PS 3 provides children with a learning environment that nurtures their intellectual, social, physical and ethical growth through hands-on involvement with materials and subjects that have meaning for their lives. Respect for the individuality of each child is central to the school’s teaching philosophy. Teachers at PS 3 actively encourage children to take initiative, be resourceful, and show independence of judgment in their classroom work, with the intent that each child will become a confident, self-motivated and passionate learner.
PS 3 offers pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade classes. In a PS 3 classroom, you rarely see a teacher lecturing before a passive group, and you don’t see desks lined up in rows. Instead, you will find classes set up more like working laboratories, with research materials and tables for group work. In a typical classroom, the day consists of periods when the students work independently or in small groups and periods when they come together for discussion, problem-solving or other large-group activity.
Most classes are mixed-grade classes, meaning that two grades are combined in each class. The current arrangement groups kindergartners with first graders, second graders with third graders, and fourth graders with fifth graders. Barring retirements, changes in the staff or individually determined reassignments, children in these classes stay with the same teacher for two years. One advantage is that the older children, who are already comfortable with the teacher and class routine, feel encouraged to welcome and help younger ones. Because each classroom includes students with a range of ages, maturity levels, and mastery of subjects, the possibilities for tailoring groupings are great and the likelihood of teasing or ostracism is reduced. For instance, a student who is struggling to learn to read but is a year ahead in math — a common scenario — can be placed in a reading group with other beginning readers, but in a math group that will offer extra challenges. The arrangement also ensures that students become acquainted with significant numbers of fellow students of differing ages. Classes frequently team up for collaborative projects like “reading buddies,” in which older children read throughout the year to younger ones.
The school is devoted to learning through the arts, which has untold benefits: it creates a lively and often joyous atmosphere; allows students to reinforce and apply their academic lessons; and encourages the development of community, which in turn teaches children the value of cooperation, organization and communication.
Our teachers use the Department of Education’s grade-level standards as a baseline for setting curriculum and expectations, but they place their emphasis on each child’s individual growth rather than simply on his or her performance on tests.
Managing a mixed-grade classroom requires special skill. Not only have PS 3’s teachers been trained to work within such a setting, they prefer teaching this way. Full-time literacy and math staff developers provide additional support to the teachers who need it. Teachers are encouraged to develop their own styles and build on their individual strengths and interests. For example, teachers have incorporated regular trips to the Bronx Zoo into their curriculum, held weekly sing-alongs, and produced student plays based on classical Greek themes.
Despite the variations in classroom styles, our teachers share a philosophy and approach that revolve around literature-based reading instruction and problem-solving approaches to teaching math, science and social studies. Instead of merely providing information, teachers encourage students to pose important questions about the material in the curriculum and guide them in finding answers from a wide variety of sources and methods, including the library, newspapers, experiments and interviews. Teachers attend regular professional workshops on literacy, writing, math and inquiry-based learning.
Classroom-management techniques focus on the strengths of the child and positive reinforcement. Teachers encourage cooperative rather than competitive learning. Because respect for each child’s individuality is central to the school’s philosophy, teachers actively encourage children to take initiative, be resourceful and show independence of judgment in their classroom work, with the intent that each child will become a confident and self-motivated learner.
PS 3’s atmosphere is informal and child-centered. Students call their teachers, the staff and even the principal by their first names. Many teachers are flexible enough to tailor aspects of their curriculum around their students’ interests. The children often generate their own projects. For instance, when one second-third-grade class became enchanted with the stories of the British bear Paddington, they turned their classroom into a London bazaar and sold toast and cocoa to students from other classes (learning some hard-won lessons about budgeting, estimating, serving, and doing rapid arithmetic in the process).
PS 3 works hard to teach self-discipline and to keep the students engaged. At regular class meetings and grade-level “town hall” meetings, staff and students discuss ways to solve any problems that arise. When students disrupt the classroom, teachers use a variety of effective, nonpunitive strategies to help them calm down and refocus their energies. They may be asked to spend some time with another teacher who knows them, or to cool off in the Main Office. When students run in the halls, which is not safe, they are asked to skip instead.
