Editor’s Note: To read more from our Ultimate Guide To Family Life In Lower Manhattan, click HERE!
There are many kinds of public schools, private schools, and preschools in Lower Manhattan, but there is one characteristic which, remarkably, they all seem to share. To say it plainly, they’re all very good schools, buoyed by experienced educators and engaged families! In this overview, we’ve focused on a few trends and concerns in education and admissions that are especially relevant locally, though of course there are similar reverberations throughout the city.
Anchored by the pillars of P.S. 234 and P.S. 89, Lower Manhattan has always had great public elementary schools. What it didn’t have was enough space to comfortably accommodate all the interested local families. So there were waiting lists, and make-shift classrooms, and then eventually some notable progress in getting more public schools. The list now includes the Spruce Street School (in the Financial District), P.S./I.S. 276 (a K through 8 school in Battery Park City), and the Peck Slip School (in the Seaport).
So how’s the space issue going now? Well, some schools no longer have substantial waiting lists, but some do. “I liken the situation to when they build another lane on a popular highway,” says Matt Schneider, a Battery Park City father-of-two and former Parent Association president of P.S./I.S. 276. “We desperately need the lane, but it may both relieve traffic and attract more traffic—and eventually, you may need another lane, or maybe another highway.”
Currently, Schneider’s school, P.S./I.S. 276, is the local school with a big, painful waiting list for Kindergarten spots—with more than 40 families on the list. Last year, the families who didn’t get in were offered spots at less convenient schools in the area. As for P.S./I.S. 276 itself, classroom space is at such a premium that even grade 1 is filled to the max of 32 children per class.
For a year and a half now, there has been public money set aside for another public school in Lower Manhattan to address the next wave of residential development, especially in the Financial District and the Seaport. But the fate of that school is still largely a bureaucratic mystery, even to neighborhood watchdogs and planners like Tricia Joyce, the chairperson of Community Board 1’s Youth and Education Committee.
Speaking for herself as a local mom, Joyce notes: “There’s concern that, once again, the city is lagging way behind residential development in seriously siting and building the new school—and that, once again, we’re going to end up with serious school space issues—and subsequent wait lists.” –Eric Messinger
The Rise of Anchor Private Schools
As a part of Lower Manhattan’s growth as a family hub, a rising number of prestigious private schools now call the area home. In 2013, Green Ivy Schools’ Battery Park Montessori preschool opened in the south end of Battery Park City, and was followed a year later by the Pine Street School, serving ages 2 to grade 8, which took up residence in an 85,000-square-ft space overlooking Chase Manhattan Plaza in September 2014. They joined notable private institutions such as the Blue School, a pre-K to 8 progressive school in the Seaport; and Léman Manhattan Preparatory School, a pre-K to 12 school with an international bent in the Financial District, which has separate downtown campuses for its Lower and Upper Schools.
While Lower Manhattan has many established independent preschools, until now local families interested in an ongoing private education had to look farther uptown to find well-regarded schools like Friends Seminary (Union Square), City and Country (West Village), Grace Church (East Village), St. Luke’s (West Village), Village Community School (West Village), and Little Red Schoolhouse (SoHo). But with the recent establishment of several prestigious schools in the immediate area, families can now choose from diverse and appealing options close to home.
Inspired by her own experiences with school overcrowding and the dearth of independent options as a Lower Manhattan parent of a 7-year-old, Green Ivy Schools’ founder and CEO Jennifer Jones brought her expertise in opening schools nationwide to the area. With Green Ivy Schools, a large part of her mission, in fact, was to offer best practices in education—such as Montessori and the International Baccalaureate curriculum.
“It definitely feels much more like a neighborhood than I might have imagined 20 years ago,” says Blue School head Allison Gaines Pell. “There’s a lot of attention being placed on education downtown, which is great, of course.”
Attracted by the area’s booming family population, including many international families, as well as its rich history and vibrant waterfront atmosphere, the new Lower Manhattan private schools have quickly become an indivisible part of the area’s family flavor—and like the great local public schools, they make the most of the neighborhood.
The Blue School takes advantage of the area through partnerships with local institutions, like Imagination Playground and St. Margaret’s House. Similarly, at Léman, students do everything from raising food in the Battery Park Community Gardens to walking the floor of the New York Stock Exchange; and the Pine Street School’s partnership with the Children’s Museum of the Arts (CMA) allows the school to host its own artist-in-residence.
“The potential for using the city as a classroom is an integral part of our curriculum and education philosophy around giving children tangible, hands-on experiences,” says Pine Street’s head of school Eileen Baker.
The area’s international makeup also contributes to these schools’ commitment to education with a global perspective. “Our neighborhood is incredibly international, because, in part, of our proximity to the financial industry,” says Green Ivy Schools’ CEO Jennifer Jones.
The cost of private school education in New York City can vary from about $15,000 to $25,000 per year for preschool, and from $25,000 to $40,000 for an ongoing private education. Lower Manhattan has many affluent families who typically attend area preschools (which now number around 20) before deciding whether to continue in private education or to go public. For now, at least, on the private front there seems to be enough spots to accommodate local interest at the preschool level and beyond.
