Saturday, December 6, 2008

Philbrick school preview - Dec. 2

I have to stop torturing myself by visiting schools that start at K2. I would really like my son to enter BPS in K1. So that eliminates at least a few great schools that start at K2, including the Philbrick.

The Philbrick sits on a quiet residential street in Roslindale. I liked the school as soon as I walked through the doors. Bright murals line the entryway. A pair of fifth graders greeted us and brought us downstairs.

The school isn’t big -- 148 students in eight classrooms. They’re K2-5 plus two special education classes. They have no plans to add a K1 class because that would mean eliminating a special ed class and then we get into issues of equity.

Their special classes are music once weekly, movement (gym half the year, dance the other half), science two or three times a week, and art once a week for half the year. Instrumental music instruction is offered to every student (grades 3-5) who wants to learn.

We walked into their science classroom where the teacher was explaining to second graders about examining rocks under magnification. Terrariums against the wall held crabs, crawfish, turtles, and millipedes. The Philbrick partners with the Boston Nature Center with occasional science lessons there, and every year, fifth graders go camping in the Berkshires. We had an outdoor ed class like this in my school. It was the first time I'd gone camping.

We peeked in the K2 classroom for a bit. They had cranberries floating in their water table. The teacher explained it was part of learning about their community and the holidays. Children record the number of cranberries they scoop up in the bucket. Along that same vein, this class went on a field trip to the Copley Square farmer’s market in November. According to the K2 newsletter, they planned to make vegetable soup with their purchases. The only thing that could beat that is if they had their own vegetable garden on site.

The school hosts an on-site before-school program from 8-9. Their after-school program is run by two parents from 3:30-6. They have structured homework time, unstructured play time, and enrichment activities, such as dance, computer instruction, and Mandarin Chinese lessons for all grades.

Like other schools, they traditionally lost many of their fourth- and fifth-grade students to schools that offer advanced work. In order to keep more upper-grade students at the Philbrick, they’re meeting with parents to discuss ways to challenge students by differentiating instruction.

They have discussed becoming K-8 partners with the Haley (one would feed into the other), but I get the feeling that this is a very long-term discussion. They’re also asking to reserve seats at the new BTU School for Philbrick students.

Their playyard is newly refurbished and they also have a cafeteria/auditorium for indoor activities.

The only mark in the negative column for the Philbrick is the lack of a library. I did notice shelves of books everywhere in the school, so they don’t have a dearth of reading material, just library space. The principal, who’s in the middle of her second year at the Philbrick, said they started an initiative for all students to get their own cards for the Boston Public Library.

A few days after my visit, I got a thank-you card in the mail. So polite.

A few school tours have helped me see that I’m a sucker for small schools. Maybe they just feel a little less institutional and more warm and cozy to this small-town girl.

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