PS 513 Castle Bridge School
Dual language school founded by experienced progressive educator
Not a good fit for families who prefer traditional instruction
Castle Bridge is a nurturing place where kids explore, construct, sew, make snacks, take care of class pets, ice skate and swim. Patterned after progressive Central Park East I in East Harlem, children are encouraged to read books they choose themselves and to speak as much as they listen.
The entire school offers dual language instruction in English and Spanish. In the lower grades, teachers spend half the day speaking English to their students and half speaking Spanish. In the older grades, teachers alternate Spanish and English days. The goal is to teach children to read, write and speak fluently in both languages.
Classes combine two grades; kids stay with the same teacher, in the same classroom, for two years. Instead of report cards, teachers write multiple-page "narratives" for each child twice a year.
Children make decisions about what they want to study to an unusual degree. During a daily "project time," they choose from a menu that may include blocks, construction or dress-up in the younger grades. Two children from each class take turns preparing snacks in the kitchen during this time, such as pancakes, or asparagus with garlic butter.
Projects in grades 3-5 last longer and must be accompanied by a plan. Third- and 4th-graders made longhouses, baskets and other artifacts for their Native American unit. Projects do not always follow a theme; 2nd- and 3rd-graders interested in fashion bought fabric and made clothing for a spring show.
Project time is not a free-for-all by any means. Teachers watch carefully and invite a child to try an unexplored area of the room if they feel he or she would benefit. A kindergartner new to the block area persistently and unsuccessfully tried to stand skinny blocks on end to support a building. The teacher wanted her to practice, she said, because block-building can build a foundation for success in math in the older grades.
Principal Julie Zuckerman, formerly principal of Central Park East I, believes playtime is crucial to learning. She even participates in daily gym class, acting as both referee and playmate as her kids let off steam and run around. She keeps five warm coats in her office in case anyone needs one for daily outdoor recess in the winter.
Pre-k children nap after lunch with optional teddy bears and even kindergartners and 1st-graders get to enjoy some down time, during which some fall asleep, a rare respite in today's push-down academic culture.
Children practice being in front of a group during weekly recitals, to which parents are invited. They may sing a song, tell a joke, recite a poem, play an instrument or tell a story. It helps the kids get to know each other better, and learn to speak up, said Zuckerman.
Parent involvement is strong. Families join students in a weekly school-wide sing-a-long, for which the principal plays guitar. They are invited to accompany kids on their weekly ice-skating sessions in Central Park.
Zuckerman said the school is very popular with middle class families. Yet she is just as pleased when local, working class parents find it, such as the bus driver who returned to inquire about it for his child, after driving students on a field trip.
Opened in 2012, Castle Bridge shares space with PS 128 Audubon, close to the 168th Street A, C and 1 subway stop and across the street from New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: Children with disabilities are included in all school activities. Starting in kindergarten, every classroom has two teachers, at least one of whom is certified to teach special education or English as a new language.
ADMISSIONS: Tours are held in the evening to avoid disrupting children as they work, except for families from local Head Start programs, who are invited to tour during the school day. English-dominant kids are not accepted after 1st grade. The school was one of several across the city selected to pilot admissions policies aimed at maintaining economic diversity. Beginning in 2016, Castle Bridge will reserve a portion of its seats for students from low-income families, in the child welfare system, or who have a parent in prison. (Lydie Raschka, January 2016)
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Manhattan NY 10032