The Teachers Were Nice, They Checked Us For Lice (But Mostly They Gave Us Very Good Advice)

P.S.3 at 3:00 ca. 1979

My daughter will turn four this year, which means that she will be entering Pre-K (that’s pre-kindergarten).  Back when I was a kid, we didn’t have pre-K.  We just went to playgroup and then when we were old enough, we went to P.S.3.  I don’t think we even officially lived in the zone for P.S.3, but that’s where all of the SoHo Playgroup kids went when we turned 5, and school overcrowding and variances were never an issue.

My P.S.3 yearbook picture

Back in the 70’s, children who lived in SoHo and Greenwich Village were usually sent to one of two schools, P.S.41 or P.S.3.  P.S. 41 was known as an academically strong school that offered a traditional curriculum based on reading and math.  P.S.3, in comparison, was known to be a less academically rigorous school with a liberal curriculum that emphasized an arts-based open classroom.  P.S.41 and P.S.3 were often seen as “rivals,” although rivals in what, I did not know.

So it was a surprise to me to find out that P.S.41, in a way, begat P.S.3, back during the teachers’ strike in 1968.  According to Charles R. Simpson in his book SoHo: The Artist in the City:

A group of P.S.41 parents, a faction within the P.T.A. living in Greenwich Village, opposed the strike.  The dissidents broke the locks on P.S.3, a surplus school scheduled for demolition, demanded that it be reopened, and chose a staff from among substitute teachers.  The Board of Education, taken aback but interested in creating pressure to end the strike, paid the staff.  While the strike lasted, the parents got a taste of running a school; and when the strike ended, they demanded that P.S.3 be retained as an annex of P.S.41 in which experimental education could be carried out.  (212)

For the first few years, the parents had control over the school.  They decided, by a council of three teachers, three community members, and twelve parents, how the school was to be structured and which teachers would be hired.  The council was chaired by the school’s head teacher, who I presume was John Melser, a teacher from new Zealand who taught in the tradition of A.S. Neill, an advocate for personal freedom for children.

Jeremy's comical depiction of John, drawn at age 10

By the time I got there in 1974, the Board of Education had taken back control of the school, but it still retained the basic structure put in place by its founders.  John was now the principal (we called everyone, including the principal, by their first names).  The classroom had mixed grades, mostly either K,1,2 or 3,4,5, but there was one that was K-5 (taught by Fredlyn, I think), which allowed for different rates of progress and encouraged the younger students to learn from the older ones, who were in turn encouraged to guide the younger students.  There was also heavy parent involvement in the school. Many of the parents were artists who would come in to the classroom to lead art activities.  My mother came in and taught the class how to do origami.  Another parent, an actress, came in to lead improvisation exercises.  I even remember learning a little Italian.

At the core of P.S.3’s educational philosophy was an emphasis on individualism.  This, I am guessing, resulted in less cliquey-ness and more “kookiness” than in other schools.  But, all in all, I think I got as good an academic education as anyone else, with a strong sense of self and a penchant to think outside the box thrown in as a bonus (AND free breakfast—raisin bran with wheat germ).

My sister's class picture from 1977-78

I get the sense that over the years P.S.3 has become a bit more mainstream in terms of its approach to education but that it still holds its core character from back in the John Melser days.  I have only fond memories of John and my teachers (Lila, Edith, Annette, and Ruth) and am grateful for the strike that started it all.  Unfortunately, I do not have high hopes that my daughter will have the same privilege as I did of attending P.S.3.  As the school zones are drawn at present, the back of our building abuts the wrong side of the P.S.3 zone, and with the severe overcrowding of downtown schools, legacy or not, I cannot count on a variance.  We will not likely be starting a dynasty.  Alas, if only my name were Carrington.

P.S.  Here are the words to the P.S.3 graduation song, as I remember it, written by Lucy, sung to the tune of Sloop Jon B by The Beach Boys (please feel free to correct, amend, etc.!):

The first per son I ever drew
I said it looked a lot like you
And then we decided we would be best friends
I taught you to write
You taught me to fight
You called me up for the homework
Almost every night.

Chorus:
I’m graduating from P.S.3
I wonder how my life’s gonna be
It’s hard to leave so many memories behind
The friends that I’ve known
The ways that I’ve grown
P.S.3’s been a kind of a home.

I remember when I couldn’t spell
There were times I couldn’t wait for the bell
But then I learned how to read and write and sing
The teachers were nice
They checked us for lice
But mostly they gave us
Very good advice.

Repeat Chorus

(Was there another verse after this?)

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35 Responses to “The Teachers Were Nice, They Checked Us For Lice (But Mostly They Gave Us Very Good Advice)”

  1. Evan, P.S.3 Alum 2001 Says:

    The “xxxxx” line ends with “spell” but I can’t remember what it is now.

