Upper West Side Second Graders Get Schooled on Landmarks Through Preservation Course
By Serena Solomon
UPPER WEST SIDE — If Donald Trump had learned about preserving New York's architecture in grade school, would the city's skyline look any different? One forward-thinking preservation group wants to teach the value of building conservation before the next big developer even graduates from elementary school.
Landmark West, an Upper West Side nonprofit group, has been offering its preservation-themed course, "Keeping the Past for the Future," in neighborhood schools for more than a decade. Currently taught in 10 schools, it aims to draw elementary-school students’ attention to the architecture that makes the city unique.
"The goal is to learn more about the architecture and history of the Upper West Side, but more than that it is to have them look around," said Debi Germann, director of education for Landmark West. "The main goal is to have them notice buildings and be aware of their neighborhood."
The course is taught in three 45-minute sessions and is available to kindergartners through sixth-graders. Students learn about architecture and take a guided tour of the landmarks that surround their school. Older students receive a special textbook to keep track of their journey into preservation.
Inside class 2E at PS 87 on 78th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus avenues, second-graders gathered around their new teacher, Germann, as she began the introductory lesson.
She asked if anyone knew what a landmark is, and small hands shot up toward the ceiling.
"It's land that has a lot of dead people in it," a student named Thomas answered. Actually, that’s a cemetery, but good try. Anybody else?
"A place that's really famous that a lot of people go to and stuff," Miranda ventured. The students were getting warmer.
The lesson went on to detail the different features of a brownstone, adding new words like “cornice” and “dentils” to the students’ vocabularies. (For anyone not smarter than a second-grader, a cornice is the protective ledge on a building's roof that juts out slightly, and dentils are the decorative details of the cornice that resemble a set of teeth.)
The students then discussed the buildings they like in their neighborhood. Jasmin pointed to a pink building across the street that she can see from her classroom, and Sophia thought the classic brownstone "is really pretty."
Nancy Goldstein, co-teacher of the students in 2E, said the program fits perfectly with the class's curriculum for the year—learning about New York City.
"This is where they live," she said of the class, which has a mix of regular and special-education students. "These kids should look at things, be aware of their neighborhood."