P.S. 153 Maspeth Elementary
Emphasis on the arts; videoconferencing brings faraway museums to the school library.
Some cramped classrooms.
PS 153 is a large and traditional school, but thanks to numerous enrichment programs as well as newly constructed and renovated buildings, it feels comfortable and cozy, a place where students can develop character and individuality.
Test scores at PS 153 have increased steadily over the last few years, but that is only a small measure of the quality of education the students receive. The school attempts to build good citizens as well as competent readers. Children sing to residents of nursing homes and hold bake sales to raise money for children with AIDS. Close to the entrance of the new building is a batik mural from residents of a village in Tanzania, a thank-you gift for a shipment of toys sent to them by children at PS 153.
An annex building, finished in the year 2000, has rather cramped classrooms. Susan Bauer, who was an assistant principal at PS 153 for three years before becoming principal in 2005, told us that she recognizes this and is working to reduce class sizes, especially in the 1st grade.
A student council for 5th and 6th graders meets twice a month to voice student opinions and carry out projects to beautify the school. Jacqueline, a student on the nutrition committee, said that "students complain about the watery spinach in the cafeteria" and that the committee met with a nutritionist to learn about healthy eating.
The classes we visited were engaging, including a 3rd grade class in which students were exploring journalism. The kids sat on a rug in front of the teacher and learned how reporters do their jobs with interviews, observations, and by "not making up anything." Then they dispersed around the classroom and took notes on everything they had seen and heard. A boy named Damian was quick to interview his class's visitor and take careful, neatly handwritten notes.
In a class where 6th graders were learning about fantasy-writing, we saw students working in small groups to develop their storiescomplete with an annotated map of the characters' worldusing skills they had learned from their last unit of study, realistic fiction.
There is a robotics lab in which 5th and 6th graders assembled in teams to design and execute motion commands with Lego models. Two partners worked swiftly to change drained batteries one at a time "so that the program doesn't get lost on the robot," explained one girl, while a programmer worked out the codes on a laptop computer and another student kept a journal of the team's work.
In an activity called "How To..." we saw kindergartners employ their rudimentary writing skills to explain the process of doing something. For example, one boy described how to read an "orange book," referring to the color-code of the third of five reading levels. By stringing together the letters he knew to approximate words, he wrote that "if you don't know a word, you have to sound it out."
The school long housed a gifted program for accelerated learning, and each 6th grader from it was paired with a 1st grader who needed extra help. We saw four of them in action as they entered a 1st grade classroom and patiently went over reading exercises with their partners in a popular, three-times-weekly tutoring program. [In 2012 the school did not taken in an entering kindergarten G&T class and the program is phasing out.]
An emphasis on the arts is manifest throughout the school, thanks in part to support from the community and outside organizations. An artist-in-residence from Learning By Design, an education program from the Center for Architecture Foundation, brings arts and design activities into the core subject areas. While studying Greece, students worked with the artist to build labyrinths out of colored paper and agoras out of sugar cubes, and for a unit in geometry they built paper dodecahedrons.
We saw a group of lively students rehearse in the auditorium for the annual talent show, whose proceeds help pay for travel expenses for the school band, a first-place winner in a regional competition in Pennsylvania.
The library groups books by genre and reading level, and is equipped with big-screen video conferencing technology. Students have used the technology to participate in conferences with the Smithsonian Institution, and in one case they interviewed a woman from a museum in Alabama who adopted the persona of a Civil War-era spy.
A very active PTA boasts more than 500 members, with about 20 certified to participate in the Learning Leaders parent volunteer program. Family involvement in activities is consistently high. An event during the school's "March Math Madness" drew 600 parents to participate in math games. There are Saturday English language classes for students and parents learning English.
Special education: The school has five "self-contained" classes for children with special needs only, and one "inclusion" class with two-thirds of the pupils from general education and one-third with special needs, and two teachers, one of whom is trained in special education.
Admissions: Prospective parents may tour the school in May and June.
After school: The school has a program for homework help and recreation, with a capacity of 100 kids. (Pamela Wheaton, 2002; Richard Yeh, March 2007; updated G&T information 2013)
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Queens, NY 11378