P.S. 185 The Early Childhood Discovery and Design Magnet School
Manhattan NY 10026
Zone for the 2017-2018 school year. Call school to confirm.
LEGO design curriculum; emphasis on play and creative activities.
Only goes through 2nd grade
At PS 185 very young children learn about the grown-up subjects of engineering and design. Also known as the Early Childhood Discovery and Design Magnet School, PS 185 serves students in pre-K through 2nd grade. The tone is gentle, supportive and balanced. There's plenty of instruction in reading and math, even in pre-K, but teachers also infuse lots of play and creative activities into daily lessons.
Children study dance and piano, practice yoga, take walks in Central Park and delve into engineering basics in the Lego Lab. Once a week they spend time on longer projects based on science and social studies units, such as constructing and labeling the parts of trees out of recycled materials, or creating a comic strip on how matter changes state.
Unlike many schools, PS 185 has moved toward a more playful and project-based model since the citywide adoption of Common Core learning goals: it has added the weekly projects and brought back "centers" such as blocks and dramatic play in kindergarten. Next: big blocks and tricycles in the playground.
Principal Jane Murphy taught at progressive Central Park East I back when it served mostly low-income families, as PS 185 does now. She believes children from all walks of life are best served by "stimulating and challenging curriculum." The school's nice mix of structure and creative freedom has begun to attract a few professional parents new to Harlem. Murphy is proud that the school is able to draw middle class parents even without a gifted and talented program, which she finds exclusive and sometimes divisive. "Children need to interact with lots of different kids," she said.
PS 185 teachers try to take into account the needs of children who surge ahead as well as those who fall behind. In the Lego Lab, a child spoke excitedly of using "interlocking" and "overlapping" pieces to build a sturdy wall. During group phonics lessons, a child may work independently on more advanced skills. Children gather in small daily math groups based on what they need help with most. A reading teacher works daily with eight groups of struggling readers in the library.
Teachers emphasize the child-friendly rules"be safe, be kind, be helpful, be ready"by awarding points in the shape of cut out bumblebees. Yet choice, chatter and movement are encouraged, giving kids opportunities to learn to regulate their own behavior too.
Parents raved about the "small and personal" community and discovery-filled approach. "I want them to have this fervor and zeal for learning," said a mother who felt some schools were "too focused on tests at an early age." The downside: some parents wondered where to send their children for 3rd grade. "It's one of the biggest concerns of families here," a parent said.
Most graduates attend PS 208, which serves grades 3 to 5. This is one solution, though a mother with children in both schools said she missed the camaraderie and playful approach of the early childhood school.
PS 185 is housed in a two-building complex that it shares with PS 208, Harlem Link Charter School and PS 226, a small program run by District 75, the citywide district for students with severe disabilities.
SPECIAL EDUCATION/ESL: There are several team-taught classes that place some children with disabilities in general ed classrooms with two teachers. An ESL teacher provides support to English language learners both in their regular class and also outside the classroom. There is one "self-contained" class for children with significant disabilities.
ADMISSIONS: Neighborhood school. The school has admitted students from outside the zone and the district in recent years. (Lydie Raschka, November 2016)