I hear parents talk with great certainty about how you need to find a school with a rich PTA to get arts, staff and other untold benefits. Schools, please tell me that I am wrong, but that is not what I see on many tours. What you need is a savvy and thoughtful Principal who will attract a staff that can multi task, including grant writing to bring the programs that they need. Now this is not a blog meant to excuse gross inequities in the system and the fact that public school educators have to be superior grant writers to bring basic arts and enrichments to their schools is appalling. BUT parents who think that you can only get the 'good stuff' at a 'rich school' can be shockingly misinformed. This is a valentine to the schools serving the kids who are not coming from affluent homes, who have done amazing things.
The misunderstandings about PTA funds are legion. Parents think that if you have a big PTA fund, that there are always assistants or paraprofessionals in the classroom. NO. First, you can't pay for teaching staff with PA/PTA funds, and do you know what a second adult (assistant) in the classroom costs? People are very expensive. Think about this, if your parents have raised a Million for your PTA are you going to blow the whole thing on assistants for the kindergarten classrooms? PTA/PA money is NOT the schools money. It is the parent's money. The thought of second adults is nice for the kindergarten parents but likely that money was raised by the parents of older grade children as well - and if one grade section has one, all of them have to have them. To get more professionals in the classroom, your school wants to have a great relationship with the Education Programs at local Universities, so you have a lot Masters Candidates doing their student teaching in your school. If you are a school with a large percentage of free lunch eligible kids, you get Title 1 funding or a Magnet Grant that supports programs that all kids in the school can benefit from. There are also grants from the City Council People each year for technology and arts. There are educational and cultural organizations all over the city that offer grants to schools with poor kids - name a museum that doesn't have one; Carnegie Hall, Mark Morris, Metropolitan Opera, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, I couldn't begin to list them all. If you are in a more affluent school, you pay for them. Then there are arts professionals that get grants to work in schools; Studio in a School, TADA, Story Pirates - on and on. Local businesses and corporations volunteer and provide internships in and out of the schools. It is all about RELATIONSHIPS. If you have a smart and energetic Principal (and seriously this should NOT be part of their jobs, but it is) they can bring amazing things to their schools.
My kids attended a famously affluent elementary school. We raised gobs for the PTA and that money was spent on requests for materials from the teachers, 'scholarships' that supported kids who couldn't afford to participate in trips and I think that it paid for the buses to Gettysburg in 4th grade, stuff like that. It didn't pay for extra staff in the classroom, art teachers, or fancy extras. Then they went to a new, 'poor' middle school. Our PTA budget was $4000 in our best year. They had art, music and drama and new science labs and computers and regular trips to BBG, and the Aquarium and the Hall of Science and AMNH. I was the head of the grant writing committee - and still they didn't suffer (because what I know about grant writing can fill a thimble). I didn't feel a moment of sadness that my kids weren't attending the affluent middle school, in fact, I think that in that case, my kids got more.
I know that there are poor schools out there that don't get this stuff, and I am NOT EVER saying that it is easy. I am saying, "Don't turn your nose up at a school with poor kids, because they can really be bringing it!"
I have recently toured two schools that impressed me in just this way. Shout out to PS 196 in District 14 in East Williamsburg and PS 15 in District 15 in Red Hook. I walked away from both of these schools with my jaw hanging open in awe of what the Principals and teachers are doing in both of these schools both in 'stuff' and in learning. Both schools have prek classes and both schools traditionally have room for kids outside of zone and district. Both schools have over 80% Free or Reduced Price Lunch Eligible and vast majority of kids of color. If you are looking for a school outside your zoned school, you are doing yourself a disservice ignoring these options.
Some of the things at PS 196: beside a diverse student body - spectacular Robin Hood Library (fully stocked and staffed with a Library Specialist); Yoga room w/ trained Yoga teacher; dedicated block room/ fully stocked for block play on all grades; they are a UFT Community Learning School (its a big deal) with a talented Resource Coordinator who works to expand their outreach and enrichment; a regular NY Cares center with parent programs; they applied for The Leader in Me (Dr. Covey's 7 habits of Highly Effective People); PAAP- Parents as Arts Partners from CAE- Center for Arts Education; Dual Language Spanish in K and 1- second grade coming in September; $300,000 Community Media Center- PB- Participatory Budget from Councilmember Reynoso; Saturday programs for students and 'Winter Wishes' that brings $20,000 value to the school each year - plus 70 corporate volunteers from companies like Ernst & Young and Chase who paint and garden and participate in "Corporate Days" where they volunteer in the classroom; a new $50,000 lab; Sonima Health and Wellness Grant; Two Trees - Social Studies (NY Historical Society); Citizen Committee Grants in Photography and Drama; support from J.Crew and the Kind Snacks Company; Cookshop; Lil' Kids Rock guitar program; Annual Career Day; the Brooklyn Nets (the Players!) installed a new mural in the cafeteria, and the Mayor is doing a 5 Million Park upgrade to the park next door.
Some of the things at PS 15: beautifully designed and stocked full library/media center w/ a full time Library Specialist; full STEM exploration room with 3D printer and CAD training program for 5th graders; programs for both lower and upper grades with trained Cluster Teachers; an Architecture enrichment program; School based health and dental clinic; partnerships with Brooklyn Youth Chorus; Creative Arts Team for drama; Marquis Studio for movement; Studio in a School for visual arts; Young Audiences/NY for Dance; Metropolitan Opera Guild; Kentler International Drawing Space; Brooklyn Arts Council; Puppetry Arts; big gym with a full time teacher; big auditorium; courtyard that is used as a growing and learning space; Kids Orbit at recess.
Oh yeah, and both schools have Dual Lanuage Spanish.
My apologies to both wonderful Principals for the things that I forgot and to all the other schools out there that are fighting the good fight in obscurity. You will never know about them unless you tour.