2016 with G&T information)Read more