‘Hands-On’ Learning at P.S. 267

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East Side school carving a niche as it relieves overcrowding

By Patrick Wall

In their first weeks at P.S. 267, the kindergarteners learned how to sketch structures, then make them out of blocks. They found that building something new might be exciting, but it’s not easy.

Medea McEvoy, principal of P.S. 267, or the East Side Elementary, is learning the same lesson. “Opening a school, you can get a lot of support and a lot of advice,” McEvoy said, “but it’s still very challenging.”

The school opened with three kindergarten classes this year, and will add another grade level each year until it offers kindergarten through 5th grade. It currently shares a building with P.S. 158 on York Avenue, between East 77th and 78th streets, and is expected to move to its permanent home on East 63rd Street in 2012. Its students were pulled from the waiting lists of overcrowded schools in the area.

McEvoy, who taught at P.S. 6 in the Upper East Side for 10 years, said that choosing the new school’s teachers was one of her most difficult duties. “The most important people in the school are the teachers,” McEvoy said, “who are in front of the children every day.”

She spent five months sorting through over a thousand resumés to select the school’s three full-time teachers. But, McEvoy said, “It was worth the search.” The educators she found all have previous teaching experience, as well as such diverse interests as yoga, scuba diving and ballroom dancing.

Learning at P.S. 267 is project-based and tied to the real world. During their months-long study of trees, students will visit John Jay Park several times to collect acorns, leaves and twigs to be sorted out back at school. Next week, an architect will show the children real blueprints. Then they’ll go visit the actual building.

“Kids at this age really need to have hands-on experiences,” said teacher Ariel Ricciardi. “You see a huge difference in kids when you let them explore.”

Because funding is based on enrollment, P.S. 267 is starting off with limited resources. Parents have been making up the difference by planning fundraisers through the PTA and volunteering on special projects. One parent is designing the school logo, while another is building the school’s website.

Starting a new school is exhausting, but it’s thrilling too, McEvoy said. Even when the job calls for opening dozens of milk cartons and fork wrappers every day at lunch.

“That’s the joy of spending each and every day with so many four- and five-year-olds,” McEvoy said.

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