P.S. 77 Lower Lab School
MANHATTAN NY 10128 Map
P.S. 77 Lower Lab School
PS 77, Lower Lab School, is a small gifted and talented (G&T) school that offers demanding academics in a calm and nurturing setting. Founded in 1987, a time when most Upper East Side schools were neither well-regarded nor in high demand, Lower Lab was modeled after two progressive private schools, Manhattan Country School and Bank Street School of Education. More than two decades later, Lower Lab remains true to its progressive roots providing creative instruction and lots of group work geared to the needs and interests of its highly capable student population.
Building and location: The school shares a building with PS 198, on the northern tip of District 2, one block from the border with East Harlem's District 4. Inside the 1950's era structure, hallways are clean, bright and airy, particularly those facing an interior courtyard decorated with potted plants and artificial turf. Indoor shared facilities include a gymnasium, auditorium, and large cafeteria. The building's library is used exclusively by PS 198. The expansive outdoor yard has an enclosed section with climbing equipment for younger students.
Lower Lab's classrooms are clustered together on a couple of floors, but there is no section or hallway reserved exclusively for the school.
School Environment and Culture: Students enjoy a sweet, calm environment. Hallways and classrooms are cheerful and brimming with student work. Teachers address students in a conversational tone; students often gather on rugs for lessons and move freely through the room during group and independent activities.
With over two decades of space sharing behind them, 198 and Lower Lab do not suffer the kinds of turf wars that many newly co-located schools wage. They have separate arrival and dismissal times and building entrances, each monitored by a security guard. PS 198, the larger of the two schools, uses the schoolyard for both arrival and dismissal. Students at Lower Lab access the building through a street entrance on Third Avenue.
Student enrollment between the two schools continues to be divided by ethnicity and income, despite broader access to G&T testing and the growing popularity of PS 198 in the neighborhood. In recent years, Lower Lab, which typically enrolls a predominantly white, middle class population and PS 198, which serves a more ethnically diverse and lower income student body, have made efforts to build a better sense of community. Students from both schools participate in occasional building-wide celebrations and serve on a joint student council that meets weekly. Throughout the building, corridors are easily identified by authentic street signs bearing names such as "Cooperation Ave" and "Understanding Ave."
Teaching and Curriculum: Walk into any class and you'll find evidence of high standards and rigor. In math, 3rd graders examine multiplication facts tables for prime, square, and composite numbers. By 5th grade, students are grappling with two-variable algebraic equations.
While academics are demanding, instruction emphasizes depth, rather than pace of learning. Teachers encourage students to think creatively about their work rather than plow quickly through a unit of study. After studying explorers such as Columbus, Magellan, and Ponce de Leon, 4th graders had to publicly "defend" their research subject by convincing classmates that their explorer's discovery was the most important in modern history. For a lesson on measurement, 1st grade students fanned out across their classroom to measure objects. One girl counted her steps as she walked slowly across the rug to figure out its length. Elsewhere in the room, a boy announced that a table measured "one me" after he realized it was the same length as his body.
To promote higher level thinking, teachers in all grades employ the Six Thinking Hats method, by renowned educator, Edward de Bono. Each of the six-colored hats represents a different approach to problem solving. When students "wear" their white hats, they're examining the facts; yellow, they're looking at the positives; black, the negatives, red, their emotions, green, they're considering alternative solutions and blue, they're focusing on the process of problem solving.
Starting in September 2010, the school will adopt a modified middle school schedule for the 5th grade. Students will receive math and science instruction from one of the 5th grade teachers and English and social studies from the other. "By 5th grade our students are doing middle school work, so it made sense to try this," said Principal Mara Koetke. In addition to allowing teachers to focus their energies on specific subjects, the new schedule will free up time for 5th graders to get daily science instruction.
Also beginning in the 2010-2011 school year, Lower Lab will participate in iZone, a technology-based project that promotes achievement in English and math by providing students with daily access to individualized on-line lessons. The iZone project provides schools with training for teachers, additional computers, and technological support.
All students get instruction in art, music and either Spanish (grades k - 2) or Latin (grades 3 - 5).
After school: The Beacon Program sponsors daily activities onsite for both schools. Lower Lab also offers chess, music, and sports activities supported by its PTA.
Special education: There are two, multi-grade (K - 2 and 3 - 5), self-contained classes for students with special needs who are assigned to the school through District 2. Those students participate in all school activities and join other classes for art and music, and academic lessons whenever possible, according to Koetke. Students in the K-2 class buddy with a G&T 1st grade class for reading.
Admissions: Priority to District 2 residents who qualify through citywide G&T testing. (Laura Zingmond, April 2010)