The East Village Community School
Manhattan NY 10009
Joyful, progressive school; extra recess and plenty of field trips
Some space constraints in shared building; no full sized gym
At East Village Community School, a school-wide morning meeting begins with a few dads, moms and teachers strumming banjos and guitars leading an audience sing-along of "This Land is Your Land." It's a family affair, with long-haired dads bouncing infants; toddlers clapping along with the kids on the stage; and one tyke even crying inconsolably after the show ended because he wanted to stay at school with his older sibling.
"This is my favorite time of the month," said a pre-k dad at this progressive East Village school. "We get to sing all these old songs. The principal is doing a great job of bringing all the kids together and it starts with the morning meeting."
EVCS can seem almost like a throwback to the 1960's, even down to the singing of the 1972 song "Free to Be You and Me." Kindergarten still looks like kindergartens of old, where children learn through play to read, write and get along with one another. The block corner doesn't disappear after pre-k - it's an active place used even in 1st grade lessons about community buildings.
When longtime, popular principal Robin Williams left in 2014 for a job in the District 1 office, the school didn't skip a beat, as assistant principal Bradley Goodman took over."I'm carrying the torch," said Bradley, a musician who used to run a sing-along club at the school and who taught there for seven years prior to becoming assistant principal.
He has pumped up the responsive classroom method as a technique that "sets a positive tone." Every class starts the day with a meeting - a ritualized share, and activity. "Students acknowledge one another, make eye contact and say kind words," he said. Certain hand signals and a chime show students it's time to pay attention, move to a different activity or request permission to use the bathroom.
There is joy in the classrooms, and plenty of exploration. Each class goes on as many as 10 fields trips a year, not counting the many neighborhood walks. Pre-kindergartners consider the question: "Where does food come from?" and then visit the Union Square Farmers Market. Even the youngest children help plan what they are going to do or study.
Art, music and social studies lessons frequently are intertwined. The kindergarten adopted a special elm tree in nearby Tompkins Square Park in their study of trees. As part of a Lenape Indian study, 2nd-graders built longhouses and created a mural about Lenape Indians; 3rd graders studying China created costumes and performed a dragon dance.
The atmosphere is informal: teachers and administrators go by their first names and students may pull out snacks if they're hungry. Freedom does not lead to chaos, however: classrooms are tidy and all items, from books to blocks, have clearly defined homes in color-coded bins and on brightly labeled shelves.
Homework isn't assigned until 2nd grade and there are no consequences for not doing it. "We don't get too freaked out about homework," said Goodman, himself the parent of two young children.
Test scores are among the highest in the district although about one-third of the families decided in 2015 to opt their children out of taking state exams. Teachers do lots of pre-assessments to determine how children are doing, said Goodman, which "allows us to tailor instruction to a wide range of learners."
There's a fulltime math coach. Kids are taught to understand the reasoning behind math problems and there is a balance between conceptual learning and memorization of facts such as multiplication tables.
Children arrive as early as 8 am for a half hour of supervised play before school starts at 8:30 and every child gets 25 minutes for outdoor play at daily lunchtime recess. Older kids spend 1.5 hours a week in electives such as a rock band, drama, martial arts or chess.
The colorful building is located close to city housing complexes but the effects of the neighborhood's changing demographics are seen in the faces of the children: pre-k, kindergarten and 1st are largely white; there are more Hispanic and black children in the upper grades. Only 28 percent of families qualify for free lunch, far fewer than at many of the neighborhood's more traditional public schools.
EVCS shares a 100-year old building with the Children's Workshop School, and PS 94, a District 75 school for children with special education needs.
Special education: There is an ICT class on each grade and an inclusive atmosphere throughout the classrooms.
Admissions: District 1 lottery. There was a waitlist of about 100 students for admission to pre-kindergarten in 2015. There is never space for out of district students in pre-k or kindergarten; occasionally slots may open up in older grades. (Pamela Wheaton, December 2015)