P.S. 185 The Early Childhood Discovery and Design Magnet School

Phone: (212) 534-7490
Website: Click here
Admissions: neighborhood school/magnet
Principal: JANE MURPHY
Neighborhood: Harlem
District: 3
Grade range: 0K thru 02
Parent coordinator: MONICA VARGAS

What's special:

LEGO design curriculum; lots of emphasis on play and creative activities.

The downside:

Very limited after school program.

The InsideStats



Our review

At PS 185 young children learn about the very grown-up subjects of engineering and design. Also known as the Early Childhood Discovery and Design Magnet School, PS 185 serves students in pre-K through 2nd grade. The school, which has long served mostly poor African-American and Latino students, has room for children living outside its zone and received a federal magnet grant designed to increase enrollment and make the school more racially and economically diverse.

The tone throughout the school is nurturing and very much geared toward an early childhood population. There’s plenty of instruction in core subjects such as reading and math, even in pre-K, but teachers also infuse lots of play and creative activities into daily lessons.

“We don’t want 1st grade to be about preparing for 4th grade,” said Principal Jane Murphy. “We focus on how to be a good six year-olds.” Pre-k and kindergarten classes have play areas, art corners as well as lots of blocks, LEGOs and toys. We saw impressive art projects and Lego models on display in 1st and 2nd grade classrooms.   Students in all grades get instruction in art, music and movement as well as lessons in the school’s LEGO lab, an entire classroom dedicated to design and engineering instruction.

In classrooms children seemed happy and engaged. We saw a range of skills. In one 2nd grade class we saw some tables of students reading very easy non-fiction books, with few words per page, while other groups of students were tackling grade appropriate and even challenging selections. Children in all grades are expected to write a lot in all subjects, including math. They record observations and results and typically wrap up small lessons and lengthier studies with reflections on what they learned and how they improved.

Instruction in engineering and design follows an early childhood curriculum designed by Marina Umaschi Bers, a Tufts University professor with dual expertise in childhood development and computer science. “We’re really big on LEGOs and learning through play,” said Murphy. Teachers receive training in the design curriculum, which is woven into lengthy studies on topics ranging from wind power and transportation to health and nutrition. The LEGO component of the program introduces students to engineering and promotes skills development. Students learn to follow instructions, tolerate frustration, expand on ideas and grapple with the process of trial and error. For instance, during a lesson on balance, kindergarten students were given a simple pattern of a bird to recreate with LEGOs. Once they constructed the bird according to the instructions, they were asked to attach two more LEGO pieces without tipping over the structure.

PS 185 is housed in a two-building complex that it shares with several small elementary schools including PS 208, another magnet grant recipient serving students in grades 3 to 5. Other schools on the premises include Harlem Link Charter School and PS 226, a small program run by District 75, the citywide district for students with severe disabilities. Harlem Success Academy 2 is slated to open several classes of fifth graders in the building for the 2012-13 school year.

Most PS 185 graduates attend PS 208, which focuses on environmental studies. The two schools work together to ensure that 2nd grade instruction at PS 185 helps prepare students for the transition to 3rd grade at PS 208, where students will have to take annual state exams.

Special education/ESL: There are self-contained and ICT (Integrated Collaborative Team) classes for children with special needs. An ESL teacher provides support to English language learners both in their regular class and also outside the classroom.

After school: Robotics is offered one day per week. Many students attend after school programs run by a local community center.

Admissions: Neighborhood school.   District 3 students who are not zoned for the school can apply by completing the District 3 magnet application. Residents in other districts will be considered for admission if space is available after all zoned and District 3 residents are placed. (Laura Zingmond, March 2012)

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