Many families from our community have shared stories of their children's experiences at CPE1. Here are just a few examples...
Keeping in Mind the Whole Child
When our son, Ollie, left his 2-hour pre-admissions visit to Yvonne’s pre-k/K class, he was more grown up than when he went in. Seriously – the kid grew up noticeably after just 2 hours in Yvonne’s class! That was almost 9 years ago, before we knew what a special place CPE1 was. I remember going to the end-of-year family picnic after we found out that Ollie was accepted to CPE1. It was at the playground at 100th St. and CPW, and there were a gazillion big kids running around. I was trying to manage infant Sadie, who was newly eating solid foods at the sandy playground, and Ollie ran into the pyramid that hid the ladder, which led to the top of the slide. I was in a panic that tiny Ollie was going to get trampled by the gazillion kids who seemed so fast and BIG! A CPE1 parent (Laury Dyke) saw my fluster – panic! - and comfortingly told me not to worry, the older kids would take care of him. And they did!
The years have flown by since our first CPE1 Family Picnic. Dominick and I, Ollie, and later Sadie, have had the benefit of being in a community of exceptional teachers and families. We’ve benefited from Yvonne’s observations of our children’s styles of approaching novel situations, and Marilyn’s use of 5-6 year-old’s interest in poop to develop a curriculum about the digestive system and later, the entire body, and Christine’s appreciation of Harry Potter, and Lelia’s love of camping, and Corinthia, Jose, and Eunice’s excitement about debates and morality, and Catlin’s market study which led to an incredible collaboration between classmates as they made markets out of blocks and Legos. We’ve benefited from Todd’s ability to use bongos and body movement to teach fractions, from Tim and Tanaisha’s creativity, and from Monica, Amy, Angela, and Barry’s capacity to connect us through song. We’ve benefited from outside time, field trips and real world exploration, playful, hands-on learning, conceptual math, quiet reading, reflective writing. We’ve benefited from mixed grades, making choices, work time, collaboration, project time, and presentation. We’ve benefited from class pets (especially the snakes!), gardens and indoor plants, worms and bugs, rotting pumpkins and chick/duck eggs (some that make it, and some that don’t), beach trips, zoo trips and camping trips. Our home is filled with construction projects big and small, sewing projects, paintings, and clay sculptures that continue to evoke pride in our children. We’ve skated, cooked, read books, told stories, listened to stories, sung songs, created, played, danced, celebrated work, given surveys, and taken surveys. We’ve organized and fought for our school; for our space, for a middle school, for our philosophy. We’ve learned about different cultures and languages and made friends with a diverse group of people.
The staff at CPE1 keep in mind the whole child. They’ve paid attention to our kids’ physical, intellectual, social, and emotional development. Our kids have felt respected, even loved, by their teachers. They have felt safe and supported at CPE1. Sadie entered CPE1 a shy pre-k student who barely spoke to adults. While she continues to be shy and quiet at times, she nonetheless stood in front of peers and parents to proudly describe her project work, and she stood in front of a packed auditorium and read an introduction to a song during a Chorus Concert. I credit CPE1 for providing her with a sense of safety, security, and acceptance.
The evening of Sadie’s first day of pre-K, I was on my way home from work and bumped into Erin (prior K/1 teacher) on the bus. She asked me how Sadie did on her first day of school. Erin had not taught Ollie, yet she knew me and both my kids by name. Similarly, one day before Catlin had had any of my kids in his class, I watched him acknowledge Ollie by name and playfully engage him in conversation in the hallway. I recall marveling at the comfort between this teacher and my son, who at many other schools would not even know one another.
Corinthia (prior 4/5 teacher) and I recently wrote a paper together and submitted it to a journal. The reviewers and editors commented on how incredibly rare it is for a teacher and parent to collaborate in this kind of way. This surprised us, because our collaboration was such an organic process.
For us, CPE1 is a place of collaboration. A place where teachers and students work together, where teachers and parents can work together, where big kids help littler kids, and even where little kids get to help bigger kids. We feel blessed to be a part of this community.
A Peace-Inducing Voice
Our journey, to CPE, fortunately, was not a long one... but we plan to be here for a long time.
I was born, raised and educated on the island of Puerto Rico, I moved to states for grad school and somehow, without planning it, ended up settling in NY. As a single parent and a non-native to the city, in addition to not having any family in NY, I have always been hyper-vigilant about the places and people I leave my son with. I had some great experiences with his day care settings, finding providers that were as supportive of him as they were of me. Seba was always the kid who was the best behaved, he received "the most independent award" at 5.5 months old for being able to do things on his own and not "being a crier" at this daycare and "the scientist" award at 3 yrs old for being an explorer and loving all things science/nature. He always enjoyed his time with older children and was reading at 3 yrs old.
