P.S. 186 Castlewood
Strong academics plus good special education services
No dedicated art room, transportation to the area is limited
PS 186 feels like a suburban school. Part of that springs from its setting in a neighborhood of garden apartments and the Queens County Farm Museum, the only working historical farm in New York City. But the school's small sizeabout 370 students in a building that once had more than 1,000and its warm, inclusive atmosphere also distinguish it from many city schools.
Meeting individual students needs is an integral part of the PS 186 curriculum. While all the children benefit from this focus on personal attention, the school is unusual for what it offers students with disabilities, particularly autism-related disorders. PS 186 was the first school in Queens to have an ASD NEST program for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Students with ASD learn in a classroom alongside typically developing children, taught by two teachers who have been trained in the programs specialized curriculum and teaching strategies.
Principal Dolores Troy-Quinn says that when she arrived in 2002, special education and general education students were largely separate. Today all but one of PS 186's 21 classes are inclusive, with two team-teaching classes in every grade except pre-K having some NEST students. A third class per grade has students with other disabilities, including some from the District 75 program. The staff has grown from 21 teachers to 68, and every classroom has at least two teachers. Troy-Quinn believes that, along with academic benefits, inclusion helps create "citizens who are caring, compassionate and considerate of others."
Classes offer accommodations intended primarily for children with disabilities but available to anyone. Many have break corners, and in some rooms students can put partitions around their desks to screen out distractions. We saw one staff member watching as a girl with severe ADD jumped rope in the hall until she could return to class. The school has five speech therapists and three occupational therapists.
The small class size16 to 20 in the NEST classesenables PS 186 to gear work to individual students' abilities. The school has a small program for high achievers in which students leave their regular classroom for a few hours a week to do special projects. This year, fourth graders identified a problem in their community and will come up with an invention to address it.
Our visit coincided with a literacy period for many classes during which students concentrated on their books and participated in classroom discussions. A fourth-grade teacher helped students visualize words. After first graders finished a group math exercise, one boy pronounced it a "three-bear day_the best morning so far." The teacher agreed.
PS 186 offers visual art, music and theater, although it does not have dedicated arts rooms. For eight weeks a year, students spend Wednesday afternoons in "enrichment clusters." Teachers create classes in an area of their expertise, and students chose between them.
The school is friendly, with staff and teachers quick to welcome visitors and praise the school. Two mothers leaving a parent workshop on how children learn were enthusiastic. "We need more of this," one said. The workshop had persuaded them that engaging learners requires more than just putting facts in their heads."
Most PS 186 graduates go on to one of two zoned middle schools:MS 172 or MS 67. After leaving PS 186 they may not get the kind of individual attention they enjoyed in elementary school. But Troy-Quinn says, "For the moment and time that they're here, we're giving the kids what they need." Afterward, she hopes they can take what they learned at PS 186 and apply it on their own.
Admissions: The NEST program and other special education programs accept students from throughout Queens. Virtually all general education students live in the school's zone. (Gail Robinson, December 2012; updated with information about the Nest Program by Pauline Zaldonis, August 2013)
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Queens, NY 11426