P.S. 3 Charrette School
Thoughtful curriculum, strong arts program
Laid-back atmosphere may not be for everyone
PS 3 Charrette School is a charming reflection of the progressive West Village neighborhood it calls home. With a strong commitment to the arts and hands-on projects, the school strives to make learning engaging and relevant to children while keeping up with the increasing demands of the testing age. How do they do it? "You have to be efficient," says Principal Lisa Siegman. "Experience helps."
Siegman has headed PS 3 since 2000, and in that time she has certainly found her stride. One of the most popular schools in high-achieving District 2, PS 3 has a strong personality and a relaxed feel. Parents may bring their children to the classroom through 1st grade, classes often take mid-day neighborhood "walkabouts" to "clear their heads," and students caught running in the hallways are gently, but firmly told to walkor skip.
Families seem to approve. The PTA is very active, and parents we spoke to did not merely praise the school, they gushed. "Every year of school, it amazes me how engaged the kids are," a mother of a 4th-grader told us, adding that when there is a family event "everyone shows up."
The school uses a combination of curricula, including a Teacher's College-based program for English language arts, supplemented with Fundations for phonics in the younger gradeswith plenty of wiggle room. "You have to look at the kids in the room," Siegman said, "not theoretical kids." Some classrooms have mixed grades, but that depends on the population of children year to year. Math and literacy specialists, paid for by the PTA, provide intervention for struggling students and coaching for teachers.
The class discussions we saw during our visit were thoughtfuland respectful. Kindergartners learning about the Giving Tuesday were encouraged to mirror fellow students by repeating each other's thoughts about charity, a technique we also saw used in a 5th-grade ELA class exploring character motivation in a novel called The Landry News by Andrew Clements.
For math, teachers use TERC, a curriculum that emphasizes conceptual understanding, supplemented with other programs such as Math in the City and the much-lauded Math in Focus, a Singapore-based math program, and teacher-made materials.
Although there is no dedicated science room, live pets and plants are abundant throughout the school. In various classrooms we saw a rubber tree, stick bugs, a terrarium, and an aquarium full of swordtail fish that the students had watched spawn. The PTA maintains pocket planters along the fence in the yard.
The arts are strong at PS 3, and dance is a particular focus. On the morning of our visit, families gathered in the first-floor auditorium to watch 4th- and 5th-graders perform a "flash-mob" and a structured improvisation called a "tangle dance." Siegman, a former dancer herself, says all classes dance once or twice a week with one of the school's two full-time dance teachers. Fourth-graders have a residency with Alvin Ailey, and students have even performed off-site at spaces such as the Dia: Beacon.
Other extras include music, technology and studio art. An enormous ceramics studio with two working kilns is housed underground in the school's old cafeteria, where a part-time ceramics instructor (and former parent) guides students in work that transcends the usual fare. Some of our favorites: a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs, a large sneaker and a miniature living room.
The PS 3 building used to house a middle school, and it is not without its quirks. Because the former school had lockers (long since removed) there is limited closet space in the classrooms, which means bins full of lunchboxes and coatracks for winter jackets often line the hallways. Classes can be large with up to 30 students per class in the upper grades, and the first lunch period of the day begins at 10:40. To ease crowding in the schoolyard, 5th-graders play on nearby Grove Street, which is cordoned off from traffic during recess.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: The school has ICT classes, usually one on each grade level, and Siegman works hard to keep the ratio of children with special needs to general ed children low. Mixed grade self-contained classes provide students with multiple disabilities more individual attention. The school has one full-time and one part-time occupational therapist, and a part-time physical therapist. The school makes a concerted effort to educate children with "social differences" and has received extra funding for that purpose. A special education coordinator and part-time counselor are on-hand, and several classroom aides have received specialized training.
ADMISSIONS: Neighborhood school. In 2015, Siegman noted that the school had a few spots for out-of-zone students "for the first time in years." (Aimee Sabo, November 2015)
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Manhattan NY 10014