UPPER EAST SIDE — P.S. 151 Principal Samantha Kaplan took on the arduous task of opening a brand new school in 2009. When it opened, there were only eight staff members and 74 children enrolled.
Now, the Yorkville Community School boasts 591 students and 52 staff members and was selected this year as a "showcase school" by the Department of Education as an example for other schools to aspire to.
"We were chosen for [our] focus on designing cross-curricular study," Kaplan explained. "So what it is I set out to do, we’re now being revered for, which to me feels like our staff and students have really excelled with this."
Part of the success of the school, according to Kaplan, has been its curriculum. Each grade, kindergarten through fifth, participates in four thematic units that are tailored to fit each grade's goals. For the first two months, for example, each grade does its own study on the school.
"They start learning in kindergarten how to walk in line and understand who these people are telling them what to do and where to go," she said. "In fourth grade, they’re writing documentaries about our school and doing biographies."
DNAinfo New York sat down with Kaplan recently to discuss her philosophy, challenges and programming at the school. This interview has been edited for clarity.
Looking over the years, what have you seen the school become? Is it what you had hoped or is there still more to do?
Throughout the years, as the school has grown, our curriculum has been revised to reflect grade levels and our student needs. We’ve been doing that, and what is exciting is that we’ve just graduated our first inaugural class who were in fifth grade last year, and this year we were chosen as a "showcase school."
How have the faculty and students dealt with new state testing and the common core?
We’ve used Common Core from day one to develop our curriculum and our thematic units. Everything we’ve written has been with the Common Core expectations, right there. We also use the primary standards everyone used prior to Common Core and the expectations.
I find our students are really creative and excited about learning and feel good about themselves because our units are set up in a way that children can explore at their own pace and set goals for themselves … and I feel like the state exam is the only time where someone tells them they’re actually not good at something. I don’t believe it’s an accurate measure of what children know. Our children are so articulate, they can’t verbally articulate their knowledge through a standardized exam.
What are some of P.S. 151’s most beloved programs or activities that excite the kids and their parents?
Our PTA funds 100 percent of our enrichment programs. We’ve partnered with the YMCA for the past seven years and worked together with the Y to tailor our enrichment programs offered for each grade, from visual art to STEM robotics, and we offer chess to every grade level.
I grew up playing chess in Washington Square Park. It was really important to me. I still like to go to Thompson Street and start a match. It’s a lot of fun and [you] learn these amazing strategic skills and how to be patient and problem solve and be good winner and loser.
The Salvadori Program brings the built world into the classroom and students learn about perspective and planning. In third grade, they do a bridge study and learn about bridges around the world. They build a bridge as a class.
Our enrichment programs are strong. I’m always very grateful to our PTA for believing in the belief I have that children need an opportunity, like anybody does, to learn about themselves and develop an understanding of who they are and that they can do that through, not only academics, but the arts. They develop passions for things they might not have the opportunity to develop outside school.
What would you like to tell the parents?
I developed this school taking all the passion and energy I have to offer something good to children. I always had a dream when I was a teacher to provide the kind of education that I was offered to more than just my classroom and now I am and I am always going to put as much positive energy into maintaining this special place for all children to come to in our community.