Bank Street Head Start

An Insideschools pick
535 East 5th Street
Phone: (212) 353-2532
Website: Click here
Neighborhood: East Village
Grade range: PK
Full Day
Community-based pre-k
Extended Day
Preference to low-income families: May have income or other eligibility requirements. Contact for more information.
Number of seats: 40 full-day seats
Extended hours offered: Yes
Playspace: Outdoor (off-site) Playspace
Meals provided: Breakfast/Lunch/Snack(s)
Enhanced Language: No

What's special:

Joyful, play-based learning

The downside:

No room to expand in current location, few windows

InsideSchools Review

Our review:

Children at Bank Street Head Start experience a world of possibility through block building, dress-up, number games, science experiments and more. Children are encouraged to speak up: Learning to express oneself is important, said staff, especially for kids learning English and those with special needs or poverty-related stress or trauma. 

Families speak a range of languages including Russian, Polish, Japanese and Spanish. "It's always been a magnet for different cultural groups," said Administrative Director Steven Antonelli of the Lower East Side location, where the center has been located since 2014.

Parents won't find worksheets and reading drills here, but they will see children eager to learn. On the day of our visit, kids moved and spoke freely in the two pre-kindergarten rooms—so busy that they hardly noticed when a visitor walked into the room. One group staged a pretend picnic, others played a domino counting game, and a few practiced sounding out words to write a story with a teacher.

"This is what play-based education is," said now-former educational director Elizabeth Hartline, standing in the midst of the activity. One or two families leave each year, she said, looking for something more old-fashioned and familiar, but the program "seems to produce radical converts to play," she said. One convert was a parent named Lisa, who was hanging out in the comfy parent room. "It's fun, but it's also learning at the same time," she said.

The program is an outgrowth of well-respected Bank Street College of Education, on the Upper West Side, which runs a college for teachers, a school for children and a family center for young children with special needs. The Department of Education has sent pre-k teachers to workshops there because of its excellent reputation.

No outside food is allowed. Children eat couscous, fresh fruit, rice, beans and other healthy options, not pizza, chicken nuggets or processed food. They play outside daily in Tompkins Square Park.

One downside: There is no room to expand in the current location and the space has few windows, although it is neat, clean and inviting.

In addition to pre-k, this site has two classrooms for 3-year-olds. When the children leave Bank Street Head Start, they funnel into District 1's unzoned progressive schools: the Earth School, the Neighborhood School, Children's Workshop and East Village Community School. Some choose Catholic, charter or other options.

Special education: Roughly one-quarter of the children have special needs, and there are many services for them such as speech, tutoring and other supports.

Admissions: Children must live between Canal and 34th Streets, and between the East River and the Hudson River, to be eligible for the 40 pre-k spots. There are income requirements for most seats. One classroom offers care until 5:30 pm. (Lydie Raschka, June 2015)


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