Teachers, children, and parents pass through the Bank Street Admissions Office, my home away from home, every day. The one comment that I hear from visitors almost daily is, “You have the best view.” I always agree because the view from my office is indeed wonderful, and also an excellent opportunity to learn about what makes Bank Street School for Children the school that it is.
The view that I have is of the “deck,” Bank Street’s playground where children in the 3/4s (nursery), 4/5s (prek), 5/6s (kindergarten), and 6/7s (first grade) have designated times for their one-hour recess, five days a week. The deck is their outdoor classroom. I see children stretch their legs and their minds as they run, create block structures, do cartwheels, play soccer (with a ball they make out of paper and tape), and engage in dramatic play. Bank Street attaches great importance to outdoor time not only for the multiple benefits of physical exercise and the development of gross and fine motor skills, but also for the immense value of the social and emotional interactions that children have as they learn to play and work with each other. The joy and laughter I see and hear every day coming from the deck are a few of the many rewards of working at Bank Street.
Children are children, however, and along with the joy and exuberance, there can be disagreements and tears. Needless to say, children learn from these interactions as well. This is how they grow and learn about others and themselves. How do our teachers handle these situations? I know that the faculty’s first priority is children’s safety. Teachers, however, will first take the time to observe these occasionally challenging situations and ask themselves: Are the children able to work out their disagreements on their own? Do they need guidance? Do they need to be spoken with in a quiet space? If so, the conversation will give each child involved an opportunity to explain what happened. Most assuredly, some part of the discussion will contain questions to the children about what it feels like to be in the other’s shoes. This is one way children begin to think about others’ feelings and learn empathy.
Every day I see Bank Street teachers on the deck playing with children, giving them hugs, and helping them grow. Our teachers are our experts in how children learn. Play has a major role in learning, whether it is on the deck or in the classroom. Our faculty is invested in creating environments in which children feel both safe and free to create, collaborate, and show compassion for each other. Their goal is for children to ask questions, think deeply, and to find solutions to problems. This begins in our 3/4s and continues until our students graduate at the end of eighth grade. Above all, we want children to be children as long as possible.
When I am sitting in my office and my attention turns to the deck, I often think back to my days as a young mother and learning about progressive education. My three-year-old son at the time was just beginning his formal education at a small progressive school in Chelsea. Like so many parents, I was schooled in the ways of traditional education and had no exposure to different educational approaches. My progressive journey began at my son’s school where I learned how important a good parent-child separation was and how respectful the teachers were of my son’s and my needs. The compassion and the deep insight those teachers had for how children develop and grow will never be forgotten. Their strategies for a good separation helped enormously and my son went on to have a year full of new discoveries and excitement about school. My passion for progressive education began that year.
The founder of that school, Irene Neurath, once wrote a booklet for the school entitled, “The Heart is the Teacher.” I believe that says it all. The love, respect for, and deep knowledge about children is what drives teachers at true progressive schools like Bank Street every day. I see it in the hallways, in the classrooms, and on the deck. Come take a look out my window. I think you will agree that there is no better view of children learning about themselves and others and the world around them.
Anita Haber, Director of Admissions and Enrollment Management, has had the best view at Bank Street for the past four years.