    Thanks for writing this

  2. andy carkhuff Says:

    My son Dylan graduated from P.S.3 in 2009 and was surprised to see that song has stayed the same for so long. I remember when he graduated he was so excited that it was finally his turn to be able to get up and sing it. It’s such a silly song but it meant to so much to him! Now trying to figure out the rest of the words has been driving him crazy all night.

  3. Edwin Says:

    I grew up in Washington Square Village, went to nursery school at the Silver Towers, then attended P.S.41 until my parents broke my heart by moving us to the dreaded Jersey burbs in the middle of my 5th grade year in 1977. I had totally forgotten there was a P.S.3, but it seems clear as day now as old childhood memories come flooding back. Great blog. I’m glad I stumbled upon it.

  4. Alberto Morales Says:

    This is so great. I went to P.S. 3 and graduated in 1985. I have such fond memories of the “hippie school” as my family and friends referred to it. I lived way across town on the Lower East Side and somehow my mom enrolled me their, don’t really know how or why. My favorite teacher’s were Lucy Rubin and Dan (don’t remember last name). Does anyone remember Lenox Hill Camp? Where they would take 5th graders every year? It was my first time experiencing anything “green” like that. I loved reading about the history. Anything more about the history and memories would be great to read! Thank you so much!

    • Yukie Ohta Says:

      Hi Alberto! Thanks for writing in. I, of course, remember Lenox Hill Camp! It was also one of my first experiences with “greenness” outside of Washington Square Park. I also remember Lucy and Dan well, though neither were my teachers. I think they both stayed at PS3 for their entire teaching careers. It was such a special place!

  5. Chris Nathan Says:

    Wow I could comment on so many things here…I was there. In this class. PS3. 5th grade 1980.
    My name is Chris Nathan. We were friends back then…Jeremy Stratton too, and others. I lived on 22 Wooster st. Went to playgroup, etc… My mom had a restaurant below our loft called mama Gail’s. We moved away after 5th grade “graduation” so this blog is very interesting to me. This place and time in NY only exists for me in childhood. I never grew up there or lived there as an adult.
    I do get to the city from time to time for work, and whenever possible I like to visit the old loft. I’ll stand across the street in front of the old cellas chocolate covered cherry factory where I used to play stoop ball, and think about what it was like to be a kid there in that time. I am so happy to have stumbled upon this blog.

    …Perhaps you and I were a year apart in graduating, because I remember for me it was the year that John Lennon was shot, and so we also sang “Imagine” at that commencement ceremony.
    Thank you for putting this stuff up here Yukie.
    Hope you are well..
    Chris

    • Yukie Ohta Says:

      Hi Chris! Great to hear from you. I remember you well. I guess we were a year apart because we sang “Let The Sun Shine In” from Hair at our graduation. I would love to hear about what it was like to have a restaurant in SoHo in the old days. Thanks for getting back in touch!

    • Alberto Morales Says:

      We sung all three of those at our graduation. “Let the Sun Shine In”, “Imagine” and the P.S 3 graduation song!

      • Chris Nathan Says:

        Very cool Alberto…I had Dan as a teacher as well. 4th grade.
        Schwartz was his last name I believe..
        Yukie, I also had Lila. First grade..and..just going from sheer memory,
        In order: Ellen, Gail, Dan,Diane..
        Do any of you remember “movement’ class with Joan?
        it was held like every Wednesday in the auditorium I think..

  6. Marion Rosenfeld Says:

    Hi All!

    I’m Marion
    I’m a graduate and now a parent at PS3. I’m very involved with the school. In fact, I’m involved with a committee that’s putting together an alumni event February 2, 2013 from 4-7pm.

    We are looking to reach as many alums as possible. Would you, could you please send your email addresses to ps3alumni@gmail.com?

    Also we’re looking for ephemera, paraphernalia etc from the earlier days of the school? Anyone have anything?

    Chris Nathan: my brother Josh was friends with your brother Drew. They learned to sail together on The Petrel. I remember eating fondue at your loft in the early 1970s. Your family visited my parents country house in Massachusets.

    • Yukie Ohta Says:

      Hi Marion! Please send information about the alumni event to sohomemory@gmail.com and I will post it on the blog. Looking forward to hearing from you!

    • Chris Nathan Says:

      Hi Marion,
      Josh Rosenfeld. One of my favorite friends of Drew’s.
      I remember those guys used to hang out with Charlie when they went sailing. My bother’s birthday dinner is still Fondue, And I have vague memories of the trip to Mass as well.
      Hope you are well,

      • Marion Rosenfeld Says:

        Chris!
        So great to hear that Drew still has fondue on his birthday.
        Would you send your (and Drew’s email addresses) to ps3alumni@gmail.com?
        That way we can send you the very occasional alum-related emails/updates? (and also I can send Josh Drew’s email and see if they want to reconnect.

        Where are you now? Drew?

        Obviously I’m still in NYC. Josh and his wife and daughters have been in San Fran (with 3 years in Paris) and loving it. He was never a *real* New Yorker.