When he turned 2 I started asking his daycare provider and colleagues about the school system in NY. His daycare teacher recommended I start preparing him for the G&T test and my provost recommended Bank Street. I was not sure I wanted to have my son doing test-prep at 3 and Bank Street was way beyond my budget. But my number #1 goal will always be to provide my son with the best that I can.
At 3 yrs old, I enrolled Seba into a Montessori that negatively impacted my child. While he had spent two years of his life at a daycare with the same teachers and friends, in 8 months, he had 6 different teachers, a whole new set of friends and other significant changes to his routine. Some at the school held him at very high regard, while others said he was "disruptive" and "the leader" among 5 other boys, creating mayhem in the classroom. Everyone, however, agreed that he was cognitively advanced and should be in a gifted and talented program where he would not be bored. Another thing that concerned me was that I was having an incredibly hard time getting information from the teachers and the director of the school. As a single parent I rely on his educational providers to fill in the gaps of the day when I am not around him and to help with meeting his needs. I personally don't have issues with Seba at home, but I expect specifics from teachers when they are describing him as "disruptive," because that is something that I wanted to address.
When he began at the Montessori, I started touring possible pre-K schools, particularly inside my district (4). I was excited to hear about CPE1 and how highly regarded it was among my colleagues that were in education and in child clinical psychology/psychiatry. When I went on the tour, I recall Najah's enthusiasm, Yvonne's "peace-inducing" voice, and parent volunteers like Melissa McGovern speaking enthusiastically about the school. I looked around the school and loved the set-up of the classrooms, the diverse population of students and staff and the conversations I had about the child development. The mission of the school, which was to support the children's cognitive growth, while providing enriched activities that also enhance social/emotional growth for the children. The pedagogy was in line with everything I had been reading that was optimal for neural and behavioral maturation. And best of all, I knew Seba would love CPE1.
I was invited to the 40th Anniversary celebration; and alumni shared how critical CPE1 was in their development and becoming future professionals. Every story included vivid childhood memories that left each and every one these amazing people the desire to become an entity of change in the future. They spoke about teachers that believed in them, work time and realizing who they wanted to be in this world. Lawyers, coaches and doctors spoke... but most of the alumni that shared their storied felt their niche in this world was to advocate for children that are underserved or discriminated against by the NYC DOE. I have heard similar stories from MY students speak about our program, but my program gives people a fast track to becoming physicians (MD), never about an elementary school. If being at CPE was an experience my son could have, that is where I wanted him to be.
In Fall of 2015, After I pulled Seba from the UPK program at the Montessori school he spent 8 mo in (the program was later shut down by the DOE and DOH), I prayed that I would get a call from CPE. I put him in another local UPK program and 3 days later I got a call that the UPK program at CPE1 had a spot open. I quickly enrolled him, taking the last seat in Yvonne's classroom... and although it was a transition for him at first, and he is still having a bit of struggle keeping his focus in the classroom, he loves Yvonne more than anyone in this world. He says that when he, "Grows up, and up, and up, he wants to be a teacher, like Yvonne, Alveda, Jim, Marilyn and Patricia." Every night, when I ask him, "Who made you smile today?" he always says, "Yvonne made me smile today." And recounts a special moment between them in the classroom.
Some how things come together... I have been lucky to meet some remarkable parents and teachers at CPE1. I feel incredibly lucky and blessed to be part of an institution that cares about each other and all members are highly involved in the future of these children that are the next physicians, lawyers and educators of this world. The only word I can use to describe what I have seen in my five months we have been part of the CPE1 community is: extraordinary. Nothing is perfect, but I believe that we are all works in progress and all we can do is put in the work to get better.
Last week I saw this video and my eyes filled with tears. I work actively to change the face of health care and science. I take my responsibilities as a mentor, advisor, educator, and role model very seriously. Almost as seriously as I take being a mother of a biracial young man that I truly believe is destined for greatness.
Even if you don't read our whole story, click on this link, I hope it reminds you about what our children want and need, and what their experience is, and should continue to be, at CPE1. Thank you, to everyone that makes this happen:
Kaliris Y. Salas-Ramirez
“Abnormal... Defective... Irregular.” These were the words used by doctors to describe my daughter, MeiMei, during my pregnancy. Doctors and even family members suggested termination. Shortly after her birth the diagnosis of Down Syndrome and hearing loss were confirmed…(fast forward)
I spent most of last year having anxiety about MeiMei’s kindergarten year. CPE would be a big transition- new school, new routines, new therapists, new friends, new teachers.
