P.S. 108 Captain Vincent G. Fowler
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Solid academics for a diverse range of learners
So large it's hard to offer enough after-school options
Parents who live in this leafy Queens neighborhood, with its backyards for picnics and hammocks, say academics at PS 108 are unmatched. A child leaving even a lower-tiered academic class can get in to a great, screened middle school, said a parent whose child did just that. "They have high academic standards," she said. At this well-organized school, teachers waste no time matching students with the support they need. Incoming kindergartners are evaluated to see if they need tutoring, physical therapy or help from one of the three excellent speech teachers.
The school is so large that the first lunch period is at 9:55 am and it's difficult to provide enough after-school options for everyone at the same time. Mid-year enrollment can add 25-50 new kids, typically newcomers from Guyana. Nevertheless, Biondollilo said PS 108 runs like a small school. "Nobody really falls through the cracks," she said. [Assistant principal Jennifer Iovine became principal in 2017, when Biondillo retired.]
The school hosts a district-wide gifted and talented program, an "ace" class for faster readers, team-teaching classes and small "self-contained" classes for students with disabilities. Every class, in fact, is comprised of readers who span only a relatively small range of ability so no one is floundering or bored.
There are two pre-kindergarten classes. In them, we saw children playing flower shop using a toy cash register to add up the cost of bouquets. Classrooms are filled with blocks, games, books and objects for learning about patterns, numbers and shapes.
All teachers incorporate time for children to work on skills and activities in small groups called "centers." On our visit, clusters of 4th-graders gathered facts to debate the fate of endangered animals. "We are the pro-zoo group," said a child in a gifted and talented class. "We believe zoos help endangered animals by allowing them a safe place to reproduce."
Children have more than one way to learn new material at PS 108. In a classroom with many new English speakers, for example, the teacher not only read Lon Po Po, a Red Riding Hood story from China, but also showed a movie version of the book.
There are two periods of math; one for math fact drills called "sprints," to improve memorization and speed, and another to solve multi-step problems and do hands-on exploration in small groups.
Fifth-graders are divided into four half-class groups for reading, math and writing lessons. Within these groups, they often work in even smaller groups. Fifth-graders also start the day with quiet reading in their homerooms. One argument for this structure is that teachers can specialize in one topic. Indeed, one of the math teachers likes to don a white lab coat and call himself "Dr. Math." And he loves pointing out the kind of math kids encounter in everyday life.
PS 108 screens all children starting in 1st grade and places them in classes according to reading level, a practice called "tracking," which goes in and out of favor in education circles. In the higher-level classes we saw richer discussions and more use of more complex words. Tracking makes it easier for teachers with large classes to manage the subtleties of instruction, teachers say. "It makes it easy to provide support," Biondollilo said. For this reason, the staff believes that tracking increases the number of students scoring "3s" and "4s" on state standardized tests (the tests use a 1-4 scoring system). Sometimes high-performers were "barely getting a 3," the principal said but now they reach higher because, for example, "top students don't dominate in discussions."
SPECIAL EDUCATION: In 1st grade and up, there are two team-teaching classes that mix kids with disabilities into general education classrooms. There are several large, spacious, bright "self-contained" classrooms for kids with severe disabilities.
ADMISSIONS: Zoned, neighborhood school. (Lydie Raschka, May 2016; new principal update, 2018)Read more