West Side YMCA, Where Teachers and Parents Work Hand-in-Hand
Outstanding Nursery School Almost 50 years ago, a group of parents in the Lincoln Center area of Manhattan decided they wanted greater involvement in their children's first school experience and founded the West Side YMCA Co-op Nursery School. The school started as a single classroom with 30 children, one teacher and a daily parent assistant. Today, it has grown to 10 classes serving 130 children between the ages of 2.5 and 5 years. The main goal of the West Side YMCA Co-op Nursery School is for the kids attending the program to transition easily into elementary school, according to Shannon Cussen, the early-childhood director. "We do that by creating a rich learning environment focusing on socialization and hands-on learning," she said. Children participate in free-choice activities, story time, group time and outdoor play, as well as special classes that include music, gym, swimming, science and art. "The school is so fortunate to have the many resources of the YMCA, from the swimming pool to the gym to the rooftop playground and vibrant classrooms," Cussen said. "The children are able to participate in activities both inside and outside of the building." Perhaps the most defining aspect of the nursery school is the direct parental involvement. Through the "Helping Parent" program, every parent participates in the classroom throughout the school year on a rotating basis. "The 'Helping Parent' program provides a unique opportunity for parents to get a firsthand view of their children in a learning environment, as well as watching them form social relationships," Cussen said. With the teacher serving as a guide, parents volunteer for a three-hour span and get involved with activities and projects that are taking place in the classroom. They get to know all of the children very intimately, Cussen said, as they are in the classroom on a regular basis, with flexibility for working parents. In addition, all parents serve on one of eight committees, which include fundraising, communications and technology, community service, events, enrollment and alumni. "Parents really love this hands-on approach," Cussen said. "They get to participate in their children's school experience both inside and outside of the classroom and watch their development take focus." The many recreational and educational opportunities available through the West Side YMCA Co-op Nursery School, as well as the direct parental involvement, may account for the competitiveness of admission to the program. About 20 percent of applicants are accepted into the school, according to Cussen. The school's popularity is a testament to the hard-working teaching staff, the very involved parents who are part of the school community, and the program's focus on the children's development, she said. "We value each child's temperament and personality," Cussen said, "and really focus on building their self-esteem and independence through social, emotional and cognitive growth fostered in the curriculum."
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