In September before school started, I invited an expert on Down Syndrome to do a workshop for the staff. Not only did her classroom teachers attend but teachers that may never have MeiMei as a student attended. The teachers could have used that day setting up classrooms and planning for the first week of school. Instead they spent the day learning about the needs of one student. That spoke volumes to me about the type of community at CPE. My daughter would not just be Marilyn and Jim’s student. She would be every teacher’s student. There is a shared team mentality in teaching all children at CPE. It is a family, it is our family.
If you know MeiMei, you will know that she breaks out in dance whenever she sees her shadow. Often times, I am a bit nervous as to how people will respond to it. It can be seen as distracting and potentially socially isolating. Marilyn shared a story with me from the first week of school. MeiMei was on the playground dancing and another child started imitating her movements, soon more children joined in. One student coined it, “MeiMei’s orchestra.” It was beautiful. It brought me to tears knowing that not only was she in a place where she was included but she was embraced. This culture of acceptance and inclusion is woven into the fabric CPE. I believe this is in large part because of the type of authentic conversations that happen in the classrooms. Transparent conversations about life- conflicts, differences, choices, feelings, responsibility, friendship.
The initial words the doctors used to describe MeiMei have proven to be false, they have been replaced with “feisty...compassionate...joyful.” I am beyond thankful for the community of teachers, students, families and staff at CPE that can appreciate her and embrace her for who she is.
I also have a son, Joey, who is a second grader in Aishah’s class. When I was applying to PreK I toured 12 schools. When you physically step into CPE you can automatically sense a difference, it’s special. You see kids skipping down the hall. Who does that? You see vibrant work displayed, not one piece is the same. This is a place that values a child’s ideas and allows time and space for creativity and discovery. This is a place where my child can love learning. In the lottery, I put CPE1 as first choice. When we got a spot, it indeed felt like we had won the lottery. When we go on vacation Joey says, “I’d rather be at school.” Enough said.
Adults speak and treat children with respect
I am so grateful to the teachers at CPE1 because I know that for over 40 years, the teachers of CPE1 have made children their first priority and I have absolute faith that they do the same today. I am so grateful to CPE1, which was a home to me when my parents were separated and I was traveling between homes--one in Washington Heights and one on Duane Street near City Hall. My teachers at CPE1 helped me to organize all the bags and the violin case that had to be transported between my mother and my father's homes. They also helped to peel me off my parents' legs as I got dropped off at school.
CPE1 has always been a haven for children, because of the amount of thought that CPE1's teachers put into their work. The thoughtfulness practiced by teachers is reflected in the hours they put in for us--often til 7 and 8pm, as a routine. You would not see teachers in any other public or independent school stay the hours that CPE1's teachers do.
I am so grateful to the teachers of CPE1 because I know with conviction that, today and everyday, they try their best to help my son Leo, a kindergartener in his first year at CPE1, have a good day.
One of my primary concerns as a parent is my children’s socio-emotional development. Early in September, one of Leo’s teachers, Jim, came to me to talk about Leo’s behavior at the playground, where he was often playing alone--scratching a stick in the dirt or engaging the grownups. I recall Jim saying, “we want to honor who Leo is, but we also want to allow him to be able to make social connections.” Jim began to invent daily obstacle courses for Leo at the playground and asked him to pick a buddy to go through the obstacle course together. The obstacle courses became attractive to other kids in the class, and soon Leo was running around with a group of kids on the playground.
I am deeply appreciative to CPE1, which informed my own views on how I wanted to be a parent. It was at CPE1 that I learned that adults speak and treat children with respect. It was the place I learned that children have a right to speak up for themselves. It is where I was taught that everyone contributes something important to the community. CPE1 is a school which celebrates the whole child.
I have been searching for a community of people who view children through a similar lens, since the time I became a parent. I've been trying to find parent friends I can relate to since I gave birth. Now, as a CPE1 parent this year, I feel that I have finally found the proverbial “village.” I am very, very thankful to all of you for this.
My unending gratitude for the gifts CPE1 has given me and my family,
A School is a Complex Organism
I am signing this petition, and I support savecpe1.org.
I came to Central Park East in 1980 as the last classroom teacher hired before we expanded into Central Park East 1 and Central Park East 2. I spent 24 years at Central Park East, either as a teacher or a director (at CPE 2). My children graduated from CPE 1. I loved my time at CPE. Even years later, former students and parents stay in touch. Central Park East was always my community, my home, my framework for understanding learning and for making meaning. I’m now an adjunct at City College in the education department. I make sure that my students spend time in the classrooms at CPE. They come back talking about the way children learn from each other, about students’ curiosity, and the initiative they see children taking. They are amazed by the breadth of curriculum and discovery they see in these classrooms. They see that children learn through their own interests monitored by careful teacher involvement and guidance.
