When a school goes 17 years in a row with an “A” grade, with a large population of economically disadvantaged students, it’s doing something right.
At Coral Park Elementary School in Westchester, the faculty and staff are doing a ton of things right. It starts with making kids feel good about themselves while they’re learning.
“Because you know we have a standard curriculum, but sometimes we also have to look at what is not so standard and what is within the child and what makes them happy, we make them happy, then they will perform better in the academic center,” said the school’s principal, Dr. Aileen Vega.
We saw hands-on learning going on all over campus, from kids racing the mousetrap cars they built to bottle rockets lifting off from the basketball court.
“You know at this level, at the elementary school level, you need to make it fun in order to make it stick,” Dr. Vega said.
They’re making learning “stick” at Coral Park, and that includes the special education population. We watched a class of intellectually disabled kids make pancakes.
“At this level, basically what we’re teaching them are the skills that they need such as writing their name, basic reading, basic math,” said Stephanie Acosta Castro, a teacher in the special education program. “Right now, the teacher is using cooking as a way to teach math.”
Coral Park also makes after-school learning a priority. Nearly 500 students are involved in the program, staying late on campus every day.
“We do the SECME, we do the robotics, we do some coding, we do the performing arts, we do the ballet, we have soccer, it engages the whole child in activities past school hours but it still keeps them here,” Dr. Vega explained.
The school partnered with the Education Fund to build a vegetable garden. Parents volunteer to help keep it growing and to teach the pre-kindergarten kids all about the art and science of raising veggies, and the produce is served in the cafeteria.
“We’re the base, we’re the foundation, we take pride in establishing the stepping stone for the upper grades,” said Anayleen Rodriguez, the director of pre-K programs.
That strong foundation is paying dividends in achievement, generation after generation.