P.S. 333 Manhattan School for Children
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Unusual level of parent involvement, beautiful science lab
Friction between administration and staff
At Manhattan School for Children, housed in the former Joan of Arc Junior High School building, kids call teachers by their first names and parents are welcome throughout the day. Parents come right to the classroom to drop off their children, and many stay for a few minutes to read a book or chat. A wide corridor serves as an informal meeting place for parents, kids, and teachers during the day.
Manhattan School for Children is a pioneer in including children with special needs (particularly physical challenges) in regular classrooms, and the children are accepting of one another, whether they use a wheelchair or a walker or have difficulty speaking clearly. Classrooms are sunny and cheerful, and there are plenty of books and supplies. A stunning rooftop greenhouse serves as a science lab. The school has a nice wheelchair-accessible playground surrounded by red oak trees and shrubs.
Some of the classrooms are a bit messy, but Principal Claire Lowenstein says that’s part of the plan. "Through messiness can come genius," she said.
Lowenstein, a former assistant principal and long-time teacher at the school, was named principal in February 2014, replacing the founding principal, Susan Rappaport, who retired. Unfortunately, there is friction between Lowenstein and staff; fewer than half the teachers responding to school surveys say they trust the principal and barely one-third say she is an effective leader.
The school places as much emphasis on children's social and emotional development as it does on academics, and children seem to be unusually kind to one another. The school encourages friendships across the grades and it’s common to see older children helping younger children. Firmly in the progressive camp, the administration favors learning by doing. For example, kindergartners watch duck eggs hatch in classroom incubators, hooked up to a webcam so they can also watch them at home. Children may build a terrarium in the greenhouse or draw a timeline representing the history of the subway. They also may spend several days on a math problem, learning fractions by imagining they have to divide sandwiches among their classmates.
The administration believes in the importance of recess, not just as a time to run around but also a time to develop social skills. Recess times are staggered; some children go out to play as early as 9:15 am and others go out after lunch.
The arts offerings are rich, and Manhattan School for Children has full-time teachers for visual art, dance, drama and storytelling. The school launched a music program in the lower grades in 2015, with the hope of expanding it to upper grades in coming years. Children put on an annual musical with singing and dancing.
For years, some parents have complained that the atmosphere may be too relaxed, but many others defend the school with a passion and are thrilled with the experience their children are getting. While many children once left after 5th grade, students are increasingly staying for middle school. Top students are admitted to some of the city’s most selective and demanding high schools, including LaGuardia High School for Music and Art and Performing Arts.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: The school, which is wheelchair-accessible, is at the forefront of "inclusion," integrating disabled children in general education classes. The school goes to great lengths to help disabled children take part in regular classes. For example, a keyboard with pictures allows a child who cannot speak to express himself. Most classes have at least two teachers. The school does not admit severely disabled children from District 75 and does not have segregated or self-contained classes.
ADMISSIONS: Admissions are by lottery, limited to District 3. For details, see the school's website. (Clara Hemphill, May 2014, updated with surveys on friction between teachers and principal, June 2019)