P.S. 169 Bay Terrace
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Warm neighborhood school, strong academics and arts
Limited public transportation
Located in a residential neighborhood at the northeast tip of Queens, PS 169 is a warm, well-run community school with high parent involvement and a record of strong academic performance. While the school takes the Common Core standards and testing seriously, principal Vanessa Chambers also wants to ensure her students are well-rounded and have fun.
Chambers became principal in 2010 after serving as assistant principal at the school for nearly three years. Before coming to 169, she worked at PS 65 in Brooklyn, first as a 2nd- and 3rd-grade teacher and then as a reading coach and academic intervention coordinator.
Even with the Common Core's emphasis on advanced texts in elementary school, Chambers encourages teachers to make simpler books available to their youngest students. "We dont want the kids to get frustrated with learning," she said. Lessons accommodate students at all levels, giving them a refreshing amount of choice and autonomy. Children select their own books (at a range of levels) and even choose what type of paper is best for them.
On our visit, a 3rd-grade teacher told us that she often gives children a math problem of the day but lets them decide how to solve it, using manipulatives or trying different approaches with paper and pencil.
In 4th and 5th grade, students have one teacher for math, science and social studies and another for language arts. Chambers said this lets teachers go deeper into their subjects and "makes the kids feel very grown-up and gives them less anxiety about changing classes."
The school shares a building with a middle school, the Bell Academy, which has a similar approach to learning. About 90 percent of PS 169 graduates go on to Bell, strengthening the sense of community in the building, where colorful student art and class projects cover most of the walls. The schools share a full-size gym, where all elementary students receive instruction once a week in addition to 15-20 minutes outside in the playground each day, even in cold weather. The bright, inviting cafeteria has an unusually appetizing salad bar.
Arts and special activities play a large role in the school. First-graders produced work in the style of Swiss artist Paul Klee to help them learn about shapes.For one hour a week, students take an enrichment class, such as fashion, scrapbooking or baseball, culminating in a community service activity, such as a visit to a local senior center for the scrapbookers.The school also has a full-time music teacher.
After being a bit slow to adapt new technology, PS 169 now has a full-time technology teacher, and children take a technology class once a week. Fifth-graders all use iPads, and Chambers hopes to expand that program to 4th grade. A 5th-grader showed us how he used the tablet to track his "glows and grows" (areas of strength and weakness) and to check the strategy for writing a comparative essay. One big selling point: "Its a lot lighter so I can get to class more quickly." In class, students used the iPads to watch a video on ecosystems. They then chose an area of interest and, with others in their group, will develop a project on that topic.
PS 169 also has two full-day pre-kindergarten classes. They offer a combination of academics, and opportunities for children to engage in their own activities, including pretend play and free-form art.
One downside to the school is some traffic in the morning and afternoon. Only one bus line stops nearby, so many families choose to drive, creating some congestion at drop-off and pick-up.
Special education: PS 169 has an Integrated Co-Teaching class mixing special education and general education students for each grade, and one self-contained special education class. It also has a full-time speech teacher as well as other services.
Admission: Most seats go to students in the zone. Any remaining vacancies are filled by other children, with priority for siblings. (Gail Robinson, April 2014.)Read more