PS 317, Waterside Children's Studio School
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Strong arts and welcoming, relaxed atmosphere by the ocean
Test scores have a way to go
The Waterside Children's Studio School, also called PS 317, is an increasingly popular school with strong arts, a well-regarded principal and a welcoming, relaxed atmosphere. Just a block from the beach and surrounded by summer bungalows, single-family homes and high-rise apartments, PS 317 serves a mix of different races, ethnicities and income levels, including some children who speak Spanish, Arabic and Polish. Children seem comfortable with one another and with their teachers.
There are few textbooks; instead, children choose books based on their own interests, which they may read on their own or discuss with a partner. From kindergarten on, children do a lot of writing. They learn to give feedback and take suggestions from others in their work. In math, teachers try to spark discussions about how to solve problems.
"I don’t necessarily like quiet classrooms,” says Principal Dana Gerendasi, who founded the school in 2009. “I like to hear kids having conversations with each other."
Almost every student takes dance, drama, music, visual arts and physical education. The school aggressively pursues grants to support its ambitious arts program. Students perform in the New York City Student Shakespeare Festival and the Guggenheim and the New York City Ballet offer residencies at the school.
Gerendasi get high marks from teachers on school surveys, and the children seem to like her too. "I'm a big fan of yours," a second grader told Gerendasi when she entered her classroom. Some children who find it difficult to deal with the hubbub of the cafeteria spend their lunch break in Gerendasi's office. The school seeks to ensure that every student has three or four adults they trust. Rather than meting out punishment, teachers seek to reward good behavior with various prizes. One eagerly sought by some students is being “principal for a day.”
PS 317 shares a building with MS 318. Both schools replaced PS 225, which was closed due to poor performance. When Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012, children were forced to relocate to August Martin High School for about a month.
But the school now seems to be hitting its stride. Math scores, while still below the citywide average, have increased substantially. On our visit, children seemed happy and most were engaged.
The school population is shifting slightly as somewhat more affluent families move in, lured by the relatively low price of housing and the express buses to Manhattan. Gerendasi said the school involves all parents, with a selection of workshops, student performances and exhibits and student-lead parent teacher conferences, in addition to the traditional teacher-led meetings. The neighborhood is in the midst of change: A well-reviewed and cute frozen yogurt shop is a block away. So is a residence for at risk-boys.
The school offers an array of after-school clubs and sports. A free after-school program also is available. There are three full-day pre-k classes.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: The school has two self-contained special education classes and team teaching classes on every grade.
ADMISSIONS: Neighborhood school. In 2016, the school had a wait list for kindergarten for the first time. (Gail Robinson, March 2016)Read more