P.S. 234 Independence School
MANHATTAN NY 10007 Map
P.S. 234 Independence School
There are usually more applicants than seats at PS 234, a school in high demand located just a few short blocks from the downtown waterfront. Students are encouraged to learn through play and exploration, rather than textbooks, and active, affluent parents raise ample funds for the school.
Building and Location: Located in a rapidly developing area of upper and middle class lofts and high-rises in Tribeca, PS 234's three-story, beige-brick building is one of the most pleasant public school structures in the city. Built in 1988, it has large, sunny rooms, light oak tables and chairs, brightly lit corridors, and floors with shiny beige tiles. The school is air-conditioned and wheelchair accessible. Overcrowding was a problem, however, an extension behind the main building and the opening of two nearby schools, the Spruce Street School (PS 397) and the Battery Park City School (PS 276) has somewhat alleviated the problem although class size remains large in a few upper grade classes.
School Environment and Culture: Principal Lisa Ripperger, who arrived in 2006, promotes hands-on, inquiry-based learning and a collaborative atmosphere. A proponent of integrating special education students into general education classrooms, she introduced Collaborative Team Teaching classes to the school.
Students call teachers by their first name and maintain a friendly relationship, helped by the fact that they remain together for two years in the same classroom, from kindergarten-to-1st grade, 2nd-to-3rd grade, and 4th-to-5th grade. Parents are active participants in the life of the school, frequently staying to chat in the school courtyard after dropping off their children.
In its early years PS 234 was able to accept students from around the city, bringing socio-economic and ethnic diversity to the school. Now most students come from local affluent upper and middle class families and the student population is much less diverse, the principal noted.
Teaching and Curriculum: Teachers, collaborate with one another and favor hands-on experiments over textbook teaching. "The school's inquiry-based learning approach for science and social studies enables students to learn how to learn by themselves," said Ripperger. "They can learn to look into issues in-depth by doing things with their own hands."
An example: Wooden blocks aren't just found in early grades, but also in 3rd grade classrooms. Ripperger said playing with blocks helps "boost students' mathematical understanding" and allows them to "explore their creativity."
Classes take frequent field trips which augment lessons. Second and third graders learn how a restaurant is operated, visit nearby restaurants; eventually setting up their own simulated restaurant at the school. In a semester-long study of Central Park, students visit the park to learn about different trees and species but also to analyze the conflicts between land development and preserving green space.
The school uses the TERC math curriculum which teaches students to look for answers step-by-step and to design ways to find solutions to math problems, rather than rote memorization. On the day of our visit, 4th graders were able to explain problems they had created and solved having to do with the capacity of sports arenas. Some parents are critical of TERC, used in many District 2 schools, and say that kids don't learn basic skills. To introduce the program, the school organized a math night for parents, where they worked together on 4th- and 5th-grade algebra problems.
The school has five part time music teachers. Technology curriculum doesn't start until 3rd grade and is provided once a week.
Special Education: Students with special needs account for only 4-5% of the school population. PS 234 offers one self-contained class and several CTT classrooms which Ripperger introduced to the school. The school also provides speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy outside of the classroom.
English Language Learners: Very few students are English Language Learners. A part-time ESL teacher gives additional support when necessary.
After school: A fee-based program is offered by Manhattan Youth, a nearby community center until 5:50 p.m., Monday to Friday. The school provides instrumental classes with part-time music teachers. A track team meets before school.
Family Involvement: PS 234 has an active PTA with an average of 80 parents attending morning meetings. Parents fund the partnership with the National Dance Institute. Attendance at meetings, workshops, social studies celebrations, and curriculum nights is unusually high.One parent told us: "Administrators and teachers are willing to listen to parents' questions and concerns and follow up seriously."
Admissions: PS 234 is a zoned school. There are typically 125 seats for kindergarten students and in 2009 there were 230 applicants. If there are more applicants than seats, a lottery is held. Some students previously zoned for PS 234 now attend PS 397 or PS 276, with new, temporary zoning lines drawn in 2010.
After Graduation: Graduates go to a variety of District 2 schools including the NYC Lab School for Collaborative Studies, Salk School of Science, Manhattan Academy of Technology, IS 289, School of the Future, and the Clinton School for Writers and Artists. (Antony Tam, November 2009)