What my college students don’t always see is the institutional support that is such an inherent part of teacher development at a school like Central Park East. Over many years, teachers at CPE carefully constructed approaches that promoted sharing insights about our classrooms with each other, with parents, with teachers from other schools. We met for hours after school and over the weekends, when necessary, to talk about how children learn, to share curriculum ideas, to review our practice, and to mull over our concerns about the tone of the school. Teachers modeled cooperation. They created a safe environment to try out ideas. We knew that we could bring our confusion to the community of teachers and develop deeper understandings.
It was important that teacher cooperation and participation extended beyond our individual classrooms. We were pushed to consider the overall needs of the school. We shared our students. I taught older students, so I wanted to know about the curriculums that teachers in the earlier grades did. My colleagues wanted to know how their former students were doing in my class. We wrote narrative reports about our students, and we read each other’s reports and gave feedback. My students helped in the younger grades. The learning students did was made public: All of our classes shared our learning through museums and other kinds of celebrations. There was a CPE repertoire of songs. There were CPE operas, plays and choruses and square dances and fall festivals and the festival of lights. We learned as a community.
This meant that teachers participated in creating school-wide processes. We met to discuss schedules, to plan and share curriculums, to order furniture, to set budget priorities. We talked about staffing, and we participated in the selection of new teachers and then committed to help them get comfortable in their classrooms. We shared ideas and offered advice.
These procedures were both subtle and important. They developed over more than 40 years. They contributed to the great success CPE has experienced. But it’s clear that they are being threatened today. From the beginning of CPE, directors had been chosen from and by the staff. This created a closeness of understanding. But about 20 years ago, the Board of Education changed the way the leaders of small schools were chosen. These leaders had to be licensed supervisors and were chosen by a committee of people who didn’t have to know the specific history of the school. CPE 1 has had several principals since this policy change. Some were chosen with input from the staff and made a real effort to find out about the history and the carefully constructed policies of the school. But over the past few years, CPE 1 teachers and parents have been looking for a principal who would embrace these policies. They had some candidates who weren’t approved by the district. Some candidates they thought might work out chose to go elsewhere. The district then concluded that they needed to choose a principal themselves. Their choice was a person who had never worked in an elementary school before and didn’t know the history or processes of the school. Learning CPE’s processes is a huge challenge. I know. I’d been teaching for 11 years before I came to CPE, and it took me a while to begin to understand the complexities of our school. But the new principal hasn’t learned about hiring or parent orientation or curriculum planning and development. She hasn’t made it possible for the new staff that she chose, to work closely with the staff that had been in the school for years. In fact, she’s inadvertently or deliberately created deep rifts between new staff and staff that’s been here. This is not the CPE way. She’s initiated investigations of teachers; she’s undermined parent confidence in staff by mentioning investigations and alleged attacks by senior teachers on new teachers. She’s allowed groups of parents to meet and complain without bringing teachers and parents together to share their understandings. She’s allowed investigators to interrogate children as young as seven or eight about events that happened years before – without their parents being present or informed. And then children have been told they cannot discuss these “interviews” with their teachers or with other students. This is may be the new DOE way, but it’s not the CPE way. She has created a hostile work environment.
This breaks my heart.
A school is a complex organism. It needs constant care. It needs open communication. Differences of opinion are bound to come up. The people in the school learn by sharing their differences and coming to deeper understandings. I’m convinced that this cannot happen in the current environment. CPE 1 is not a top-down school, where decisions come from outside the school through the principal to the teachers. CPE was built from the bottom up, by a group of teachers with enormous confidence in children’s ability to learn. It grew out of a national movement of educators who looked for ways to foster children’s learning. It is a school where teachers develop their curriculums, which they need to discuss within the community in order to make these curriculums as rich and inclusive as possible. CPE 1 has always been a community that celebrated difference: learning differences, racial and ethnic differences, language differences. We placed children together in classrooms deliberately to have the differences rub up against each other, because we appreciated that these differences would open up children’s inquiry. We always rejected standardization of learning. For CPE 1 to survive, full teacher participation needs to be encouraged. Teachers need to come together to talk out their different perspectives. They need to play the role they’ve played throughout the 40 plus years of the school in choosing staff and helping each other to grow as teachers. They need to be able to talk openly about their struggles and challenges and not feel that they will be investigated. They need a principal who knows and understands this, a principal who is willing to walk alongside the staff and learn with them, a principal who will help them to heal.