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Principal Focuses on Emotional and Intellectual Development at P.S. 101

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska | February 24, 2014 8:13am

FOREST HILLS — After Monique Lopez-Paniagua became principal of P.S. 101 last year, she introduced several new curriculums, including one that focuses on the social and emotional development of children.

“It’s not just about reading and writing,” she said. “You can’t teach academics without teaching students to be decent human beings and good, kind and compassionate citizens.”

The new material brought quick results, she said.

The School in the Gardens, as it is also known, received a low score on its 2011 progress report, including a D for student progress. In 2013 the school earned an A in the same category, and the school's overall grade improved from a C to a B.

Lopez-Paniagua, 43, who is currently working on her doctorate in education at the University of Phoenix, said parents should also be credited for students' improvement.

P.S. 101 parents are extremely involved and the Parents Association has funded numerous supplies at the school, including laptops, iPads and Smart Boards, which are now used in every classroom.

Lopez-Paniagua, who worked for Teachers College before becoming assistant principal at P.S. 89 in Elmhurst — a school with more than 2,000 students — said she enjoys the much smaller community in Forest Hills, with 582 students from pre-K to sixth grade.

Q: Since you became principal, the school has improved a lot in terms of its progress report. How did you make that happen?

When I came a year ago, I brought in new curriculums for mathematics and for our reading and writing program, so we now have Common Core-aligned curriculums.

We also looked for a social-emotional curriculum and we found one called “Positive Action,” which the PA paid for.

[On the 2013 Progress Report] we actually got an “A” for progress, an “A” for performance and a “C” for school environment.

Q: How important are those grades, in your opinion?

Data is important, because it gives you very clear information to understand what you need to do next. But I believe school is about children and children are all different. You have to be able to understand the needs of an individual child. Children are not just a number.

Q: Very few schools have curriculums dealing with social and emotional development. Why did you think it was important to bring a special new curriculum to P. S. 101?

When I came in, we conducted a learning environment survey and it revealed that the students were not showing kindness to one another, that they were mean to one another. And we started to analyze what we could do to change that.

We looked for a program that could teach our students in a systemic way how to be a kind and compassionate citizens and stand up for what’s right. We found this program “Positive Action" and now three times a week teachers do "positive action lessons" from the curriculum. The students come up with ideas of what we should do as a school.

So they decided that we would all buy pajamas to give to the needy. And then on Valentine's Day we all wore pajamas as a sign of kindness and respect toward one another.

When issues come up, now it’s not just the principal saying, "You have to be nice to each other," but it’s kids telling other kids, “Wait a minute, that’s not the way we treat each other.”

Once a month the parents also come in for a lesson around social-emotional curriculum. If they want to teach the lesson, we encourage them to do that.

Q: The parents and the PA are very engaged. How does the involvement of parents aid in their children's learning?

The PA president, Soumaly King, and I work very well together and one of our goals
is to build a strong collaboration between home and school.

I think that when parents come, it makes the students feel very important and engaged in their schoolwork.

The PA also bought the Smart Boards, which are used in every classroom, laptops for the teachers and iPads for every kid in our fifth and sixth grades.  

Our after-school programs, which include kung fu, test prep, yoga, gymnastics, chess club, cooking class, guitar and violin, are also run by the PA.

Q. What are some other initiatives parents are involved in?

We have parents involved in a recycling committee, which we started this year. They make sure that garbage cans and the posters are placed in every room, so that the teacher can teach the children where to put the garbage. A student in every classroom makes sure the class is doing it correctly. 

The parents are also launching a food allergy committee. We want to begin with having the staff trained in recognizing when a students is having an allergic reaction and how to use EpiPen.

We also have lots of parent volunteers who help at recess, who run the holiday fair, the candy sale or the book sale and they basically assist our school aides.

Q. The school is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Are you planning any special celebrations?

We will have events all year long celebrating our centennial. In March, we are having a gala and in May an art gallery when the parents can come and buy the students' art. We are going to have units of study related to the anniversary and students will prepare a time capsule which will show what it was like 100 years ago and what it will be like in 100 years.