|AN OUTSTANDING PATHWAY SCHOOL: THE BANKSTREET SCHOOL FOR CHILDREN, PART OF THE BANK STREET COLLEGE OF EDUCATION
By Peter J. Foley, Ed.D. ( reporting from New York City, February 2012)
|If you are fortunate enough to study at the Bank Street College Graduate School of Education or even to visit the Bankstreet School for Children, you don’t have to ask how the children are doing. You can access the students’ achievements and learning by simply looking all around you. Their work, their learning is everywhere: on the walls, the ceiling, the tables and the floors. The students’ work reflect their interests, their world.
Below is a picture of an early elementary class’s paper Mache representation of the Hudson River and its present day surroundings. The study of the Hudson River is a three month study of the river that starts with where the second grade students are developmentally, beginning with the here and now that surrounds them. The representation in the photo is what the student knows about the river through observation and research from a range of sources.
Part of the second grade student exploration of the Hudson River included a visit to the 79th Street Boat Basin. Below is one student’s representation of that visit.
Gradually, the students will go back in time to the Linape Native Americans who lived along the Hudson River before the explorers from Europe came to North America. Later in fourth grade students study the Egyptians along the Nile River, a place they have never been before. This is what we mean by Bank Street’s development interaction approach, as described by Stan Chu, senior faculty member in the Bank Street Graduate School of Education.
This approach to learning enables children to integrate their world that has meaning and importance to them and eventually moving back in time and into far- away places. I noted that differentiated learning was going on all around me. So, each child was presented with learning activities that were within her or his reach, a reflection of Vygotsky’s Proximal Zone. I also saw that teachers integrated learning so that , for example, when in history the children studied explorers , in art they made puppets representing the explorers. The teacher, no doubt, continued this integration in English geography and even in science and math classes( e.g. mapping, navigation and surveying). An art teacher explained to me that they used art at the beginning of the year when students set about making rules of etiquette and classroom management. He explained that the teachers asked their students to recall a time when someone had helped them or been very kind to them and then to illustrate that time and event in a picture.
This continually making the child the center of gravity in the school was impressive. Below, for example, are student renditions of what they feel about the snow .
I was shown large outdoor space fenced off with many pieces of sanded and varnished pieces of wood and also what looked like blocks of wood, known as hollow blocks, which were originally designed by Caroline Pratt, founder of the City and Country School. Children, ages 5 to 7 play and learn here once a day for an hour and build all kinds of structures. I watched a couple of four year old boys building what looked like a miniature house. They had divided up the labor, one boy carrying lumber back to the project for the floors another working on the side of the miniature house. Another characteristic of the school is teaching collaborative learning. Students here are learning the value and effectiveness of cooperative efforts that lead to surprising achievements that a single individual could not hope to accomplish, while recreating parts of their physical world.
I came away from the visit to the school euphoric. When I asked myself why , I realized that it was being in the company of so many teachers that were interested and happy in their work was infectious. They loved what they were doing and could see daily that they were enabling children to understand deeply the world around them and guiding these children on a journey that included a joy for learning. I met a dozen or so teachers and all were smiling, happy, enthusiastic and bursting with energy. I noted that at the end of the school day the smiles and enthusiasm were still there.
Yes, I can hear a traditional educator asking as they read this, “but do these students at Banksstreet Children’s School really master the necessary skills to go on to college?” The proof is that tracking of their students both in high school and college shows the students perform well beyond the norm.
But I wanted to see for myself. I read the essays posted on the bulletin board about Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.
All the essays were masterfully written. Most were of a quality of writing far, far beyond the seventh grade level.
Nevertheless, the highlight of my observations was the art work of the three year olds.
These are stabiles created out of pipe cleaners and assorted materials. One piece in particular already showed symmetric and color combination genius. Miro , the celebrated Majorcan artist, I know ,would have been pleased with this work of art.
This school is an inspiration and those who are touched by this school will have received the certain knowledge that real education is all about nurturing and meeting children in the world that is meaningful and makes sense to children. Also realized is that effective teaching is more like coaching children to expand their worlds and become a creator of their world in a meaningful way that will bring personal contentment and confidence. Children education in this way are enabled to contribute also to the well being of those around them.