There are approximately 670 students in the school. Class size varies from year to year, with 22 to 25 in the K/1 classes, 25 to 28 in the 2/3 classes, and 28 to 32 in the 4/5 classes. Each class has one teacher, with the exception of the Collaborative Team Teaching classes, which have one regular and one special-education teacher. Student teachers from New York University, Bank Street College of Education, Hunter College, and the School of Visual Arts are a regular presence. The school also attracts volunteers from a variety of other programs, including America Reads, Power Lunch, New York Law School and Learning Leaders.
Many teachers welcome the participation of parents in the classroom as well. They may enlist parents to help with labor-intensive lessons such as cooking; call on parents to supplement the curriculum (i.e., for a study of immigration they may invite parents to share the story of how their family came to New York); or to teach a special skill, like knitting.
Each day, students leave their classroom to attend one “special” (also known as “cluster”) class. These are subject to change from year to year, a decision made by the principal based on parent and staff input, funding formulas and teacher availability. In recent years, the clusters have always included a weekly Library, Computer, Art, and Movement class, each with a full-time instructor and dedicated classroom. Most years a weekly Gym or Games class rounds out the schedule. With additional parent-raised funds, the students have a weekly Music class, taught by a part-time teacher who is also a professional musician, and a six-week ceramic class that includes a variety of techniques and kiln-firing.
Each of the special teachers creates opportunities to showcase the students’ work. The Movement and Music teachers hold regular assemblies or studio performances throughout the year. The Librarian, with the help of the parent-run Library Committee, organizes an annual Writing Festival that celebrates the writing of each student and includes presentations by noted authors. In the 2002-3 school year, the Computer Lab was upgraded with 30 e-Macs that are set up to allow students to do writing, graphics, digital photography, video clips, and supervised internet research.
Additional Arts and Field Trips
The joint efforts of parents and teachers bring additional arts to the children, and children to the arts. Many teachers take advantage of group rates at the New Victory Theatre and the Ballet Hispanico. Classes have worked with visiting artists from City Lights Children’s Theater and the Alvin Ailey Studio. They have choreographed their own dances and performed them at the Merce Cunningham Studio, and have written, performed and recorded songs at a professional sound stage.
Field trips to museums and other educational facilities like The Hudson River Project are common, and many of the K/1 classes take regular neighborhood walks that may focus on an aspect of the curriculum such as exploring architecture or trees or stores. There are also field trips associated with special curricular projects like “Days of Taste,” sponsored by the James Beard Foundation, which includes visits to the Union Square Greenmarket and selected restaurants.
The fourth- and fifth-grade annual two-night overnight trip to a professionally staffed and programmed environmental center outside the city gives many children their first taste of life away from home and some their first exposure to the country and to winter sports. They learn about ecology and nature, as well as self-reliance and responsibility.
A full range of special-needs services is available at PS 3, for both mandated and at-risk students. There are inclusion (collaborative team teaching) classes, SETSS (Special Education Teacher for Support Services, formerly known as Resource Room) teachers, speech and language specialists, occupational therapists, a full-time psychologist and a part-time social worker. The various professionals work in close partnership to determine the best course of action for each student. To learn more, parents should begin by speaking to their child’s teacher.
Teachers measure their students’ progress against two standards: grade-level appropriateness and the child’s individual growth. They hold formal parent-teacher conferences twice every year, in November and March. Report cards are sent home before each of these conferences and at the end of the school year. In addition, some teachers send narrative reports mid-year. Teachers are happy to discuss a child’s situation at any time by appointment.
Beginning in third grade, children take standardized tests and are assessed by their teacher (ECLAS) as required by the city and state. PS 3 teachers work hard to avoid the narrow drilling and rote learning known as “teaching to the test.” Their goals are to insure that children have a depth of experience with language and mathematical skills that will serve them in any challenge. However, with the new pressure imposed by the mandatory high-stakes tests, the teachers have been helping students develop test-taking skills.