P.S. 160 Walter Francis Bishop
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Rich arts and interesting long-term projects
Large classes in some grades
Rising above a sea of single- and multi-family homes in Jamaica, Queens, PS 160 has ambitious plans to boost the arts, test scores and attendance. It's off to a promising start with an infusion of grant money in 2015 that makes it possible for teachers to prepare two-month-long explorations on topics such as colonial America and the water cycle. Children use iPads, digital cameras and LEGOs to augment their studies alongside traditional workbooks.
Tiffany Hicks became principal in 2013. Formerly a teacher and literacy coach at nearby PS 80, she is an even-keeled leader with a healthy mix of ambition and practicality. Already in her second year, the extra coaching she'd put in place for teachers, as well as arts classes, and technology, had begun to breathe new life into old practices. "I say 'yes' to everything," Hicks said.
To branch out from one-size-fits-all instruction, teachers plan nine-week project-based learning units that begin with a question such as: "What happens when the water cycle is interrupted?" Fourth-graders focused on the drought in Haiti to explore the answer. A Haitian-born staff member spoke to students to bring a personal perspective, and kids brainstormed ways they could assist those affected by the drought at the end of the unit. Teachers plan together now more than in the past. During a unit on Nigeria, 3rd-graders made traditional masks in art. "I'm liking this magnet grant," said the art teacher, who has been at the school for two decades. "We're definitely all working together more now."
Undoubtedly the school has a ways to go. Test scores lag below the citywide level in math and language. Challenging high-achievers is a work-in-progress according to the school's yearly plan. We saw children working on the same workbook page in math; but teachers also trained in the use of LEGOs as part of the arts grant, and after a community walk, kindergartners and 1st graders re-created what they saw.
The principal hopes artists-in-residence at the school will improve the attendance rate. "We try to have residencies every day," she said. Pre-k students participate in creative movement. Children study chess in kindergarten through 2nd-grade. Third-graders study ballet. Fourth-graders learn ballroom dance. Children learn to play keyboard and other instruments. It should be noted that the school must find ways to sustain new practices and the arts after the three-year flow of grant money ends in 2018.
Kindergarten classes are large; we counted 27 in one classroom. On a cold day we saw kids shuttled from the cafeteria into the auditorium to watch a movie, but the principal said teachers also use "activity works" (12-minute exercise videos) to get kids moving. The pre-k rooms are in cramped portables on the school grounds.
After-school is offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and on Wednesdays, about 30 kids in grades 3-5 make lava lamps, marshmallow catapults and electrical circuits in science club.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: A Queens Hospital psychiatrist works with children and families in need. There are two full-time speech therapists. ICT team-taught classes incorporate children with special needs in general ed classrooms. Small classes are available for children with more serious special needs. An adaptive physical education teacher helps kids customize activities in gym.
ADMISSIONS: Neighborhood school. Plans call for two more pre-kindergarten classes in 2015 bringing the number up to five. (Lydie Raschka, March 2015)Read more