A New Outlook with an Old Number

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p.s. 151 reopens with neighborhood groups pitching in

by gavin aronsen

when the former p.s. 151 shut its doors on a nearby corner in 2001, parents had no option but to crowd their children into schools in surrounding neighborhoods.

the new p.s. 151-aka yorkville community school-began reversing the exodus when it opened in september last year, after the city's department of education leased a former catholic school building on east 91st street and renovated it that summer.

under the leadership of principal samantha kaplan, the cash-strapped school now teaches 179 kindergarteners and 1st graders on the building's first four floors. the fifth floor is under construction for 2nd graders next year, and there are plans to add another grade each year after up to 5th grade.

"i had to write a proposal about what my vision for the school would be if i had the opportunity to open it," kaplan said. "my proposal was based on creating a school that was centered around the community, and using the community to develop our curriculum. that was our starting point."

after getting the job, kaplan said her first move "was to develop partnerships with community-based organizations to provide enrichment opportunities."

without enough money to hire gym or music instructors, the school has relied on funding secured by city councilmembers daniel garodnick and jessica lappin, who both represent the upper east side, to afford outreach to community-based and other organizations.

the fitness club asphalt green now helps keep p.s. 151's kids in shape, and the non-profit arts connection runs a music and movement program, to name just two examples. the school is actively seeking new grants as it continues to grow.

an integrated curriculum model, in which math and writing fuse with a common social studies theme, drive the school's lesson plans.

"i think it's really exciting that the curriculum is so engaging, because it's all child-based," kaplan explained. " everything we do is based off how they respond, and the teachers are flexible and willing to look at the work they've done and are willing to change it."

first-grade teacher tara torre came to p.s. 151 for this reason.

"i thought it would be a great opportunity to start from the ground up and watch something really develop," she said. "and it has been. creating the curriculum has been an amazing experience."

she also embraces the theme of community on which kaplan founded the school.

"it really helps the kids with building a sense of knowledge about the world around them," torre said.

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