Within a year of being opened, the Speyer Legacy School has already surpassed it goals. In fall of 2009, Speyer opened as another alternative for precocious children that were competing for the limited number of seats in public and private programs for the gifted. A group of mothers whose children had attended Hollingworth Preschool started Speyer with a kindergarten class and a combined 1st and 2nd grade class, with hopes of adding a grade each year to eventually become a K-8 school.
A year later, Speyer Legacy has outgrown its two rooms on 61st Street and moved to 86th Street, where it now spans three floors and a common room. Its circle of families grew from 26 to 63, taking in two kindergarten classes instead of just one. "We are so happy to be able to offer education that is needed," said Dr. Esther Kogan, the school's executive director and one of its founders. "We hope to keep admitting two kindergarten classes each year and building the school from bottom up."
The classes are limited to 18 students, which is smaller than the public school gifted classes. "The goal is to provide this education to whomever needs it," said Kogan. At Speyer Legacy, where annual tuition is $28,500, 53 percent of the scholars receive some financial assistance with their tuition.
There is hope that in the upcoming months they will be able to bring in more technology, and create an after-school program. Speyer's philosophy is "thinking about thinking," and there is a strong belief that the scholars will learn as much from their peers and their experience in class as from their teachers. The goal is to ensure that these advanced learners are active participants and help determine the direction of their education. Speyer Legacy aims to cultivate intellect, mind and spirit, and pays attention to students' emotional, as well as their intellectual, needs and growth.
"We are exploring the possibility of having a game room where the children wouldn't just play but would create and design their own games," said Kogan. Even activities such as games can be utilized to foster the environment of learning.
The curriculum has been "enriched" by the experience of last year. It is composed of two parts, the core curriculum that is carried out by eight full-time teachers and one physical education teacher, and the adjunct curriculum that's the responsibility of 11 adjuncts in fields such as Spanish, art, music, chess, fencing and nutrition. There is also an emphasis on community service.
Students participate in a birthday program, which requires them on their birthday to bring in two books—one for their local community and one for Speyer's sister school in Kenya. Connie Williams Coulianos, head of the school, and Kogan have visited the school in Kenya and helped develop the early childhood education program there.
The admission process at Speyer is multi-step. At first, the school collects information from parents and educators involved in early childhood education of a potential student. Then the family and the applicant are invited for a two-hour on-site visit. The child is observed during individual activities and group sessions. Like with other independent schools, there is ERB testing, but there is no cut-off score at Speyer Legacy.
"We do not want to be dictated to by tests," said Coulianos, who was also the former director of the Hollingworth Preschool. The emphasis is shifted from the tests onto the children's interaction with their peers and classmates, and other observations. Speyer looks for highly intelligent, curious children who are ahead of their peers in math, verbal and writing skills.
"When we accumulate all the information, we create profiles," explained Kogan. "It is time consuming but the goal is to determine if the family is the right match for us. And if we are the right match for the family."
Editor's Note: Due to space and time considerations, this article on Speyer Legacy School was not able to be published in the Blackboard Awards special section featuring elementary schools.
— By Jana Kasperkevic