The Children's Workshop School
MANHATTAN NY 10009 Map
The Children's Workshop School
One of four small, progressive schools in the East Village, Children’s Workshop is a happy, welcoming place. Children call adults by their first names and the grown-ups seem to truly care about the well-being of their students. Class sizes are small and curriculum is based on hands-on projects: children may learn science in a cooking class or math in a make-believe farmers market.
Children’s Workshop shares a 100-year old building with two other elementary schools: the progressive East Village Community School, and PS 94, a District 75 school for children with special education needs. Principal Maria Velez-Clarke, founded the racially diverse school in 1993, based on the principles of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The only holiday the school celebrates is Dr. King Day. There are no Christmas or Halloween parties, but every January the kids put on a big celebration and performance to commemorate the late civil rights activist.
Children learn in small groups, work quietly alone, or sit together on rugs for a lesson with the teacher. Pre-kindergartners, kindergartners and 5th graders have their own classes but 1st & 2nd graders and 3rd & 4th graders are grouped together. They have the same teacher both years. Children learn to work independently and without direct supervision. On our tour we heard no raised voices.
Every Friday the entire school gathers in the auditorium for a community meeting where parents are welcome. Older kids help younger kids learn how to read for the school’s Reading Buddies program. And Velez-Clarke knows her students and their families well: on our visit, a teacher asked Velez-Clarke about a kindergartener’s food allergies and the principal easily responded from memory.
Children’s Workshop students perform near city average on standardized tests. Velez-Clarke has created programs to combat the so-so achievement in reading and math: 3rd, 4th and 5th graders come to school 40 minutes early for test prep; two reading intervention specialists work with small groups of 1st graders. Melissa Vigilante, a mother, stood by the school’s nurturing approach to teaching the kids. She said the staff is “not drowning the kids in rote academics but giving them unique perspectives.”
One downside: Children’s Workshop has no proper gymnasium and only a small cafeteria. The children must eat in 20-minute shifts starting at 10:30 am. Since there is no gym, everyone has recess in at the playground or nearby parks on nice days and in the auditorium watching a movie when the weather is poor.
The school has a rich arts program that includes daily art and band, choir, relaxation (yoga) and dance with school partners Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre and Ballet Hispanica. Velez-Clarke said she sees her kids employing the breathing techniques they learn in yoga class to calm down before taking tests.
Special education: Whenever possible, the school includes children with special needs in general education classrooms with extra support. There were three CTT classes at the time of our visit. The school has two reading specialists.
Admissions: Priority to children from District 1. The school occasionally has room for out of district children, particularly from Brooklyn. Persistence helps: seats sometimes open up in August, months after the regular admissions season is over.
(Anna Schneider. January 2012.)