P.S. 77 Lower Lab School
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Creative and challenging instruction, nurturing environment
Very early lunch for some students in shared building
Founded in 1987, a time when most Upper East Side public schools were neither well-regarded nor in high demand, PS 77 Lower Lab was modeled after two progressive private schools: Manhattan Country School and Bank Street School for Children. More than two decades later, Lower Lab remains true to its roots, providing creative instruction and lots of group work geared to the needs and interests of its gifted and talented (G&T) student population.
Social studies lessons are the connective tissue of learning at Lower Lab; they are enriched through community partnerships at each grade level. First-graders learn about architecture and design in partnership with the Center for Architecture; 2nd-graders study buildings, bridges and landmarks in their local community with The Salvadori Center; 3rd-graders take a look at different cultures through dance and music at Symphony Space; and 4th-graders work with Wingspan Arts to develop dramatic presentations based on lessons in New York history.
Teachers continually hone math instruction. They draw from several sources including the progressive, hands-on TERC Investigations and Math in the City, a "think tank" at City College of New York. "The more successful schools are not subscribing to one curriculum anymore," said Michael Goldspiel, principal at the time of our 2014 visit. Goldspiel left in July 2015 to take a position as assistant superintendent of the Roslyn School District on Long Island. Interim acting principal Sandy Miller has had 20 years experience in a variety of roles in NYC public schools, including teacher, literacy and math developer, and head of the lower school at NEST+m, a citywide gifted and talented K-12 program.
Lower Lab encourages participation in clubs and competitions including Math Olympiads for grades 4 and 5, the NYS Math League, the National Science Competition and CML coding (computer science).
A parent said she was surprised at the speed with which her kindergarten-aged son learned to read when he started at Lab. Most kindergartners are reading by December, according to the administration. In general, children work about one-half to one full grade level above their age. Lab teaches students to debate in conjunction with persuasive writing in 5th grade and an author-in-residence works with 3rd-graders as they learn the art of revision in realistic fiction. All students receive instruction in art, music, chess, Spanish (grades k-2) and Latin (grades 3-5).
The science at Lower Lab is "amazing" according to a parent. Sporting a shock of Albert Einstein hair, veteran science teacher Katerina Klaf meets with all students two to three times a week in her tidy classroom complete with a scientifically labeled collection of live pill bugs, earthworms and hornworms. "Larvae are beautiful!" she told us with genuine enthusiasm.
Fifth-graders have a modified school schedule. They receive math and science instruction from one teacher and English and social studies from another. Small group advisories help students manage the middle school-level intensity of their studies, and to juggle expectations from two teachers. Math lessons are rooted in problem-solving activities as a group.
Lower Lab shares a building with PS 198, which serves a more ethnically diverse student body. The schools have intentionally worked to build friendly cooperation in the building. (PS 198's principal, Nancy Cabrero, is a former teacher and assistant principal from Lower Lab.) Students from both schools serve on a joint student council, the schools' PTAs sponsor a joint fundraiser, and teachers from 198's G&T program and Lower Lab share practices by visiting each other's classrooms.
Lower Lab's classrooms are clustered on a couple of floors, but there is no section or hallway reserved exclusively for the school. Perhaps the largest inconvenience to Lower Lab is the fact that 2nd-graders must eat lunch (or "brunch" as they call it) at 10:30 am. Parents we spoke to raved about the small size of the school and how well they felt they and their children were known.
There are several after-school options. The Beacon Program sponsors daily activities onsite for both schools. Lower Lab also offers chess, music, and sports activities offered by the Lower Lab PTA Afterschool program. Some families choose the wide selection of after-school programs at the 92nd Street Y, to which children may be bused from Lab for a fee.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: The very few children with special needs are incorporated into general education classrooms and receive services, such as speech, as needed, and there is a special education teacher.
ADMISSIONS: Priority to District 2 residents who qualify through citywide G&T testing. (Lydie Raschka, October 2014; principal update July 2015)