Tuesday, December 16, 2008

You Can Get a Dalton Education at a NYC Public School

My boyfriend recently shared that his friend spends nearly $100,000 PER YEAR to put his 3 kids through private schooling in New York City. “Why?” I asked. “The NYC DOE has some of the best schools in the world.” He shared that his friend believed his “privileged” status caused him to feel this was something he was obligated to do to maintain his family’s standing among their peers. Additionally, he believes because of the world folks like his friend are involved in, there is little knowledge that a solid education is available in public schools. 

Unfortunately for people like his friend, and for public schools, they will continue to pour more than a million dollars in private education rather than placing their energy toward a school system that could provide the same education for free.

I visited one of those schools today. A school that Barbara Slatin says is comparable to the private Dalton-type schools of New York City. Slatin is the Principal of PS/MS 188 – The Island School where staff strives to nurture the Multiple Intelligences of all students through a rigorous program for talent development using the Schoolwide Enrichment Model. Through this model the school staff systematically identifies student’s strengths, nurtures skills, and creates authentic opportunities for students to utilize these skills not just as students, but as practicing professionals providing experiences and opportunities to work and learn with others in the fields in which they are interested. These opportunities create pathways for future study, employment and lifelong pursuits. This is one of those schools where the world inside the school walls mirrors that which students will experience out in the real world.

I was fortunate to be invited to spend the day at the school where I visited numerous students, teachers, and rooms. As I weathered the elements to make my way to the school on a cold, windy, rainy day, I nearly missed the school which was tucked away in the bottom corner of Manhattan and hidden by scaffolding. The journey was well worth the effort. Upon entering I discovered an Oasis for journalists, artists, movie makers, scientists, dancers, writers, violinists, actors, percussionists and more.

Notice the word “future” does not precede the description of these students. They are practicing professionals with authentic work, for authentic purposes and authentic audiences in the present. Every student at The Island School knows they’ve got talent and they are at a school that fosters and nurtures the development of these talents. There is evidence throughout the school that this is their mantra.

As I walked through the halls I saw they were decorated with art inspired by some of the artists I saw during my recent visit to renowned Art Basel Miami. The artwork is produced in the art class where I visited students producing amazing pieces that may also make their way as work displayed on the school walls. When speaking with the art teacher he shared that he is in talks with the local art galleries about exhibiting student work and is creating a school-based art gallery to display the student work as well.

When I entered the magnificent school theater, a student chorus was working with a professional musician from the Third Street Music School Settlement rehearsing a piece for the school show. Third Street is dedicated to providing quality arts instruction to young people who might otherwise never learn to sing, play an instrument or perform before an audience. The School is widely recognized as a training center for serious music students. While I was watching the children perform the principal explained that a couple of those students have been recognized by Rosie’s Broadway Kids to work with to develop as Broadway performers. The organization is an arts education organization dedicated to enriching the lives of children through the arts. Using professional teaching artists, Rosie’s Broadway Kids provides instruction in dance and music and a professional theater experience for children who might otherwise not have the opportunity. The organization does this at the Island School by collaborating each year with the school to produce a Broadway style show performed right in their own school. This gives them the opportunity to deeply know the students and accurately access who may be right for the limelight. They also host trips for students to attend Broadway shows.
Next stop was dance. The Island school has a dance studio complete with mirrored walls and a hardwood floor on which students can perform and practice. Students were rehearsing a self-choreographed number that they were very excited to perform for us. The dance class was facilitated by a teacher with a passion for dance who kept students dancing on beat and provided advice on stage presence and performance style.

As I continued through the school I was impressed with students who were taking a violin lesson meticulously working on a difficult piece of classical music. I then went on to watch a percussion drumming group. This group I learned was taught by a man with a psychology background who was interested in working with adolescents with anger management issues that could be resolved through drumming. The principal shared many of these students in addition to having behavior issues were also ADHD. You wouldn’t know any of this when watching them. The kids were energetic, focused and impressive. So much so that the principal explained these kids take their show on the road performing all around New York City at places like the Pierre Hotel and local retirement homes to enthusiastic audiences.

There really isn’t a moment where opportunities for talent development don’t exist at the school. At lunch time the learning continued where I witnessed students focused on working in their area of interest in the lunchroom. I saw a group of students working on a craft project with a teacher. I also noticed that many students were using internet accessible computers in the lunchroom which the principal explained were the result of their school custodian who refurbished old computers so they could be used by students at lunchtime. Students were also engaged in playing various sports they were passionate about.
As an instructional technology specialist with a background as a literacy coach and library media specialist, I was very excited about my visit to the Internet Café which serves as a technology center by day and a Scholar’s Lab by night. In the Café I met the school’s Techbrarian, Lou Lahana whose blog my colleague the Technomnivore recognizes in his post, “Techbrarian’s Blog is a treasure trove of amazing tech integration ideas.” Mr. Lahana, now a doctoral student at Teacher’s College was the founder and brains behind the creation of the center.

