Parents at Queens Elementary Worried About Competition

In All by Tola Brennan

QUEENS, N.Y., Sept. 9 — Parents dropping kids off for the first day of school at PS 101 in Forest Hills were worried about another year of obsessive focus on standardized testing. School starts 20 minutes earlier this year while long hours of homework and reduced recess keep rambunctious kids stuck sitting down all day, parents say.

Nestled in the center of affluent Forest Hills Gardens, this elementary school has a lot of expectations to live up to. Many schools nearby appear high in the New York State Department of Education statewide rankings. But four years ago, parents demanded more play time with less obsessive focus on competition, even getting written about in the New York Times. Not long after, the school brought in a new principal, Monique Lopez-Paniagua who took over in 2013.

In late August, Lopez-Paniagua posted a video to the PS 101 website proudly announcing the school had been marked a Reward School by the DOE for high performance on standardized tests.

Excitement filled the air as families streamed in for 8 a.m. check-in. “I’m really hopeful that this year is gonna be good,” said Carol Genovese, 44, who has four sons at the school. But she’s concerned about testing. “I sit in the classroom like ‘oh my god this is so boring.’ It’s terrible to do this to them when you could be teaching the same thing but in a fun way. Not how to just get the perfect score on a test.”

She’s not the only one. “If the school emphasizes test scores then kids suffer from taking away their play time,” said Yoko Stetson, 48, who has a son in second grade. She thinks it’s a bigger problem for lower grades, especially for boys who she says needs to run around more. “It’s only an elementary school,” she said.

One that certainly pays attention to details. “It’s definitely challenging when a teacher lays out what their schedule is and some of the activities are broken down into 15-minute increments,” said Bliksem Tobey, 40, a management consultant. “They’re trying to balance out good things for the kids, but there’s just so many ideas.”

It’s not all the school’s fault though. “It’s because there are all these insane Common Core standards,” said Christine Memoli, 43, co-president of the Parents’ Association. “These kids who are used to running around and playing all day have to sit down for six hours.” Despite challenges, she thinks Lopez-Paniagua does a great job. “Our principal is amazing,” said Christine. “She’s by the book but she has included playtime in kindergarten as much as possible.”

“It’s not just up to the teachers. The parents have to sit down with their children everyday,” said Sylvia Saye, 49, a human resources specialist. “Some stuff is a little silly.” Frustrations aside, it’s still a special day. Saye grew up in the neighborhood and went to PS 101 for kindergarten almost 50 years ago. She said she’s excited and a little anxious as her daughter Scarlett, 6, begins first grade.