“It’s exciting to be part of a community that’s really growing,” says Kate Delacorte, the co-director of one of the area’s long-time preschools, the Downtown Little School. “There are many new schools in the downtown area, and I think it’s fair to say there are plenty of spaces available for everyone.” –Lauren Vespoli
The Montessori Resurgence
Though the Montessori Method has been around for more than 100 years, this child-centric educational approach has recently enjoyed a resurgence in New York City, both through the establishment of new schools and as an influence within non-Montessori programs.
“As everyone talks about 21st-Century learning, and what schools need to be in order to produce students who can do well… Montessori has come back around,” says Martha Haakmat, head of the Brooklyn Heights Montessori School (BHM).
And it certainly hasn’t hurt Montessori’s reputation as an incubator for creative success stories that people like Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and even pop superstar Taylor Swift, attended Montessori programs as kids.
“A lot of parents who come in for our tours…[come in] having read books about brain development, and specifically about new paradigms within the workforce,” says Sara Bloomberg, the director at Battery Park Montessori.
“The intellectual environment is one of curiosity and wonder,” explains Marlene Barron, chief academic officer for Etonkids educational group (a leading early education provider in China) who has worked in Montessori for more than 45 years. “That’s why people like the Google guys or the Amazon guys give credit to Montessori.”
Developed in Italy by Dr. Maria Montessori, and based on her behavioral observations of young children, the mission of a Montessori education is to enable children to become independent, thoughtful learners by harnessing their natural talents and abilities within a carefully constructed and aesthetically appealing environment. This goal is achieved through multiage learning groups, concentrated periods of work time, guided choice in their work activities, and the famed Montessori learning materials—designed specifically for children to use as they explore and deepen their understanding of key concepts.
At Lower Manhattan’s Green Ivy Schools, the Montessori approach not only anchors Battery Park Montessori, for children ages 2 to 6, but it is also part of the early foundation of the Pine Street School, which goes from ages 2 to grade 8, along with the International Baccalaureate curriculum. “The Montessori practice provides tools and resources for children to learn abstract concepts concretely, and then the IB allows them to go from there to explore big ideas,” says Jennifer Jones, Green Ivy Schools’ founder and CEO.
At Pine Street, the Montessori Method runs concurrently with parts of the IB at the preschool level, with IB practices starting to dominate around age 5. With the support of both pedagogies, children begin their engagement in dual language immersion, athletics, dance, drama, music, violin, and other instrumental instruction in preschool, and follow through with them over the course of their educational career.
“Montessori has always been the gold standard for early childhood education,” says Pine Street head of school Eileen Baker. “It was the first program where somebody actually studied young children and developed a program that would help them at their particular stages of development.” –Lauren Vespoli
A Truly Global Education
Many of Lower Manhattan’s top private schools share a global focus. In addition to encompassing curricular requirements like language immersion, they aim to provide a learning experience that will arm students with the cognitive tools to understand and empathize with differing perspectives, and empower them to tackle problems on both a local and global scale.
“Parents who look at our school realize that we’re an international school, helping students understand that they have a responsibility to be global citizens,” says Drew Alexander, the head of school at the Financial District’s Léman Manhattan Preparatory School, which serves students in grades pre-K to12.
Jennifer Jones, the Green Ivy Schools’ CEO, notes the growing popularity of international offerings. “You’re hard-pressed to find a new school that isn’t offering multiple languages, [or] an international curriculum of some kind,” she says.
This global perspective can be imparted to students in a variety of ways: Through international networks of sister schools, specially commissioned academic courses, or through the International Baccalaureate curriculum.
Green Ivy’s Pine Street School is a prime example of this trend as a current candidate school for the only International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program in Lower Manhattan. Léman offers the IB’s Diploma Program for students in grades 11 and 12.
Created by educators in 1968, the International Baccalaureate curriculum is offered in 147 countries worldwide and implemented through a continuum comprised of four programs for students ages 3 to19. Across all ages, the IB’s official mission is to “develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.”
“We believe…that learning is done best when it’s engaged with world-wide issues,” explains Dr. Siva Kumari, the IB Director General. In the Primary Years Program, this engagement is achieved through foreign language study, transdisciplinary themes that provide schools with the opportunity to incorporate local and global issues into the curriculum; and in the later years, through core foci that include service and a study of how knowledge develops. The IB approaches students through the lens of its learner profile, which is comprised of 10 attributes that the program strives to impart in its learners, including “inquirers,” “communicators,” and “risk-takers.”
“The thing that excites us [about the IB program] is that we are able to thread technology throughout our interdisciplinary studies in a way that reinforces international-mindedness,” says Eileen Baker, Pine Street’s head of school. “Science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics are practiced together, as students seek answers to questions that they find personally interesting within a global context.” Prior to becoming the director of Pine Street School, Baker was an IB school inspector and teacher trainer for 16 years in Africa, the Middle East, Europe, Asia Pacific, and Americas regions. She has opened six schools in as many countries, and stresses the importance of being able to select families by their match to the program’s philosophy around Global Citizenship.
While curriculums like the IB provide the essential underpinning of any global education, there are other facets, too, such as the IB’s active exchange program, or having sister schools in your own network, like Léman does. “[They] encourage this basic understanding that everything that we do locally impacts others globally,” says Alexander, the head of school at Léman, which has sister schools in China and Switzerland.
And, really, that’s the big goal of all the schools embracing global education. –Lauren Vespoli