From the outside, PS 133: William A. Butler looks like any other new school building – pristine brick stone- the finest infrastructure. It’s what lies inside the stones and the structure that really holds the school together and that sets it apart.
The Principal, Heather Foster-Mann is at the forefront of the school’s success. Recently relocated to the new building, Heather has been involved in the New York City education system for over 20 years. As a first generation Jamaican-American, Heather recalled being made fun of because of her accent, inspiring an innate desire to be an advocate for those who are different – be it race, color, or linguistic differences.
This personal desire has certainly manifested itself into her work as principal. The international focus of the school is evident: as one of the most successful Dual Language Program (DLP) schools in New York City, PS 133 is one of the only schools that is open to children of all zones – Heather claims that this is only to preserve the microcosm that is the school as a representation of not only Brooklyn, but of New York City and the world at large.
PS 133 is one of the only schools with the DLP in both French and Spanish, starting at the pre-k level. I was personally amazed to be able to have a fluid conversation with children of that young age in both French and Spanish, about anything from what they were doing that weekend to what they were currently eating for snack time. For most adults, it takes years to get to the level that these young children achieved in just one academic year.
The structure of the class varies depending on the grade: some classes have half-days in French/Spanish, while some have instruction alternating between French or Spanish and English, every two hours. There is no question that whatever is being done though, is certainly working successfully for the over 180 students participating in the DLP.
Our fourth-grade student tour guides, Kimani Ingram and Anaya Gullap are not enrolled in either of the Dual Language Programs, but spoke to their success: students who are enrolled often engage in bilingual conversation among themselves.
Kindergarten teacher, Sarah Fromentin has a personal connection to all of her students, allowing her to embrace the French-American heritage that she had once wanted to reject as a young student in a monolingual school. Seeing her students connects her to a very beautiful past as a student in their shoes.
This international spirit permeates throughout halls of the school. It’s not only a celebration of French and Spanish, but of all nationalities, which is evident by the faculty that reflects the diversity of the student body.
Mr. Goetz works avidly toward creating a comfortable space for his second-grade students, the first students to ever be a part of the program. He has a special connection with this class, as he once was their Kindergarten teacher as well. His amiable disposition certainly wins the favor of the children, who listened to his instructions in French for posing for this picture.
The success of PS 133 is one that Heather Foster-Mann humbly states, ‘has nothing to do with me.’ It comes down to three things: 1. Parent support, 2. A willing administration, and 3. Finding the right teacher. She emphasizes that a supportive parent-group is key, repeatedly mentioning Jean-Cosme, whose child is in Mr. Goetz's class, as ‘the face of dual language’ and instrumental in getting the program started at PS 133.
Ps 133 is certainly a great model for other DLP schools, as well as for those considering initiating the program. The key is, as is heavily engrained in the school’s mission, to have ‘many voices, with one vision’.
By the way, the school is still accepting applications for the 2014/2015 academic year. Native speakers are particularly encouraged to apply. More information here: PS 133 Information