P.S. 251 Queens
Steady leadership, solid test scores
No gymnasium & tiny cafeteria in what used to be the science room
Tucked behind two middle schools in a residential cul-de-sac, PS 251 has long been a stable school with positive leadership and solid academics. Established in 1972 as an early-childhood magnet school, it served grades k-2 until 2004, when 3rd grade was added. In September 2015, the school will begin to reduce the number of classrooms to two per grade and add 4th and 5th grades to become a complete pre-kindergarten through 5th grade school by the 2016-2017 school year.
PS 251 has two pre-kindergarten classrooms. They feature blond wood lofts and are outfitted with puppets and other tools for learning to read, with objects and shapes for learning math and with dramatic play areas. All children visit the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) teacher once a week in a colorful room filled with blocks, science materials and art supplies where they float boats and build with Legos, among other hands-on activities.
The school has taken steps to maintain an orderly atmosphere by adopting a positive behavior management program; children receive small rewards or privileges for good behavior. The system was put in place when teachers indicated on school surveys that they did not have enough help with behavior management. There is a small "achievement group" designed to channel the energy of boys for whom the positive behavior system has not been enough. It's about "doing the right thing, working as a team," said longtime principal Edna Loncke, who is a composed and respected leader.
The instruction at PS 251 has an old-fashioned quality. Teachers are called by their surnames and pay attention to skills like spelling (the school holds a spelling bee), handwriting and phonics. Young children chant the letter of the week in unison and trace the letter in the air in a practice called "skywriting." The principal said top-performing students are eligible for district gifted and talented programs. "We always get children who are selected," she said.
In math classes we saw children practicing skills in workbooks as well as working on activities designed to help them understand math concepts. In one exercise, children cut out circles and lined them up in rows to understand that 4 x 3 is the same as 3 x 4. Some children develop speed with math facts by using a computer program called Reflex Math, which they can access at home or school.
Kindergartners learn to play the piano; 2nd-graders learn to swim at the nearby Roy Wilkins Recreation Center; and 3rd-graders participate in a marine biology excursion aboard a sailing vessel. Other activities include chorus and cooking and a yearly musical. On Saturdays about 70 children read with adult volunteers through a program called Reading Empowers.
Space is at a premium: A medium-sized room is used for assemblies, morning line-up and other school programs. There is a tiny cafeteria and some children must eat lunch quite early to accommodate them all. The school has a makeshift gymnasium so the outdoor yard is used whenever possible for gym class. During the expansion, the school may be able to share common spaces with the middle schools that occupy the adjacent building: Collaborative Arts MS 355, and Community Voices MS 356, which replaced troubled MS 231 in 2013.
After-school services are available for a fee. They include guitar, science, dance, spelling, math, writing, test prep and more.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: The school has two team-taught classes, in which children with special needs learn alongside their general education peers. There is one self-contained class. A special education tutor works with individuals as needed.
ADMISSIONS: Open to District 29 families by lottery. (Lydie Raschka, November 2014)