I have written many posts about how much I love PS 178, Brooks’s school. It is extraordinary. Period. This is not news.
But I thought it might be an interesting exercise to try to articulate what makes it so good, and for that matter what makes any school good. Especially at this juncture in New York City public education where 20 schools have proposed closing dates, based in large part on consistently low standardized test scores. Since I am skeptical about this kind of data being a reliable indicator of a good education, I wonder about alternative measurements. Is it possible to boil the essence of a good school down to a few bullet points?
Perhaps not, but here are a few things that stand out for me.
- A staff of dedicated professionals: On a very rainy Sunday in December, our Parents’ Association (PA) hosted “Scrap-tacular,” an eco-friendly arts and crafts fundraiser. Brooks made a Native American rattle stick and an egg carton sculpture, among other recycled creations, and the school principal and parent coordinator sacrificed weekend time to stand behind the buffet and serve hot food to all who entered.
- Involved parents: I am in awe of our PA, and I regret not having more time and energy to serve on its board. This year, a particularly creative mom managed to set up a relationship with Cool Culture, an organization that provides free admission to most museums and cultural institutions in the city. That has translated into Brooks treating my husband and me to the Tim Burton exhibit at MOMA this past holiday season. For a little over an hour, my kindergartner was introduced to Jackson Pollock and Picasso. Minus the $40 it would have cost us otherwise for this hour, Cool Culture has made museums something we can work into Brooks’ 6-year-old attention span without going bankrupt.
- Diversity: When I look at my son’s class picture, I see the “rich and royal hue” Carole King sings about in “Tapestry.” I see autistic, Hispanic, African American, and white children from many different socio-economic backgrounds, and I am delighted when Brooks comes home counting in Spanish and teaching me about the Kinara his friends light to celebrate Kwanzaa.
Of course, there are many other things I could talk about. I could talk about small class sizes. I could talk about how the younger kids get ample time to learn through play and aren’t overburdened with homework. I could talk about the incomparable ASD (autism spectrum disorder) Nest classrooms and also the CTT (Collaborative Team Teaching) classrooms. But I think it’s interesting that my top three have little to do with education, per se.
I love that PS 178 is a thriving center of my community. This school is not simply teaching Brooks to read and write: the folks we entrust to his care for better part of his weekdays are teaching him how to be a good neighbor and a good citizen, and they are leading by example.
Perhaps I’m being somewhat naive and this is an oversimplification, but it seems to me that this very basic “sense of community” ingredient is an integral part of what elevates PS 178 to an exceptional school.
And you don’t need a standardized test to detect it—just good old-fashioned common sense.