By Kathleen Culliton
The fourth graders learn to play trumpets. The kindergarteners grow vegetables in Battery Park. The middle-schoolers play chess at lunch. This is PS/IS 276, Battery Park City School, an elementary school that goes beyond test prep.
Battery Park City School has already earned an excellent academic reputation among New York City parents since opening in 2009. It is one of the few schools to receive a 10 out of 10 rating on GreatSchools.com and has been named this year’s Rising Star in Manhattan Media’s Blackboard Awards.
“The emphasis is on the whole child. So many other schools emphasize math or science. We emphasize the student,” PTA co-president Matt Schneider said.
Schneider credits Principal Terri Ruyter with the school’s success. Ruyter has been a dogged advocate for the school. “She is very well respected and able to attract the best and the brightest teachers. And over time, those teachers have loved being here,” he said.
Ruyter encourages teachers to engage students both mentally and physically. The art classes take field trips to the Guggenheim, the science classes have urban farming projects in Battery Park, and the music department is developing a marching band.
“We try to get the children outside a lot to get their bodies moving, ” parent Michele Zarrario said.
PTA co-president Howard Sadowsky is currently developing a new program he calls Saturdays at 276, which will offer classes and recreational activities in the gym on weekends. PTA members are currently discussing how to include yoga and fencing into the program’s curriculum.
The school’s commitment to its student also extends beyond academia and athletics. Battery Park City School is the first school in New York City to qualify for LEED certification. The school’s many classrooms, art studio, music room, science lab, library and two gymnasiums are powered by solar panels on the roof. Students are encouraged to compost after lunch.
And while parents and faculty are enthusiastic about the school’s progress, it also faces problems. According to Schneider, the main challenge for Battery Park City School is overcrowding. The city has repeatedly increased class sizes, and the school struggles to keep up. “We have a beautiful art room with a kiln. That could become a classroom. The music room? That could become a classroom.”
But Ruytner is working ceaselessly within the community to address the problem. She’s working with city officials and parents to find balance. Schneider believes the answer will come from the teachers.
“Parents automatically say let’s get another teacher in there who will be constructive. We thought it would be better to let the teachers decide. It may be by a multifaceted system. What’s needed in kindergarten may be what’s needed in seventh grade.”
But regardless of how many students attend Battery Park City School next year, those accepted will be welcomed by Ruyter. That’s because she genuinely likes and appreciates her students. Her eyes lit up when she told parents about the new school slogan, “The Chargers—The Spark of Battery Park.” It was coined by the students.
“They’re so sophisticated in their thinking,” she said.
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