Frequently Asked Questions

Is The Earth School a public school or a charter school?

The Earth School, PS 364, is a District 1, public elementary school. It is not a charter school. We are co-located with PS 64 and Tompkins Square Middle School. Our district is “unzoned” which means that students are not assigned to us by their address. Families choose a school and are admitted, space permitting. Priority is given to siblings and District 1 applicants.

How does The Earth School choose its students?

Families choose us! We encourage interested families to come on a tour. While we believe our progressive philosophy supports all children well, we invite families to get to know us so they can make an informed choice. Our mission is to be a diverse community. We accomplish this through outreach, word-of-mouth, and by virtue of our diverse neighborhood. We do not select students on the basis of race, ethnicity, academic ability, personality, etc. If the number of applicants exceeds space, students are chosen by lottery with priority given to siblings and residents of District 1. We cannot accept District 1 school transfers without prior approval.

What is Progressive Education? Is The Earth School unique?

While we are certainly unique, we are not alone in our progressive philosophy. Many top public and private schools believe that children learn best when education is active, attuned to the child’s developmental stage, and purposeful. Lively topics, project-based assignments, and connections to the real world are some ways that progressive educators make the curriculum engaging for students. While every child is taught the basics, we value a range of learning areas including physical education, social-emotional learning, Earth literacy, and the arts. Teachers provide regular opportunities for children to follow their interests. Taking an active role helps children develop the skills needed to be informed citizens and responsible community members.

Does Progressive Education mean that classes are unstructured?

No. Progressive classrooms do look different than traditional ones. Children are often seated in groups and have regular opportunities to talk and move about the room. Sometimes it is hard to spot the teacher who may be working with a small group or listening as a student leads a class meeting. However, there is a great deal of structure built into the children’s day to develop independent work habits and to build strong communities. Rules and routines are taught diligently so the children learn to conduct themselves independently. The first six weeks of school is the time that most routines are discussed and practiced. Social skills are an important part of the learning that happens at school.

Is The Earth School against testing?

The Earth School is committed to accurately assessing student learning and knowing children well. We believe that this is best accomplished using a variety of techniques over the course of the year. The best assessments inform teachers about how to focus instruction to help a particular child. The worst ones give little or no direction for working with students, are stressful and discouraging to children, or do not generate accurate information. Earth School teachers assess student progress using a variety of tools and techniques, such as running records, sound-letter surveys, unit assessments, quizzes, and classroom observations. These ongoing records inform daily decisions and are communicated to families during conferences and in written reports in January and June.

Teachers in testing grades offer some review and test-taking strategy lessons to prepare students who are taking the standardized tests. While these tests may be “a part of life,” we feel the best preparation for our students is through rich curriculum that promotes critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Members of our community have taken action to curb the “high stakes” power of standardized tests and to question their quality and cost. The Earth School seeks to respect all opinions and perspectives on the matter by encouraging dialogue and by providing support for all of its students.

How big are The Earth School’s classes?

The Earth School prioritizes keeping class sizes smaller than average. Pre-K/K classes have about 22 students with one teacher and one assistant. Grades 1 – 5 have about 25 students. Interactive Collaborative Teaching (ICT) classes have an additional co-teacher to support classes with a greater range of learning needs. Most classes have teaching assistants and/or student teachers.

Why are there two grades in many classes?

Multi-age classrooms offer many benefits. Teachers get to know each child in great depth over two years which greatly supports teaching and learning. Returning students share their experience and traditions with the newcomers. Students mentor each other and everyone gets a turn being a class “elder.” For certain subjects, children are grouped by age, grade, or ability. At other times, teachers create mixed groups to allow kids at varying levels to collaborate. Core study topics alternate each year so new content can be introduced.

Isn’t it disrespectful to call teachers by their first names?

We don’t think so! We believe that all people, young and old, deserve respect. In the progressive model, teachers are viewed as helpful coaches and facilitators of learning. We want students to feel comfortable with their teachers’ authority and to respect rules and guidelines because they are fair and benefit all. Earth School students show great fondness and respect for their teachers.

Does The Earth School give homework?

Homework expectations vary by teacher and grade although it is recommended that all students spend time reading or being read to each day. We believe that homework should never be overwhelmingly burdensome to our students and families. When the homework experience is overly stressful, the negative impact will outreach the benefit. In general, the amount of homework increases each year as students become more able to complete independent assignments. Since students are actively engaged during the school day, many are exhausted afterwards. Teachers take into consideration other important activities that happen after school. Since research and parent opinion vary on the benefits of homework in the elementary years, it is a topic that continues to surface in community forums.

My child is very bright. Is The Earth School challenging enough?

Earth School teachers consider the level of each child in order to tailor assignments to the individual. Many topics are naturally geared to a range of learners. Readers’ and Writers’ Workshops, research projects, and hands-on investigations allow learners to move at their own pace. Students who show readiness have extended assignments that allow for delving more deeply. They are guided to apply their learning to new situations, to make connections between subject areas, and to “prove” their work. Since we believe that children learn best when they explore multiple facets of a concept, we avoid introducing new content too quickly. Pushing rapidly through a series of new topics gives the appearance of rigorous learning, but does not build a solid conceptual foundation nor set the stage for synthesizing understandings.