Central Park East I
MANHATTAN NY 10029 Map
Central Park East I
Central Park East was founded in 1974 by Deborah Meier, a visionary teacher whose work has had a profound effect on education in New York City and the nation. Her belief that schools should be small, humane, democratic places where children learn how to learn and how to think for themselves helped spark a revival of progressive education in the city and the nation.
CPE and its sister school, Central Park East II, have remained true to its roots. Teachers pay unusual attention to the interests of the children and hold the firm belief that those interests will lead children to explore the world around them in a purposeful way. Independent work is prized. Teachers say much of what is taught here can’t be measured by multiple-choice tests: the ability to work with others, the ability to find the answers to questions of interest and the ability to delve into projects in detail over a long period of time.
Instead of accepting racial segregation as a given, CPE has always put a premium on enrolling children from different neighborhoods to make the school as racially integrated as possible and puts kids of different abilities and ages in the same class. Second and 3rd grades are combined, as are 4th and 5th grades. Each day includes “Worktime” when children cook, sew, paint, build and pursue creative projects. In a 4th and 5th mixed-grade class, a boy used a glue gun to put the finishing touches on a kickball field made of cardboard and paper. A girl was making a dollhouse “because I like small things.” Another lined a shoebox with blue paper to create a swimming pool, an interest sparked when “my brother taught me how to swim nine feet deep.” In one room a pet corn snake was a springboard for research, art, writing and measurement.
Kids write about their work in journals and teachers provide feedback. Cursive and keyboarding are not taught, but children do have access to computers. A few longtime teachers said they feel instruction has become more consistent because new teachers have come in better prepared to explicitly teach reading and math skills, such as in a lesson we saw on multiples. Still, this is not a school that believes in spelling tests, and math concepts are practiced through the use of counters, money or shapes to aid understanding.
Principal Julie Zuckerman took a leave in January 2012 to start another school based on CPE principles, the Castle Bridge School on W. 169th St and Broadway in the PS 128 building. A few parents were concerned about this transition, but Zuckerman hoped it would be smooth, given the early start in looking for candidates. She served the school for six years, following a tumultuous period in which the school had four principals in four years.
Special Education: Two classrooms combine special needs children with general education children and are co-taught, with one teacher trained in special education. Another specially trained teacher works individually with 4th and 5 th graders in the classroom.
Admissions: Families are required to take a school tour and fill out an application; students are selected through a lottery. According to veteran teacher Donnie Rotkin the visit is revealing and crucial for families trying to make a decision. Parents may see, among other things, “a 5th grader playing with blocks and Lego and doing science experiments without a lot of supervision.” (Lydie Raschka, February 2011, updated January 2012)