Manhattan’s Outstanding Public Elementary School
At the beginning of the school day at P.S. 183, the front hallways and offices are abuzz. Chatting parents linger to compare notes, while younger siblings toddle down the steps after dropping off their big sisters and brothers at school. In the main office, teachers, parents and administrators flit in and out taking care of the morning’s business with smiles on their faces.
“This is not a drop-your-kid-at-the-door school,” said Lisa Ehrlich, the PTA president. “It’s a drop-your-kid-at-the-door-and-come-in-with-them school.”
A hefty chunk of P.S. 183’s students come from the community surrounding Weill Cornell Medical Center and Rockefeller University. Because of that, there’s a lot of intellectual cross-pollination between parents, students and the school. Parents come in and talk to students about their work—one reportedly brought in an actual brain—and students take trips to nearby labs.
Communication is constant, from letters home and weekly newsletters, to teacher websites and emails. The administration hosts frequent events for parents, like class breakfasts.
This spirit of openness is aided by a beloved administration, headed by Principal Mary Anne Sacco. Parents are proud of her status as a published author (Significant Studies for Second Grade: Reading and Writing Investigations for Children, a 2004 book on literacy instruction), but even more proud of the way she runs the school.
“It’s just a great school,” Sacco said. “The school always had strong leadership, rigorous curriculum and teachers dedicated to range of learners and getting better at their practice.”
Sacco’s goal, and strength, is pushing the instructional aspects even further and helping to guide a group of faculty members—whose portraits hang proudly on the main floor. Teachers always want to take their skills to the next level, Sacco explained, and her job is to help them do it.
The faculty’s motivation is obvious just from walking down the halls. Teachers on breaks sit in clusters, plan books open, collaborating on lesson ideas. A large professional development calendar in the main office highlights upcoming workshops and seminars, conducted by both internal faculty and outside groups.
The teachers at P.S. 183 treat the school as a home away from home, with cheerful classroom decorations and hours that extend far beyond the day and calendar.
The school places particular pride in its art programs. P.S. 183 has two art teachers: one for the younger students, another for the older set. These teachers have a well-equipped art classroom in the basement, which includes a kiln. “Art residencies” are six-week periods in which the art teachers work with one class, integrating art with the social studies curriculum in an interdisciplinary way—through map-making, for example. Trips to parks and museums are a big part of the art curriculum as well.
“In public schools you don’t always have that opportunity,” Sacco said of the focus on the arts. “Having two art teachers is a priority for us. Even with budget cuts, we creatively worked our program so we can keep that aspect of the curriculum.”
The rest of the curriculum is, in Sacco’s words, “rigorous, but not competitive.” The school has a math coach and puts a strong emphasis on writing. But learning at P.S. 183 is inquiry-based—experiential, with lots of hands-on projects and field trips. Students go everywhere from MoMA to Katz’s Deli.
Middle school placement is supported by teachers, administration and guidance counselors, and Sacco said that almost all students get one of their top two choices.
Because of its proximity to a major international research center, P.S. 183 is home to an incredible array of languages and cultures, which Sacco calls “one of the huge draws of the school.” More than 40 languages, along with the students who speak those languages, are displayed on a bulletin board downstairs. P.S. 183 employs two ESL instructors who collaborate with classroom teachers to help English language learners make a smooth adjustment.
Diversity of learning styles and abilities are also celebrated. The school has followed the popular and effective new practice of having collaborative team teaching in its classrooms, in which a special education and general education teacher pair up with a mixed group of students.
The school is organized so that each age group gets appropriate attention. Kindergarteners enter at the main entrance and have all their classrooms on the main floor, close to the administrative offices. This also allows parents of new students to meet and mingle. The rest of the school enters through the extensive yard.
Ehrlich, the PTA president, added that the large number of siblings in the school and its general atmosphere mean that there’s a surprising amount of harmony between younger and older students—even after the school day ends and the kids have hit the playground.
P.S. 183, Robert Louis Stevenson School
419 E. 66th St.
New York, NY 10065
Mary Anne Sacco, Principal
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