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Community Involvement Boosts Bushwick Elementary Schools

By Meredith Hoffman | February 11, 2013 6:41am

BUSHWICK — Public elementary schools in Bushwick face challenges on several fronts: They serve a high proportion of English-language learners and students needing free lunches, and they have a history of low scores on the state's achievement tests.

While some families turn to the neighborhood's charter schools or even send their kids to schools with available space in nearby Williamsburg, many parents are choosing to invest in Bushwick's public schools instead.

Parents say several elementary schools in Bushwick's District 32 are on the rise, with recent pushes for innovative arts courses and community involvement to boost morale, according to parents and teachers at P.S. 116 and P.S. 123.

Plus, a growing number of the schools offer classes for parents and adults in the community in computers, English and other subjects, school staff say, and none of District 32's elementary schools have admissions waitlists, advocates say.

P.S. 123 the Suydam School has started an award-winning community garden and a health program since it hired Principal Veronica Greene three years ago, PTA members said, and it has expanded its English classes for parents. The Irving Avenue institution has also started mandatory Saturday classes for fifth-graders, the PTA treasurer said.

And P.S. 116 has created a new student-led community service group, the "Bushwick Angels," in which kids volunteer at local nonprofits and fundraise for a neighborhood cause.

"We're trying to be an example for other schools in the neighborhood," said Jessica Jackson, a speech therapist and drama teacher at the Knickerbocker Avenue elementary school. "Most of our kids need free lunches, so it's amazing to see them donating cans...helping other people in the community."

Other popular options in the neighborhood include charters like Achievement First, Community Board 4 member Jose Camacho noted.

Here are some of Bushwick's noteworthy public elementary schools:

P.S. 116, Elizabeth L. Farrell, 515 Knickerbocker Ave.

With a strong emphasis on community service and the arts, P.S. 116 pioneered the "Bushwick Angels" program in which kids volunteer and raise money for local causes. The school also performs annual musicals (last year's was "Aladdin") and displays student work on its website.

P.S. 384, Frances Carter, 242 Cooper St.

P.S. 384 has seen improving test scores in the past several years, receiving an A on its progress report in the 2011-2012 school year. The school extends all the way through middle school, with I.S. 384 in the same building, steps from the Wilson Avenue L train stop.

P.S. 123, Suydam, 100 Irving Ave.

Across the street from Maria Hernandez Park, P.S. 123 boasts a community garden, a health program, and a robust selection of English and other adult classes for parents of the students. Principal Veronica Greene has created a "stricter environment" since she took her leadership position a few years ago, parents say.

P.S. 106, Edward Everett Hale, 1328 Putnam Ave.

P.S. 106 is known for its large renovated library and small class size, as Insideschools notes, and it received an A on its student progress report for the 2011-2012 school year from the Department of Education.

P.S. 151, Lyndon Johnson, 763 Knickerbocker Ave.

P.S. 151 has honors classes for each grade, a bilingual afterschool program, and dance and music clubs. The school has received mixed ratings by parents on websites like Greatschools.org.