There I spoke with Sabrina who was one of Mr. Lahana’s many students who has a blog. You can read her blog, as well as the blogs of other students at Techbrarian: Talent Through Tech. Sabrina shared that the blog has been a terrific outlet for her to capture all her thoughts, ideas, and musings that previously were bursting to come out...sometimes, as she shared, much to the chagrin of fellow students and teachers. She explained that she often just had so much on her mind that she was excited about, that at times, others found her sharing a little much, but the blog has noticeably changed her personality for the better in the eyes of many at the school. Her blog has recently received some attention garnering a request to be a contributing blogger from the Gotham Schools which is a news source and online community for teachers, parents, policy makers, and journalists interested in learning about what works and what doesn’t in New York City schools.

Another place I encountered students with literary aspirations was in the schools beautiful library where we had a chance to speak with the journalism team who puts out the school’s monthly newsletter. When speaking with the students some shared that partaking in this group and having the opportunity to produce something that is the buzz in the school has provided an interest in possibly pursuing journalism as a career. One student mentioned how great it was to have teachers and students approaching to comment on and discuss the articles they produce.

Mr. Lahana explained one way that he masterfully combines the literary and digital talents of his students is by involving them in digital movie making. He shared that he collaborates with the literacy and social studies teachers around the movies that students make. Most recently he challenged students to Turn your ELA Story to a Movie. He shared with his students that their writing was, “so good, they should be made into movies. He encouraged students to, “use this really cool site called XtraNormal, to create a scene (or many scenes) from your story.” You can visit his post for an example of this work. He also shared that students have produced iMovies that are entered in Film Festival contests and that the school is proud to have winners of the TriBeCa Film Festival. Another great example of bringing student work into the world outside the classroom.

Not only does great work happen during the day in the Internet Café, but it also occurs from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. each night as the Café turns into the Scholar’s Lab available for middle school students to increase academic success. On hand in the lab each night are pedagogues to foster academic growth across the content areas. It is at this lab that students can dive deeply into content areas with support from subject area instructional specialists.

The school has a many structures in place to allow for all the wonderful things happening there to occur. Classes at the school are taught by a mixture of NYC DOE pedagogues all with their own special talents to share with students, and experts from more than a dozen partner organizations. This allows the class sizes to be quite small since the number of those working with the students is increased. The principal also fosters talent development in her staff and encourages and funds professional development opportunities for staff members to develop various talents. Staff and students are surveyed on interests to inform the development of the school offerings. The school is in session from 8:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. each day allowing for a well balanced day of enrichment classes and the traditional academic curriculum. In addition to enrichment opportunities available during the traditional school day, everyday from 3:45 – 5:15 students can select from a variety of enrichment activities including Playwriting, Sewing, Cooking, Songwriting, Chess, Football, Gymnastics, Basketball, Computer Animation, and more.

The principal shares that she serves as her student's Jewish-mother advocate—like those commonly seen at the Dalton’s of the world—for all her students and, she wants to ensure her students get the same type of education given to those students. I thank Principal Slatin and dedicate this post to those like the friend of my boyfriend who may be surprised to learn that a public education can rival, and even surpass, that of a costly private one. Perhaps if there were more people who didn’t fall into the vortex of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on an education so they could maintain their social status, and instead invested that time and energy into an education that would benefit both the advantaged and disadvantaged, all of New York City’s children and their families would be better off.

For more information visit the The Island School website and be sure to watch the school videos or the Techbrarian’s Blog.

Read Techbrarian’s Blog is a treasure trove of amazing tech integration ideas for an overview of the work of the school techbrarian and Techbrarian and
Inspiration for your classroom blog.


  1. Thanks for your detailed tour of this amazing school -- I felt like I was there! So good to hear positive news and reviews of the good things happening in NYC public schools. I referenced your post in an entry about the Techbrarian on the Digital Learning Environment blog: http://guide2digitallearning.com/blog_jim_mcdermott/inspiration_your_classroom_blog
    Thanks Lisa!

  2. Wow. Thank you for your thorough and *glowing* review of our programs here at the Island School. It means so much to us that our hard work is recognized by a savvy and articulate education advocate.

  3. The school sounds amazing. If public schools in NY that can compete with this school, please write about them. There are no public schools in my state that even close to what you describe.

  4. ...so jealous; and I don't usually get this way. This is awesome, and needs to be strongly supported and thoroughly advertised. Care to expand to the Bronx?!

  5. What an inspiring read, Lisa! Thanks!! I just started using Teen Learning 2.0 (http://teenlearning.csla.net) for my MS tech class, but his ideas have an authentic, fun edge to them.....

  6. Very interesting article. As a consultant of Dalton education, working in The Netherlands and other European countries, I am interested in all kind of initiatives in which the ideas of Helen Parkhurst are worked out into concrete forms.
    find us: www.daltoninternational.org

  7. Bucky Fuller's daughter Allegra was lucky enough to attend Dalton! She says: " What, perhaps, made my experience different from that of most children, however, was that as I, then, "grew up" and entered school, this experience was not negated, nor was I told that I should now be a good girl and just sit still and listen to what others told me."