P.S. 131 Abigail Adams
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Lots of educational opportunities for everyone, parents and teachers included
PS 131 is a beloved "melting pot" of a school in Jamaica Hills where new immigrants from China, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan mingle with South Americans and a declining black and white population. Although many students speak a language other than English at home, there are numerous adults to help them, and the principal hires coaches and mentors so teachers can become even stronger in their practice.
This safe school is "well-developed" according to the Department of Education's Quality Review, the highest rating a school can receive. There are SMART boards in classrooms, the science lab has been updated, and new English speakers may use the computer lab for extra practice with reading and writing. Six specially trained teachers also work with small groups of English language learners (ELLs) outside of class, and assist them in their regular classrooms. As a result, about 80 percent of the ELL students test out of the program within three years.
Academics start early and on our visit we found the instruction to be on the traditional side, with teachers standing up front leading lessons, rather than kids working in groups, although that is beginning to change. For the first time in as long as anyone can remember, kindergarten teachers are trying out 40-minute "centers," during which kids learn through play. Dress-up corners, language games and block building has been helpful in sparking conversation among kids new to the English language, remarked one of the teachers.
Teachers receive ongoing help from trainers at Teachers College, a well-respected think-tank for writing instruction. Teachers also read books together to discuss how to be better at their craft, such as Thinking Through Quality Questioning, and they share their findings with parents. Parent volunteers offer homework help in a child's native language. Children visit one of three science teachers once or twice a week.
Randolph Ford has been principal since 2003. Gentle and courteous, he takes the time to greet each child, and each staff member, not excluding custodial, cafeteria and secretarial staff. "The kids love him," said a teacher.
Student teachers from St. John's University and Queens College provide extra help and the best are recruited after graduation. Queens College graduate Veronica DePaolo quickly rose through the ranks to become an assistant principal, even successfully filling in for the principal for four months when he was on leave in 2010.
There is no gymnasium. The very dedicated physical education teacher makes do with exercises in a small foyer on bad weather days. She's creative within these limitations, incorporating math and language lessons into jumping jacks and sit-ups. There is no art room, but the school has an association with Midori and Friends, a music program, and 4th- and 5th-graders may sing in the chorus. The school produces an annual musical, a dance festival and other special events.
Fifth grade is held in cramped portables in the schoolyard. An expansion to the building, including a gymnasium and pre-k classrooms, has a completion date of 2018.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: Team-taught classes mix children with special needs and their general education peers in one room. A self-contained "bridge" class mixes two or three grade levels together in one classroom in the upper grades.
ADMISSIONS: Neighborhood school. The school is overcrowded and usually has a waitlist for kindergartners who live in the zone. A handful of kids are sent to another school for kindergarten but have the option to come back in 1st grade and almost all do. (Lydie Raschka, May 2015)Read more