P.S. 1 Alfred E. Smith

Phone: (212) 267-4133
Admissions: neighborhood school
new immigrants
Principal: AMY HOM
Neighborhood: Lower East Side/ Chinatown
District: 2
Grade range: 0K thru 05
Parent coordinator: CINDY YEUNG LAU

What's special:

Strong sense of community and chinese dual language program

The downside:

Old building

The InsideStats



Our review

Built in 1897, PS 1 has long provided a solid education to its immigrant neighborhood, as exemplified by the grandmother who served on the PTA for 23 years, while two generations of her family attended the school. Perhaps for that reason, the community is eager to give back to the school. Volunteers painted cheerful murals to brighten the walls of the century-old, stone-gray building, and regularly read to children during the school day and tutor after hours. Parents and grandparents also volunteer, even those who don't speak English.

"We have a lot of people who want to give to PS 1," says Amy Hom, who grew up down the block. Hom became principal in 2003 after working at the school as a teacher and assistant principal.

Hom is always on the hunt for supplemental activities or volunteers to engage her students. Movie location scouts frequently ask to use the building for filming, and Hom says she insists that children be allowed to observe the behind-the-scenes work. In 2013, Spiderman climbed up the school walls for a scene in The Amazing Spiderman 2. A dental specialist from New York University provides treatment for children and Kress Vision supplies free eye exams and glasses. Hom hopes that such experiences will expose her students, which include new immigrants from China, children living in temporary shelters and children living with surrogate families to worlds outside their own. "If they don't get it in school, where are they going to get it," she asks.

Hom also expects students to give back to the community. A student panel raises money for the Penny Harvest and chooses where to donate the collected funds. In 2013, students decided to give to an organization that funds operations for children with cleft palates. Fourth-graders participated in Soaringwords, a charity connecting them to children with cancer to send cards, gifts and good wishes.

Parents and neighborhood volunteers can often be found in PS 1's building and are always welcome. In the "parent room," they attend workshops and events, even dance classes, or just sit around to eat and chat. PTA meetings are translated into four different languages: Mandarin, Cantonese, Spanish and English.

PS 1 still struggles to meet every need. A majority of the teachers responding to the 2012 school survey expressed a lack of trust in the principal, with 56 percent saying she is not an effective manager. Three-quarters of PS 1’s teachers have been teaching for more than a decade but two-thirds of the school’s teachers say they would appreciate more feedback about their teaching. And nearly half of the teachers said the school lacked sufficient supplies. But, Hom said, she’s doing everything she can to provide for her students. “Any extra money we have goes to supplies,” she says. In recent years, donations have allowed the school to install air-conditioning in all the classrooms. 

PS 1 uses the Columbia University Teachers College workshop method to teach reading and writing--emphasizing drafting and revision of writing in a number of genres. For math, it relies on the city's Everyday Math program, which encourages children to use "manipulatives"--math toys--to help them understand mathematical concepts.

Classes have 28-32 children. Groups of children go through an extended school-day rotation throughout the school year. In that extra 50-minutes of class time, students receive services based on their needs; for example, the high-achieving students work with English language learners on projects like playwriting, something that Hom says challenges both populations.

Many PS 1 graduates go to nearby MS 131 for middle school, but others go further afield to to Lab, MS 104, and Salk School of Science. “We try to encourage them to leave the neighborhood,” otherwise they might grow up without seeing the rest of the city, says Hom.

English as a Second Language: PS 1 offers a dual language Mandarin program beginning in fall 2013 with two pre-kindergarten classes. There are a variety of services for English language learners, including bilingual Chinese classes. “Most of our teachers are ESL-licensed,” says Hom.

Special education: PS 1 offers "self-contained" classes for children with special needs as well as having integrated co-teaching classrooms, with one general education teacher and one teacher certified in special education. Hom said the school has seen an increase in the number of autistic children.

(Catherine Man, May 2006; updated via phone interview by Anna Schneider, July 2013)

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