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PS 397 Spruce Street School
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Strong science and math instruction
Located in a congested busy traffic area
Spruce Street School opened in 2009 to serve East Tribecas growing family community. Housed in the first five floors of a dazzling skyscraper designed by architect Frank Gehry, it has a cafeteria that could be mistaken for a trendy Tribeca eatery, a padded roof-top playground and a state-of-the-art auditorium. The school will span pre-kindergarten through 8th grade by the 2017-2018 school year.
Teachers use effective techniques to promote student independence. In a pre-k class, the teacher asked a child to dismiss his classmates to clay, blocks, dress-up and watercolor activities. Students take turns leading assemblies, and teach their peers how to stay safe in cold weather, or how to compost, among other topics.
Children's ability to work independently and purposefully frees the teachers up to work with individuals and small groups. Social studies is a centerpiece, and some students said it was their favorite subject; a child said his class visited a synagogue in Chinatown as part of a unit on immigration.
Math and science are particularly strong. The core math session is 45-60 minutes, but math is taught across the day, according to founding principal Nancy Harris. Morning tabletop math games build problem-solving speed and help kids understand concepts that need work. Number talk, often after lunch, is geared toward helping children strengthen their ability to do mental mathcomputing in their heads.
Every child visits the science lab weekly to participate in studies of the teachers own design, such as a 1st-grade bird study and a 3rd-grade paleontology unit. Reports on classroom walls are refreshing for the fact that they were handwritten, had voice and highlighted ideas rather than gimmicky computer fonts.
As a group, the staff seems to place a high priority on generating meaningful discussion. A lower grade teacher sparked dialogue by teaching children to inject phrases like, "I agree _ or Like Josh said _." During a discussion of the novel The Little Prince, a 5th grade teacher asked, "Can you thirst for things other than water?" A child answered, "You can thirst for invisible things, like friendship or love." Another said, "You can thirst for power and money."
Parents pay for dance lessons from the National Dance Institute and for a full-time librarian. They say that they appreciate the fact that they are invited into classrooms on a regular basis.
One downside: The school is in a congested, busy traffic area across from a hospital and a new parking garage.
Special education: Team-taught classes in some grades, mixing general education and special needs children with two teachers, one of whom has a degree in special education.
Admissions: Neighborhood school. There is one full-day pre-k that fills up with siblings of children who already attend the school. (Lydie Raschka, October 2014; updated August 2016)Read more