P.S. 104 The Bays Water
A safe, welcoming school
Some kids miss many days of school
In a working class neighborhood in Bayswater, Queens, PS 104 provides a safe and stable environment for its roughly 700 students in pre-kindergarten through 5th grade. Families frequently move in and out of the area, which makes consistency in instruction a challenge. Nevertheless the school is popular, and its four, play-based pre-kindergarten classes fill up quickly.
In recent years the school has seen a rise in its special education population, as well as increased numbers of English language learners. New students are assigned in-class "buddies" to help them acclimate to the new environment, and the parent coordinator works with a family liaison to give new students' families an orientation to the neighborhood.
The school follows a behavior program called SAIL (Self-control, Act kindly, Independently follow directions, Listen and be respectful), said Principal Katie Grady. Good behavior is awarded with "SAIL tickets," which can be traded in for prizes at the SAIL store or for whole-class celebrations, such as pizza parties.
The SAIL program is important in helping to unify a school where 80 percent of students qualify for free lunch and where more than 100 students qualify as homeless due to doubling up in housing. "One in five children will not be here next year," said Grady.
Since her arrival in 2006, Grady, who leads a stable staff, has worked to improve the atmosphere at PS 104. "I'm proud of the fact that my suspension rate is next to nothing now," she said in a phone interview. "When I came here it was pretty high."
PS 104 is a Core Knowledge school, which uses a curriculum based on the work of E.D. Hirsch, author of Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know. Grady embraced the program for its "richness, rigor and depth," and says her teachers "love it because it's so interesting." Daily vocabulary practice in all subjects is a newer initiative to help boost literacy.
PS 104 hosted two of the first full-day pre-k's in District 27. Its seasoned teachers, who trained 20 years ago, have refined units on topics such as underwater sea life, insects and family life. The school increased its pre-kindergarten classrooms to four, and the newer teachers are mentored by veteran teachers.
"It's a very warm, welcoming, family-centered pre-k that focuses on learning through play," said Grady. "There are no workbooks in my pre-k." One pre-k class mixes children with special needs and their general education peers in one classroom with two teachers, following an ICT model.
Children are involved in landscaping the school grounds and help plant tomatoes, zucchinis and peppers in the school's garden.
Through a partnership with Rockaway Artists Alliance, PS 104 offers "kidsmART," a visual and performing arts program two days a week. Safe Space is an after-school program designed for working parents and provides activities five days a week until 5:30 pm.
After leaving PS 104, about 9 percent of students attend the high-performing Scholar's Academy on the Far Rockaway Peninsula.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: Team-taught ICT classes mix children with special needs and their general education peers in one room. Also available are small, "self-contained" classes for all ages.
ADMISSIONS: Neighborhood school. There are 80 pre-k seats. Most fill with students who live in the zone, said the principal. (Lydie Raschka, phone interview, July 2015)