Did you know that St Mary's Episcopal's Church operated a free kindergarten on Lawrence Street -- forming the basis of the first experimental school of Teachers College, Columbia University? The parish house became too small to accommodate the kindergarten and elementary school, causing the elementary classes to move to a double sided house on 129th Street. In 1902, donors Mr. and Mrs. James Speyer provided a multi-story building in a German-Renaissance style, with plans for a model school reflecting new educational philosophies and methods that were child-centered, democratic, and socially oriented -- progressive with a tone of "settlement house."
Terms required that the Speyer School appoint two social workers, and the institution provided numerous community clubs, with long opening hours (8am-10pm) to accommodate working parents. The school library (given the lack of a nearby public one), was open to all members of the community, while curriculum and programming focused heavily on health and physical education. Facilities included a gym, showers, and roof garden, in addition to seven classrooms and apartments for the Teachers College staff who taught there. From 1935-1939, the Speyer School gained attention when its Head, Leta Stetter Hollingworth, experimented with mixing children of different abilities (IQ) in its seven classrooms. Hollingworth's studies led her to become a specialist in "gifted education" in which she showed that exceptional children experienced problems in adjusting to normal learning environments -- and benefitted from separate classrooms.
The Speyer School eventually became an annex of P.S. 43, that served to educate seventh and eighth grade boys, until the Lincoln School, the next Teachers College laboratory school, opened in 1917 to test and develop other progressive teaching methods and curriculum. The Speyer School ultimately was leased to the New York City Board of Education.
Today the Speyer Legacy School, located at 925 Ninth Avenue, is an independent K-8 school for gifted learners that was founded in 2009. It began with 26 students in a two-classroom space on West 61st Street and has grown to more than 300 students in a modern, 85,000-square-foot campus, with a curriculum designed to meet the educational and social-emotional needs of gifted children.
The following articles are drawn from Proquest Historical Newspapers, which informs and inspires classroom teaching and learning.
- Speyers, The Givers: Teachers College To Build a Model School With the $100,000--The "Continuation" Method. (1901, Jun 11). New - York Tribune (1900-1910)
- The New Teachers College School. (1901, Jul 23). New - York Tribune (1900-1910)
- Speyer School Open: Designed To Educate a Community- Noted Speakers. (1903, Apr 24). New - York Tribune (1900-1910)
- Schools Expect 1,169,000 In Classes Today: Queens Paralysis Warning By Doctors Expected To Keep a Few at Home Experiment at Columbia Speyer School To Work on 'Dull-Normal' Children. (1935, Sep 09). New York Herald Tribune (1926-1962)
- Project Classes Stress Reading For Backward: Education By Print Foumd Advantageous If Pupils Are Slow to Learn Orally Shop Work Is Tied in Teachers College, W. P. A. Help "City's Experiment. (1936, Nov 01). New York Herald Tribune (1926-1962)
- Clever Children Also Good Looking: Cheerfulness and Charm Are Qualities Noted In Fifty Speyer School Pupils. (1937, Oct 31). New York Times (1923-)
- Barnard, E.F. (1938, Feb 27). "Learning-By-Doing" Confidently Takes Stock: After Twenty Years Progressive Education Is Still a Question For Spirited Debate. New York Times (1923-)
- Slow Pupils Write Own Textbooks: 175 In Classes At Speyer School Provide Substitutes For Difficult Reading Essays On Varied Topics. (1937, Mar 18). New York Times (1923-)
- City's Gifted Children On Parade in Columbia Photograph Exhibit: Pupils Picked For Special School at Work and Play. (1937, Nov 06). New York Herald Tribune (1926-1962)
- Speyer School System Tried With Other Pupils: About 1,0.00 Gifted Children Receiving Benefits. (1940, Sep 19). New York Herald Tribune (1926-1962)
- Fine, B. (1941, Feb 02). Speyer School Closed By City: Five-Year Test Of Special Training For Gifted Children Ends. New York Times (1923-)
- Fosdick to Head Manhattanville Social Center: Teachers College Donates Speyer School Building To Help Problem Area. (1946, Oct 25). New York Herald Tribune (1926-1962)
- Gray, C. (1987, Oct 18). 'Essentials of Wholesome Living' in a 'Settlement House' Setting. New York Times (1923-)
- The Speyer School Curriculum. New York City: Teachers College, Columbia University, 1913. TCANA LB2193 .C7 1913. e-copy
- Greenberg, Benjamin Bertram, and Herbert Bascom Bruner. Final Report of Public School 500 (Speyer School) to the Board of Education and Board of Superintendents of the City of New York. New York: The Board, Division of Elementary Schools, 1941. TCANA LC3983.N4 C6
- Rudnitski, Rose A. “Leta Stetter Hollingworth and the Speyer School, 1935-1940: Historical Roots of the Contradictions in Progressive Education for Gifted Children.” Education and Culture (Iowa City, Iowa) 13.2 (1996): 1–6. e-copy
- Explore other archival material on the Speyer School.
- Speyer School. Original Building On Lawrence Street. Teachers College. (Fall 1902), Courtesy of Teachers College, Columbia University
- Speyer School. From The North. Teachers College. (Ca. 1903), Courtesy of Teachers College, Columbia University
- Special News Slide, Courtesy of the Gottesman Libraries
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