P.S. 290 Manhattan New School
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Writing program that is a national model, commitment to collaboration and integrated learning
Some space constraints, no full gym or auditorium
At Manhattan New School, the best ideals of progressive education meet structure, experience and a true love of the craft of teaching. Tour the school, and you may see kindergartners squish blueberries as part of a study on pigment before moving seamlessly into a lesson on phonics; 4th-graders may study the Greek myth of the fallen hero Icarus and then design and build their own parachutes.
Kids are happy and engaged and staffers seem eager to go the extra mile, whether that means a weekly walk to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to supplement a social studies unit or working together on detailed plans to reach kids with different levels of skills in the same class. The quality of teaching is superb throughout, and teachers share an intellectual excitement about their work. Many staffers have written books that are used in university education courses.
MNS has long been known for its strong writing program and has a well-deserved reputation as one of the best schools in the city. Doreen Esposito, who became principal in 2014 after working at the school for 15 years as a teacher and assistant principal, is well-qualified to carry on its legacy. While she maintains a clear sense of continuity, she has also brought in fresh ideasa practice that in and of itself is highly valued at MNS. Reflection is a huge part of what we do here, she said.
Under Espositos watch, the school has introduced Mindfulness Mondays, where 4th-graders lead 2nd-graders in meditation to ease the transition from the weekend. Another addition is a special "maker" room, filled with natural materials and recycled household products such as toilet paper tubes and yarn, where kids can tackle hands-on projects and learn teamwork. During our visit, a group of 4th-grade boys eagerly showed off their latest creation: a recycled robot that sprays seeds from its feet and water from its nose, tied to their study of sustainability in social studies.
In response to parents requests for more rigor in math instruction, the school has worked hard to make sure students have strong arithmetic skills as well as an understanding of underlying mathematical concepts. Posters about math strategies abound, as do small counters in all shapes and sizes across grades. We saw a class of 5th-graders get down on the floor with their teacher to tackle a particularly tricky fraction problem with small shapes, while another group converted milliliters to liters in their heads. A coach worked with teachers to hone instruction and supplement the math programsa combination of the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Investigations curriculum and a City College program called Math in the City. Kids who excel may join Math Olympiad.
The parent body is extremely active both off and on campus. Last year, parents successfully petitioned to have a CitiBike station that was located next to the school moved, arguing that it was a safety hazard. On the day of our visit, we saw moms in the main office cutting out labels for the school auction, a fundraiser that supports extra programs like chess, the National Dance Institute and the Wingspan Theater. We also saw several part-time staffers who were former parents, including a choral and band instructor leading a group of vivacious 4th-graders and a dance teacher helping kindergartners get their wiggles out in the makeshift auditorium.
While the old building is charming and very well-kept, space is tight. Staffers make it work: The cafeteria doubles as a gym complete with brand new fold away tables and a basketball hoop, and 5th-graders have recess on a closed-off side street, while younger kids play in one of two enclosed side yards. Plans are in the works for a green roof, which will serve as both as an extra play space and a science center.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: There are ICT (integrated co-teaching) classes at every grade level, and a range of service providers work with children both in and out of the classroom.
ADMISSIONS: Zoned school. The school suffered from overcrowding for a number of years, but it has not had waitlists since the attendance zone was reduced a few years ago. Parent Coordinator Sally Mason encourages new families to move into the school's zone.(Aimee Sabo, March 2016)Read more