Students Learn to ‘GELL’ at Village School

Written by Alan Krawitz on . Posted in Blackboard Awards.


Outstanding Grade School

Photo By Bess Adler

For Kelly Shannon, the principal of PS 41’s Greenwich Village School, there was a question early on as to whether she might lead a group of constituents instead of grade school students. “I initially wanted to go into politics,” said Shannon, a Brooklyn native who has been an educator for 18 years and principal at PS 41 for the last eight. Shannon, who has taught both fifth-grade history and math at the school, recalled taking a course in early childhood education and immediately falling in love with the idea of teaching.

“I’ve always felt as if teaching has been a career and not just a job,” said Shannon, who emphasized the importance of liking what you do professionally. “At end of day, you want to enjoy what you’re doing.”

And, Shannon said, teaching is not all that far removed from politics anyway. “There’s already a strong political aspect to being a principal in New York City—dealing with community boards, the Department of Education, the mayor’s office,” she said. “All of it makes me glad I didn’t go into politics. I made a good choice.”

Discussing the recent Hurricane Sandy, which hit Lower Manhattan particularly hard, Shannon said that despite the fact that all public schools were closed afterward due to a variety of issues from flooding to power loss, PS 41’s faculty demonstrated its caring and supportive nature.

“One thing that epitomizes people at PS 41 is how well everyone came together,” she said. “We had multiple relief efforts going on in Rockaway to help many families of faculty and students hard-hit by the storm.” Shannon said the school was sure to reach out to other local PTAs in the area that also needed help.

“We made people feel at ease during the storm.”

She also said that the storm brought back uneasy memories of Sept. 11. The hurricane was a “different type of tough experience,” she said, but “people once again came together to help each other out.”

Shannon noted that good leadership is where everyone takes on a leadership role.

At the heart of PS 41’s success, said Shannon, is being an academically rigorous school that simultaneously manages to support the arts. “Our students get what they need but also get the arts. We never forget how important the arts are.”

Shannon underscored the importance of giving kids a real sense of community as well as a solid education. “We help our students understand how important it is to be a good part of the community.”

In addition to focusing on core subjects such as reading, writing and social studies, Shannon said the school’s GELL program, or Green Roof Environmental Literacy Lab, is a first-of-its-kind project to teach kids about interacting with the outside environment. The GELL program is an outgrowth of the school’s already functioning garden program, which began in 2003.

“The GELL program started as a grassroots effort, and we’ve put a lot of time and energy into the project, which features a full green roof. The whole project has been six years in the making,” she said.

Shannon explained that students grow plants and herbs and learn to work with farmers’ markets, thereby helping teach kids about how foods get to their table, about distribution systems in place and how foods play a large part in society vis-à-vis restaurants and even supermarkets.

“It’s really interesting to watch how the body language of kids changes when they go up on the roof to study and work in the GELL,” Shannon noted. “It shows a different side of kids when they’re up there; it’s like they’re in another world.” She also pointed out the school has received substantial support from city politicians such as Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer as well as organizations including the Whole Foods Market Union Square, Organic Valley Farms and the National Wildlife Federation.

Still, the most important type of support the school continues to get is from the local community. “We have about 803 students in all now, and there’s now a lottery to get into school,” Shannon said. “There are no empty seats. In fact, we’re struggling to take the kids that are local at this point.”

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