Friday, January 13, 2006

The Benjamin Altman School: PS42

Anyone who actually reads any of this blog knows the high cynic factor (not to be confused with the O'Reilly Factor), so here's a refreshing change of pace about a wonderful school: "Kids learn at impressive rates here. Test scores have so improved that PS 42 is on the state's list of most improved schools and the chancellor's list of 209 schools exempted from having to install a new standardized curriculum. At the same time, Principal Rosa O'Day insists that staffers "take teaching and learning very seriously, but not at the expense of humanity." During our visit to the school, we were glad to see teachers get excited over children's fluffy renderings of baby chicks or comment knowledgeably about students' home lives and work. The warmth apparently starts at the top. When O'Day entered a first grade classroom during our visit, children eagerly swarmed around her to show off a project they were working on -- creating tiny folded slips that opened to reveal drawings of the people they wanted to be when they grow up. Despite coping with a cold, O'Day listened patiently as each student -- including those struggling with English -- described his or her aspirations. One boy hopes to be mayor one day. In another first grade class, we saw three teachers and a staff developer taking notes on the math lesson being presented. These teachers were using the "Japanese lesson study" method, in which they jointly draw up lesson plans and then observe their strengths and flaws. The point is to figure out what works and what doesn't in teaching their kids. In a 3rd grade class, some students read on their own, others read aloud with the teacher, and the rest wrote responses to their books -. Fifth graders publishing a class newspaper were researching story topics of their choice in order to draft articles. An English-as-a-second-language class wrote letters to Mayor Bloomberg protesting the closing of a neighborhood firehouse that the kids had visited earlier in the year. The arts propel literacy. The parent community stands behind PS. 42's belief that the arts serve as a wonderful vehicle for developing literacy, self-esteem, cultural and cross-cultural appreciation. "My personal goal," Rosa said, "is to educate the whole child. Children don't know what they're good at or what they like until they're exposed to a lot of different things." The print-rich environment of PS. 42 exposes students to new ideas with every turn in the five-story building's hallways. Here, as at every great school we've visited, student artwork springs to life; vibrantly colored walls and enormously high ceilings showcase projects; and children's books wallpaper every available surface - at heights advantageous for both kindergartners and fifth graders, of course. Teachers skillfully take advantage of the rich opportunities that lie just beyond the school's walls, too. As residents of one of the most culturally diverse cities, students only need to walk a few feet to be in another world. Around the corner from the school, for example, the Eldridge Street Synagogue stands as a reminder of the neighborhood's Jewish roots. Second graders explored the synagogue this year and sketched its elaborate exterior. Two years ago a week before the school year was to begin I walked into this school's office and shared with Rosa Casiello O'Day the excitement of my Al Schacht story and she actually didn't think I was nuts. She even called down her 5th grade teachers to listen. I was invited back to come look for any record cards in the basement that might belong to Al and his teammate Robert Berman. I never did, but... anyway here's a PS42 slide show.

1 comment:

Helen said...

I graduated from PS42 in 2004.
I have to say that PS42 is one of the best elementary school in NYC. It is overshadowed by larger schools, but it still manages to shine. The teachers there are wonderful and totally committed to helping the students. No where have I seen better teachers!