        Best,
        Marion

  7. zui hanafusa Says:

    wow our familys knew each other back in the days. was searching for actually ps41 but ended up better finding the past i knew 😉

  8. nava lubelski Says:

    Just been reading through all these posts and getting hit with waves of nostalgia…but I have to weigh in on the ps3 graduation song – Lucy didn’t actually write it (she facilitated in true ps3 style), but she played guitar while 4-5 of us from chorus made up the words. I remember Julia Greenberg was there, but don’t know who else. I think I was a year ahead of you Yukie, which is why you weren’t with us – we thought we were just writing a personal song for our own graduation and didn’t realize they’d keep singing it for decades. On another topic I think I have at least a couple of old Soho photos I could scan for you…

    • Yukie Ohta Says:

      Hi Nava! I never knew that about the graduation song. You are an integral part of PS3 history!!! I went to an alumni event at PS3 recently and Lucy was there. Everyone sang the graduation song. It was so great to be n that auditorium again! Please email any photos you have to sohomemory@gmail.com. Thanks!

  9. SW Says:

    There is no other experience like PS 3! Our son graduated PS 3 seven year ago and we STILL miss it. We were very involved in organizing the big community events – Fall Festival, etc. – and fundraising. Was a pleasure to work hard for such a nurturing, family-oriented school. Naturally, with the advent of Standardized Test as King, things have gotten a bit more standardized, but still very very original. One day down the road, I can imagine that our son and his friends will be writing sentimental notes about their beloved PS 3. Looking forward to the next alumni event!

  10. Christopher Allen Says:

    Hello Yukie,
    It is fabulous to see your posts and those of all the alumni. You were always a wonderful person to me and I hold you in the highest regard.
    It is great you are a mom. I hope you got your variance? I see different alumni from time to time. Josh and I stopped by and hung out with Lucy a few years ago. She is the last remaining human link in the school. It was great and all the P.S.3. Kids where doing their thing,PS3 style.
    I have photo if you are interested?
    Also I saw Judy Bendawald at a PTA event which blew my mind.(it could have been a decade ago, but have lost some sense of time as I get older)
    Chris Nathan, I know how you feel sometimes a take long walks around the city passing PS3 and many childhood landmarks and it always gets me into deep nostalgic thought.

    All the best,
    Christopher

    • Yukie Ohta Says:

      Hi Christopher! Great to hear from you. I went to PS3 for an alumni event recently and saw Lucy and a bunch of other teachers and students. It was so nice to see everyone! Please send me any photos you have from then and I will post them. Thanks!

      • Christopher Allen Says:

        Yukie, that is wonderful I would love to attend the next one.
        I would like to write something for your SOHO Memory Project. I grew up on second ave and Houston so Soho was just a few blocks up and across the street. As you know I had many friends who grew up there. I will send it your way when I finish it and you can post it if it is a good fit.

      • Yukie Ohta Says:

        That would be so great. I’m really looking forward to reading your post!!! Thanks!

  11. hannahrosenzweig Says:

    Hi Yukie:
    Thank you so much for creating this blog and writing this post. I grew up in Soho too, on Crosby St bet Prince and Spring and started PS3 in 1980. I came across this blog while searching for information about the Charrette School history and philosophy – for use in my daughter’s pre-school application (to describe the kind of school environment I grew up in and what I’d like for her). I agree, back in the 70’s we went to play group and then kindergarten!! Seeing the lyrics to that song brought back so many memories. It was a wonderful place to go to elementary school.
    Question – how can I find out about PS3 reunions? I’d love to attend the next one.
    Hannah

    • Yukie Ohta Says:

      Hi Hannah! I lived on Crosby between Prince and Spring too, from 1969-1974. At #97. What a coincidence. Not sure how to find out about reunions, but if I hear of any I will definitely post it on this blog. Please keep in touch!

    • Alberto Morales Says:

      Hi Hannah! Don’t know if you remember me but we graduated together from P.S.3. I still have my graduation t-shirt and saw your name on it as my 7 year old daughter was wearing it recently. Hope all is well!

      • Rebecca Walkowitz Says:

        Hi Yukie,
        I remember you, and how great that you’ve brought all these folks together. I graduated in 1980, too. I was in Lucy’s class. And I remember the song fondly. My daughter will be starting kindergarten next year. I would love for her to go to PS3. Wonderful blog, btw.
        Rebecca

      • Yukie Ohta Says:

        Thanks Rebecca!!!!

  12. Rosita Says:

    Before I know it I’ll be gone, I’ll miss getting yelled at by John, I think I’ll even miss the smell of hot lunch. blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, then time seemed to fly, before I know it, I’m saying goodbye. Rosita Class of 1984

  13. Francisco Says:

    oh my god. Im in fifth grade right now, and im going to graduate from P.S 3 this year. I was just searching for the graduation song, so I came here, and read the entire thing. I’m not 100% sure how the song goes, but I am sure that it’s not very different than this. Lucy still come to the school sometimes, and it’s so great to see where the song originated from. I just thought that it would be nice to tell all of you parents how this school hasn’t changed that much.

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