Volume 16 • Issue 37 | February 13 - 19, 2004

Little School plans to include first grade this fall

By Elizabeth O’Brien

Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert

The Downtown Little School expects to expand in September and accept six-year-olds ready for the first grade.

The Downtown Little School will become bigger this fall, with the addition of a new class for five and six year olds.

For five years, the nursery school at 15 Dutch St. has educated children ages two through five. Starting this fall, it will include first graders in its program, which welcomes children with special needs along with typically developing children.

“We provide something for the child for whom leaping into a classroom of 28 with one teacher could be more daunting,” said Kate Delacorte, co-director of the school.

As local public school classrooms grow increasingly crowded, many parents seek out the individualized attention that private schools offer. There are no private elementary schools below Chambers St. but one is planned near Wall St. in the fall of 2005.

At the Downtown Little School, a typical classroom has 15 children and three adults, including a special education teacher.

“The teachers pay attention really well,” said Meredith Levine, a John St. resident whose four-and-a-half –year-old daughter attends the school. “They’ve surprised me a couple times with things they’ve picked up on.”

Downtown Little School will create a new classroom within its recreation room, a large, high-ceilinged space that holds a mini-trampoline, neat plastic containers of toys, and rows of books. Half of the room will become a classroom, Delacorte said. The school has additional play space on top of the adjoining building at 80 Nassau St.

The directors are considering adding a new grade each year, through fifth grade, Delacorte said. Since there won’t be room to grow within the existing facility after this fall, they would begin looking for new space within walking distance for September, 2005.

“Some of our families say they wish we’d go up through college — we meet one need at a time,” said co-director Adrian Hood.

The directors’ decision to expand further will be based partly on whether they fill up their new class of five and six year olds, Delacorte said. Additional funding will also be necessary, and the school is looking for donors.

The school, which used to operate in Pace University, accepts typically developing children and those with a variety of social and educational challenges, including some forms of autism and slow language development. School officials carefully screen each applicant, and based on their observations Delacorte and Hood tell parents which needs they can meet and which, if any, they can’t address.

Applicants are not required to take the Educational Records Bureau, or E.R.B., tests, I.Q. exams that many private schools mandate. Instead, screened applicants are admitted on a first come, first-served basis.

“I don’t feel admissions can be that much of a science,” Delacorte said.

At Downtown Little School, children learn primarily through play. Children use blocks and paints, take care of animals and listen to music.

Caregivers say teachers are skilled in giving kids room to explore while remaining in control.

“The kids are learning, they’re very relaxed,” said Mae Adams, whose 5-year-old nephew, Wade Hutchinson, attends the school.

Delacorte said she is researching more structured curricula for the new class of five and six year olds. The Downtown Little School is registered with New York State, and Delacorte is also investigating whether she will need to modify the school’s charter with the addition of elementary education.

Delacorte said she hoped to build the new class with a core of returning students.

“I think it’s a little scary for parents to commit to something that hasn’t been tried,” she acknowledged.

She hopes that enthusiastic caregivers like Levine and Adams will support the school through its expansion and help it grow into a full-fledged elementary school.

Tuition at Downtown Little School runs between $6,825 per school year for half-day class to $12,075 for 9:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Financial aid is available.

The school is now accepting students aged two through six for the 2004-2005 school year.



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