Parents and Community Pitch in at Landmark School
The Brownstone School, a preschool located in a landmark building, has been serving the Upper West Side for 48 years. Emphasizing play-focused teaching while maintaining a warm, positive atmosphere for students and their families, Brownstone earned recognition from the Blackboard Awards committee this year as an outstanding school.
â€œIt"s exciting, said Julia Harquail, the school"s director, on winning the award. â€œIt"s especially fun when you don"t even know you"re up for something.
From ages 2 through 5, the roughly 100 students attending Brownstone learn mainly through playing with their peers. Different stations set up in the classrooms include blocks centers, dramatic play and painting for students to achieve age-appropriate development. The administration establishes school-wide themes to be implemented in the curricula, like â€œAll About Me or â€œAll About My Neighborhood, to keep students aware of their surroundings.
Located on West 80th Street just steps from Museum Mile, the school takes advantage of educational opportunities outside of the classroom, from field trips to the American Museum of Natural History"s butterfly exhibit to excursions in Central Park. Brownstone hosts several community events throughout the year to keep parents involved and to contribute to the Upper West Side's a founding principle of the institution.
â€œAnytime you can find a good, supportive community, especially in the city, it"s great, said Jenni Frost Bounds, whose 3- and 5-year-old children attend the school.
Bounds, whose son was also accepted to another neighborhood preschool, opted for Brownstone because of the high level of parental involvement. She was anticipating the November launch of the school"s annual cooking club, a program that allows students monthly time in the basement kitchen. Teachers show children the importance of giving back by donating leftover food to the soup kitchen at the Holy Trinity Church.
â€œWhen they come in, they"re still focused on themselves, said Harquail. â€œWe teach important concepts like how to share and work within groups, all through play.
Harquail, 49, a co-founder and trustee of IDEAL School (Individualized Differentiated Education for All Learners) on 76th Street said she brought certain concepts with her to Brownstone after taking the director"s seat last spring. She originally began helping at Brownstone in 1998 as a board member when her three children attended the school. After Brownstone"s 25-year director, Tina Huang, passed away, Harquail took over.
â€œWe support children in any way they need to be supported, she said. â€œWe have a team concept. For children who need occupational or speech therapy outside, we meet regularly with their therapists so we can carry it over into the classroom.
With class sizes of 16 students or less, Brownstone teachers get to provide individualized attention.
â€œThe focus is on each child and what would help them grow and learn and prepare them for their next step in life, said Kirsten Oppenheimer, vice chair of the board of directors.
Oppenheimer, whose 8-year-old twins now attend P.S. 187, felt her children left Brownstone extremely prepared for kindergarten. Her youngest son is now in his final year at Brownstone. Many parents continue to volunteer and work at the school even after their children graduate because of the supportive environment.
Brownstone parents organize annual community events like last week"s Halloween Fun Fair to stay involved and contribute to the neighborhood. In January, the children"s concert raises funds necessary to maintain the school"s aesthetics and supplies. The administration chooses certain improvements to integrate each year's this summer, a basement renovation will be underway.
The Brownstone School was first opened in 1963 by a group of local parents and teachers who wanted to establish a nonprofit preschool option on the West Side. Ten years later, the school acquired its current space on West 80th Street, a five-floor brownstone complete with a backyard. It"s not unusual for the school to serve siblings in different age groups at the same time.
While the Brownstone staff prides itself on its tight-knit community, upcoming goals include developing a more diverse student body. They"re launching a strategic planning initiative with parents and educators to meet this goal and expand diversity over the next five to 10 years.
â€œYou feel like you can rely on the other families, said Oppenheimer of Brownstone"s appeal. â€œThe administration, parents and teachers all focus on what"s best for the children here.
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