To hear Rhonda Perry describe the Salk School of Science, it might seem as if there are no walls. Children go on field trips, scientists and doctors go into classrooms and students work in some of New York"s leading institutions.
But it"s just their philosophy to take advantage of the school"s rich location.
Doctors from the NYU School of Medicine founded the school in 1995 and named it after Jonas Salk, who created the first polio vaccine. Working with that legacy, the school often brings in doctors and Ph.D. students to teach classes.
â€œWe live in New York City, said Perry, the school"s principal. â€œIt"s this rich place's get people in here.
Through the Urban Advantage program at the American Museum of Natural History, Salk works with several institutions, including the Bronx Zoo, the New York Hall of Science and the New York Aquarium.
This also means that learning isn"t limited to the campus atop P.S. 40 on East 20th Street. Sixth-graders work with the Zoo to adopt an animal and analyze its behavior. The next year, students work on projects in fields like green energy or oceanography.
â€œWe feel like we have a responsibility to really utilize all of the rich cultural institutions here in New York City that put a strong focus on science, Perry said.
Then there"s the Exploratorium, an annual science fair held in the Museum of Natural History, in which students present their final projects based on a question they have proposed. In June, students had their projects shown after hours in the museum amid an exhibition on the brain. It"s all done to inspire.
â€œEach year, we expect [the students"] level of thinking and the rigors of their work to improve, she said.
Perry, 42, has been at the school since 2001. Since then, the school"s attendance rate and Department of Education performance statistics have remained high. The school focuses on critical thinking, effective communication and public speaking. But Perry said that even though there is a science basis, language is one of the school"s main engines.
â€œThey feel like they really learn to love writing here at the school, she said. â€œI think we have a really rich curriculum around writing.
The Salk School"s focus on scientific principles is meant to prepare students for advanced coursework in high school and college. Perry said 65 percent of the school"s graduates go on to specialized schools like Stuyvesant High School, the Bronx High School of Science and Brooklyn Tech.
Because of this, the school can afford to be selective about its students. Every year, hundreds of District 2 parents compete for only 132 6th-grade seats. Perry said they generally only consider applications where the Salk School is the student"s first choice.
During admissions, the school conducts interviews with a science test. Perry said potential students don"t need a prior science interest, but they have to be able to work in groups to solve problems. They"re evaluated on their writing, observations and grades.
Because of citywide budget cuts, attrition has eliminated a lead teacher and a special educator position. This cut the number of teachers to 23, Perry said.
â€œThat hurts kids, obviously, because it"s nice to have a few extra people on staff so you can build in extra supports for kids and professional development time for teachers to plan, she said.
But she said the loss doesn"t impede the school"s mission. Soon, the school will partner with green education center Solar One to send kids to its Green Design Lab. The school also plans to add an equipment room to the fourth floor science lab.
And Perry is making sure the sense of curiosity and scientific rigor isn"t limited to students. Perry said that when looking at potential teachers, she looks for people just as curious and open-minded as the students. She said she looks for teachers kids can look up to, because what happens in the school determines what happens outside.
â€œWe"re remodeling a certain way of being in the world for people, she said.
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