The 30th Avenue School
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An exploration room, computer programming and pre-engineering
Lower and upper grades are housed at separate sites
The 30th Avenue School, also known as Q300, is a progressive, citywide G&T (gifted and talented) school designed for bright kids that highlights three core values: inclusion, inquiry and responsibility. There is a strong focus on engineering and technology throughout the grades; kindergartners study computer coding, 2nd-graders work in teams on engineering missions, and 6th-graders tackle Lego robotics.
A typical day for the younger students includes time in the exploration room, where they indulge in creative problem-solving activities through play, such as building with blocks or Legos. Curiosity is fostered here and activities often center around children's questions: "Teachers ask a lot of questions here, and now my child is starting to ask me a lot of questions," said a parent.
Founding principal Matt Willard is a big believer in the role of exploration in a child's development. "Experiential learning is motivating for kids," he said. He grew up in Queens and the Bronx where he was enrolled in gifted classes, and wants to offer kids in Queens a progressive option. He earned a masters of science in special education and has taught both special education and general education classes at PS 153 in Maspeth, Queens. Prior to becoming a teacher, Willard was the preschool science coordinator at the New York Hall of Science.
The school aims to build responsibility in kids, and a cooperative culture. Younger children check in with each other during morning and closing meetings every day. The older ones meet four times a week in small advisory groups where they share goals and concerns. First-graders often work in groups of three; middle school students in teams of up to six. Parents said conflict resolution is actively and effectively pursued here.
The rationale behind the choice of math programs, primarily Investigations in Number, Data and Space, and Math in the City, is that they promote teamwork, projects and exploration, according to the administration. These goals are also fostered through CMP3 (connected math project 3) in the middle school.
Parents praised the school's balance of nurturing and academic challenge, and expressed relief at having found a school where their kids are "not criticized for being smart or nerdy." Yet they also seemed to be cautiously weighing the question of academic rigor and how it is best achieved. "Every G&T parent looks for a little bit of NEST and Anderson," said a 6th-grade parent, citing two schools known for fast-paced academics.
Parents are very active. In the school's inaugural year (2014-2015), with only three grades, they raised $60,000, which one said they planned to use to pay for teaching assistants in kindergarten. Through 2nd grade, homework is limited to nightly reading and some optional assignments. Starting in 3rd grade students receive homework in all core subjects.
Middle school students participate in an engineering lab where they design Rube Goldberg-type contraptions or create ways to clean up after a river oil spill. They participate in computer simulations of animal population growth and hold online debates. They also take field trips to the 9/11 Memorial Museum and the American Museum of Natural History, among other destinations.
Q300 replaces the STEM Academy, a smaller citywide G&T program that opened in 2009 inside PS 85. The new school will phase in over a few years at two locations: PS 17 for grades k to 4, and, beginning in the 2015-16 school year, IS 126 for grades 5 to 8.
Students already enrolled at the STEM Academy will remain at PS 85 through 5th grade and move on to 6th grade at the IS 126 location.
Q300's lower grades are housed on the fourth floor of PS 17. The congenial leaders from both schools meet weekly. All the elementary school students may participate in PS 17's fee-based after-school program.
ADMISSIONS: Families may apply to the elementary school (k-3) only after their children score high marks on the Department of Education's gifted and talented tests. Bus service is available for Queens students living within a five-mile bus route of the school. Others arrange their own transportation. Parents have organized a private bus service for a fee. For middle school, admission is based on a combination of factors that make up a "composite score"—the final 4th-grade report card counts for 35 percent, state tests 35 percent, student performance indicators 20 percent and attendance 10 percent. Priority goes to students enrolled at STEM and then citywide. In 2015, over 200 families attended an open house for 6th grade. (Lydie Raschka, February 2015)Read more