I.S. 227 Louis Armstrong
Experienced teachers and lively classes
Far more applicants than seats
An experienced, enthusiastic staff, a well-equipped building and a top-notch special education program have made Louis Armstrong Middle School one of the most sought after schools in Queens. The school, which serves grades 5 to 8, is open to all children in the borough. Unfortunately, there are far more applicants than seats available.
Founded in 1979 as a court-ordered experiment in racial integration, Louis Armstrong embodies the philosophy that children learn best when they have classmates from different ethnic groups, neighborhoods and academic abilities. The make-up of the student body mirrors Queens as a whole: Students’ families come from 100 different countries and speak 51 different languages.
Children of different religions, cultures and ethnicities mix with one another not only in class, but also during their free time in the cafeteria and on the playground. “Children are not afraid to ask each other questions like ‘Why do you wear a headscarf?’” one teacher said.
Children of different academic abilities learn from one another and sometimes discover surprising strengths. A girl with developmental delays was recognized for her leadership skills—and elected vice president of the student government. A child who reads below grade level might be a star musician or computer programmer.
“It is not an intense, highly competitive academic environment,” one parent told InsideSchools. “I do not, however, see this as negative. Rather, the focus is on building organizational skills, interpersonal skills, and other skills that will allow for success at more rigorous academics down the line.”
It’s a tolerant, happy place. Another mother recalled how her shy and quiet daughter developed self-confidence. “She has learned to take initiative,” this mother said.
The classes we visited were lively, with students actively engaged in projects. In one science class, children built foam rollercoasters with marbles to learn about acceleration, building the foundation for them to study physics in high school. In another science class, children played tug-of-war with a rope to understand how stress under the Earth’s surface can lead to earthquakes. “Children learn best when they make real life connections,” the teacher said. “It stays with them longer.”
Principal Helen Pontella is a math specialist, and the math classes we visited reflected her excitement and enthusiasm about the subject. Children are not separated by ability, and teachers adapt lessons to challenge top students while giving support to those who need it. For example, in a math class with two teachers, some students used paper cutouts to measure angles while those with a more abstract understanding calculated the angles using an approach called transformational geometry.
The music department is strong, with a band, orchestra and chorus. The school offers studio art, ceramics and classes in sculpture.
The staff is experienced, but teachers are always on the look-out for ways to perfect their craft. Teachers meet regularly to plan lessons, visit one another’s classes, and may take graduate courses for free at Queens College. Many Queens College students do their student teaching at Louis Armstrong.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: The special education program is a model for the city in this barrier-free building. Louis Armstrong is unusual because many teachers have certification in both their subject matter, like math or science, and special education. Most students with special needs are in team-teaching classes taught by two teachers. Students with severe disabilities are in “self-contained” classes. Physically handicapped children use an adaptive physical education room filled with mats and equipment.
ADMISSIONS: Interested parents should attend an open house in December or January. There are many more applicants than seats. Admission is through a complex lottery system designed to maintain racial balance. The lottery also ensures that children of differing abilities attend. The odds of admission are somewhat better in 5th grade than in 6th grade. There are occasionally a handful of seats available mid-year or in the upper grades; contact the parent coordinator for information. (Clara Hemphill, October 2017)