The Robert F. Kennedy School: A Haven for Different Learners
The Robert F. Kennedy School is a multi-dimensional, multi-sited program designed to promote the academic, emotional and social growth of each child within the school community; those students with pervasive developmental disorders (PDD or MRDD), autistic spectrum disorders (ASD), or emotional-behavioral disorders (EBD). Kennedy School students in special school reduced-size classes range in age from five to 15, while those in the high school inclusion program and in hospital-based classes may continue to age 21.
Dr. Pola Rosen interviewed Marsha Steinberg, Assistant Principal at Robert Kennedy School P.S. 169M; Joan Abbott, who works with students on the autism spectrum; and Dwain Newell, who works with emotionally handicapped students.
PR: Would you give us an overview of some of the work that you do?
MS: We are located on 88th Street between Lexington and Park Ave, but we have five other sites that are within range of our school here. We have an inpatient program at Metropolitan Hospital as well as a high school inclusion program at Manhattan Center, and two other programs ranging from K to 2nd grade. Connected to Queens Children’s Psychiatric Center, they are housed in our building here. We also have an inpatient site that has about 18 to 20 kids at any given time.
PR: Why are they at Metropolitan Hospital?
MS: Depending on their emotional needs. Sometimes it’s for adjusting medication, seeing if that student needs medication, setting up outside services for that student, counseling.
PR: Does this school focus on students unable to make it in other NYC schools?
MS: Our entire school is for special ed students, who were not successful at various other schools, community schools usually, and have been referred to come here.
PR: What are the issues you deal with?
MS: ADD, Attention Deficit Disorder, ADHD, Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity, we have students that are cognitively challenged as well, students who are in and out of shelters, which present problems, and also students with parents who are challenged themselves and have difficulty.
PR: Dwain, would you tell us about your work with your students?
DN: Most of my students are 8, 9, 10, 11 years old. Some of them have experienced difficulties in the past for which they’ve been held over. Some have ADD, ADHD, conduct disorders, learning disabilities, and speech impediments.
PR: What are the special services the school provides?
DN: We provide speech services to our students, and also counseling and related services, and that is based on their Individualized Education Program. They receive counseling three times a week in a group of three or they receive counseling three times a week individually.
PR: What are the success stories that stick out in your mind?
JA: My classroom used to run a coffee shop. A father brought his son in for the first day. The boy took the whole pitcher of orange juice and threw it on the floor. Later, he learned to work in the coffee shop and sort of became the star of the school. He stayed with me for several years. His father wrote me a very beautiful letter when he left. The student had really made tremendous progress.
MS: This year we have three students from our Manhattan Center program that have been accepted to state colleges on scholarship.
DN: A student in my class was living in foster care. He did not have any understanding of why he was in the situation he was in because he had never met his parents. This older lady had been taking care of him. One day, he told me secretly that this person had adopted him. He was so excited about this change in his family; he went from feeling like no one wanted him to having a family forever.
PS. What is one thing you would change about your program?
DN: I would get more people interested in what we’re doing. If our students saw outside influences interested in what they’re doing, that would really inspire them to do better.
MS: I’d like to see more vocational schools for our kids who are not going to college but will have to be independent in life. Not everyone is able to go to college.
PR: Ms. Steinberg can you share some of the sadder stories?
MS: One student on a Friday said goodbye. Later, I was watching the news and I saw that he was shot. A very positive story is that we had a student, Achilles Baskin. He was one of the students who in the shopping cart incident was encouraging the students not to do that.
PR: Have any of your students committed crimes? What happens to them?
MS: Yes. They go through the juvenile system. They might spend some time in Spofford, or they go to some other correctional facilities. #