By Paulette Safdieh
If the McKinley High teens on the award-winning TV show Glee can sing and dance their way through academic and social pressures, why do your children have to spend hours stressing, their faces buried in textbooks? Supporters of alternative teaching methods argue that the best education builds children up by fostering their strengths and interests, from performing arts to science experiments. As our society continues to grow and change with time, education seems less cut and dry, sending city parents searching for more progressive options. Teachers as well recognize the need for a fresh approach, as opposed to forcing traditional, standardized curriculums behind classroom walls. From the family-oriented Upper East Side to the art microcosm of Chelsea, alternative schools are now in high demand for the city’s youth. Wishing everyone a successful (and open-minded) school year for 2011-2012!
Winston Preparatory School
Opened in 1981 by parents in need of a better school option for their children with learning disabilities, Winston Prep continues to be an institution based on those values: faculty-parent communication and fostering student confidence with flexible syllabuses. Director since 1998, Scott Bezsylko, along with his faculty of learning disability professionals, believe a student’s test scores are no indication of success. The unique program for middle and upper school students chooses to instead focus on developing practical skills, fostering student strengths and respectfully challenging their weaknesses. A highlight of the curriculum is the daily period of individual instruction in the subject where the student experiences the most difficulty, “Focus Program”. This opportunity for personal direction allows students to better express their needs and for the teachers to guide them accordingly. Small class sizes and a selection of arts courses aim to develop the students not only academically, but socially and emotionally as well, encouraging self-assurance in the students who need it most.
126 W. 17th Street
Rudolf Steiner School
Located right in the heart of the Upper East Side, Rudolf Steiner provides Waldorf education from its early childhood programs through the 12th grade. Waldorf approach is based on the philosophy of Austrian-born scientist and school namesake Rudolf Steiner that education should be an artistic process. The school implements this idea by encouraging creativity, helping students develop a sense of self in addition to understanding their social responsibilities. Since it opened as the first Waldorf school on the continent back in 1928, the curriculum is balanced between traditional courses like math and science and opportunities to explore fine arts, educating in a balanced and well-rounded style. Students are given the chance to experience the subject matter on a deeper level during the daily Main Lesson, an hour and a half period where students approach the topic through drama and music. The school highly encourages parents to limit television use at home in order to encourage students’ full, positive engagement with the world around them.
15 E. 79th Street
The Spence School
The school’s motto of “learning for life, not for school” first came to fruition in 1892 when educator Clara Spence welcomed 10 girls into a West 48th Street brownstone to kick off her all-female classroom. Now on East 91st Street, the Spence School continues to carry their original visionary’s dream by preparing the city’s intelligent young women for life in the real world. The institution stands out among others in the city with its international study programs for upper school students and extensive outlets for varying student body interests. The two buildings (one for K-4, the other 5-12) are home to two dance studios, two libraries, a photography darkroom and a fully equipped fitness room. With no more than 17 students in each class, the Spence School has an impressive 100% of its high school seniors attending college. The school certainly demands excellence, only accepting 1 in 10 applicants, but its statistics for college-prep exceed many others in the city.
22 E. 91st Street
Ethical Culture Fieldston School
One of the first progressive schools in America, Ethical Culture Fieldston School stresses the importance of inclusion, diversity and community service every day. Its goal of helping students reach their highest spiritual, emotional and intellectual potential is based on founder Felix Adler’s belief that cooperation is better than competition. In classes from sciences to the arts to physical education, student-teacher discussions are more than encouraged, setting the stage for an environment of mutual understanding and freedom to make mistakes. In a society where jobs are tight and schools are tougher to get accepted to, Fieldston school helps students thrive by challenging them without putting them under excessive stress. The annual student fashion show where students model their own designs encourages creativity and the winter coat drive is a prime example of how the school upholds its moral standards through education.
33 Central Park West
The Corlears School
This independent, progressive school for children ages 2 ½ -10 first opened in 1968 by a group of parents and teachers who wanted an outlet for collaborative education—an environment where teachers and parents work closely together and children have participatory experiences beyond the classroom. The intimate and involved community at Corlears prides itself on its multi-age classrooms, where older children can revisit certain concepts and younger children are challenged intellectually by watching their older peers. Faculty members value the “voice” of each student, teaching students to respect one another and welcome both strengths and weaknesses. Weekly assemblies allow students to show their artwork, read poems and tell stories. The goal of this progressive institution is to help New York’s children become contributing, influential members of society in their own right.
324 W. 15th Street