PS 513 Castle Bridge School
MANHATTAN NY 10032 Map
PS 513 Castle Bridge School
Castle Bridge is a happy place, where students learn through play and exploration. Patterned after Central Park East Elementary School in East Harlem, Castle Bridge combines a progressive approach to teaching with dual language instruction in English and Spanish.
About half of the students speak Spanish at home; the other half speak English. Teachers spend a half-day speaking to their students in one language and then switch to the other, so kids end up learning each subject in both Spanish and English. Founding Principal Julie Zuckerman said that, to her surprise, students particularly excel at speaking their non-native language during math lessons.
Classrooms can get loud and messy, but rules are clear and teachers always maintain control. Children play in groups of two to four with blocks, LEGOS, sand tables, dolls and dress-up corners--learning to get along with one another as well as building their academic skills. During our visit, when one girl accidentally knocked over her classmate’s intricate wooden-block ramp, the teacher brokered an apology, complete with a hug and a joint effort to rebuild the ramp.
Students develop strong relationships with each other and also with adults, giving the school a familial atmosphere. Classes combine children in two grades; kids stay with the same teacher, in the same classroom, for two years. Adults go by their first names. Instead of report cards, teachers write multiple-page “narratives” for each child twice a year.
Zuckerman, former principal of Central Park East I, believes playtime is crucial to learning. She even participates in daily gym class, acting as both referee and playmate as her kids let off steam and run around.
Classes have about 22 children and at least two adults (sometimes as many as seven, including parent volunteers and student teachers). Because teachers know each child so well, they can assign individual and group work tailored to their kids’ strengths and weaknesses.
Parent involvement is strong. Moms and dads often drop in to help out in the classroom. Families also join students in a weekly Monday morning school-wide sing-a-long (for which the principal plays guitar) and weekly Wednesday afternoon ice-skating in Central Park.
The youngest children have a nap after lunch--with optional teddy bears. Teachers also use the teddy bears in certain lessons, such as talking about feelings.
Parents who are looking for a traditional education—with learning based on textbooks and an emphasis on standardized tests—will be disappointed.
But the parents we met on our visit were happy. “Everything is worked into the curriculum so you don’t have to do music or art lessons after school,” one mother, Emma Frank, told us, calling Castle Bridge her “dream school.” She said her child even gets public speaking practice during weekly “oration” lessons.
Castle Bridge shares space with the popular PS 128 Audubon, close to the 168th Street A, C and 1 subway stop and across the street from Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.
Castle Bridge opened with kindergarten and 1st grade classes in fall of 2012 and will add a grade each year until it grows to a K-5 school with 200 students.
Special education: Castle Bridge is an “inclusion” school, meaning children with disabilities are included in all of the school’s activities. Each classroom has two teachers, at least one of whom is certified to teach special education or ESL.
Admissions: School tour and application available at the school for K & up; pre-K admissions are through the DOE. English-dominant kids are not accepted after 1st grade. The school is committed to serving a diverse population, says Zuckerman, and has set aside 10 percent of its seats for children with parents in the prison system. (Anna Schneider, February 2013)