The parents of some of Queens’ sharpest young students are hoping the Department of Education (DOE) gives their children a “gift” — an advanced middle school program in western Queens.
Parents of P.S. 85 are distributing a petition in hopes of convincing the DOE to create a gifted and talented intermediate school in District 30 — similar to the Science, Technology, Enrichment and Math (S.T.E.M.) program currently housed within the elementary school, located at 23-70 31st Street in Astoria.
The S.T.E.M. program, which opened in 2009, is available to children across the city from kindergarten to fifth grade, unlike many of the other gifted and talented programs, which are kindergarten through eighth grade. Students hoping to be accepted into a citywide gifted and talented program must score in at least the 97th percentile, with the 90th percentile being the minimum for programs within their district.
Rebecca Bratspies, an Astoria resident whose five-year-old daughter is in the S.T.E.M. program, is fearful that the advanced education her child is receiving at P.S. 85 will cease after elementary school.
“This is a fabulous program,” Bratspies said. “I think it is essential for the children’s education and development. These students have special learning styles and educational needs, and they deserve to have these needs met. There is a history of gifted children acting out in class because they are bored and the education isn’t meeting their needs. Unfortunately, middle school is often forgotten. Lots of time and energy are put into elementary and high school, but middle school has fallen through the cracks, and it is one of the most important times for children developmentally.”
While Bratspies understands P.S. 85 is not large enough to support a middle school, she is hopeful the DOE can find another location to continue the program.
According to DOE spokesperson Frank Thomas, students in School District 30 can apply to any of the gifted and talented programs across the city, and they also have access to eight selective and screened middle schools in the immediate area.
“Students in gifted and talented elementary schools are served in a variety of ways by individual schools and districts all over the city, including selective and screened middle schools. That said, we always take feedback into account and want to ensure that every student has access to a great program,” Thomas said.
Although the district already has a gifted and talented middle school inside I.S. 122 in Long Island City, parents of P.S. 85 say there are not enough seats available for their children.
“There isn’t space for the kids from P.S. 85, and the program at I.S. 122 is only for kids from District 30 — but we have kids from all over,” Bratspies said. “So while it may be a solution for kids from District 30, the rest of the kids are out of luck.”
Tim Smith, a resident of Riverdale in the Bronx, is among the parents concerned about the limited accelerated educational options available to his child, a third grader in the S.T.E.M. program whose address makes him ineligible for admittance to I.S. 122.
“I’m extremely fearful that my son won’t be able to continue in a similar program,” said Smith. “The transition to middle school is tough as it is, so if the educational transition is tough as well, then a child could have an even harder time meeting his or her academic potential.”
Isaac Carmignani, the co-president of Community District Education Council 30 (CDEC 30), has been communicating with the DOE since January in hopes of creating a new citywide gifted and talented program in western Queens.
“Everybody is in agreement that we need a gifted and talented middle school for P.S. 85,” Carmignani said. “We have gifted and talented schools in District 30, but they are filled to capacity. There are options available, but there could be more.”
Carmignani says he has held discussions with the DOE about creating a gifted middle school program in I.S. 126 in Long Island City, and he is optimistic that a program will be established.
“We have hopes that we may get the program in I.S. 126 or somewhere else,” he said. “Putting a gifted and talented program in a school where we have room is far less controversial than some of the other ways the space could be used.”