The first public school known as PS 3 was established in the 1820’s, when the visiting Marquis de Lafayette was taken on a tour to see this model of progressive American education. The current PS 3, also known as the John Melser Charrette School, is very much a child of the 1960’s, which is one reason you may occasionally hear it referred to as the ‘hippie school.’ It was founded in 1971 as a progressive and experimental school.
The PS 3 of today came into being through a community workshop process known as a ‘charrette,’ at which parents and other community members, teachers, administrators, public officials, social planners and educational consultants arrived at a vision of child-centered learning in open multi-age classrooms, with a nonhierarchical structure, active parent involvement and an emphasis on the arts. John Melser, an educator from New Zealand, one of the PS 3 founders, served as the school’s first leader, and remained its director until 1991. Many of the John Melser Charrette School’s founding teachers have spent their entire careers at the school. That generation began to reach retirement age in the late 1990’s, but the teacher turnover rate remains low. Though the school has adapted to change, we are pleased that the essence of the original concept has withstood the test of time.
Centennial Anniversary of the PS 3 Building
By Carlton E. Wynter Jr.
As many might know, the PS 3 building was constructed in 1905 by the Board of Education specifically as a public school. The architect was not a faceless bureaucrat, but a well-respected designer of public education buildings. C. B. J. Snyder was the first Superintendent of School Buildings for the Board of Education.
At the turn of the century, public education was undergoing a period of great physical expansion. This mirrored changing views of the role of public education, which was now seen as a means to bind the society, integrate rising numbers of immigrants into the American culture, and respond sensitively to the needs of the young. Snyder embodied all of these concerns, and had been working on school design for almost twenty years when he designed PS 3.
Snyder created many other New York schools, most famous of which is the old Stuyvesant High School on 15th Street. He introduced a number of design innovations. Most famous is the H-design, in which “two wings contained classrooms facing interior courts, while the center bar held a stack of flexible classrooms with walls which could be rolled back to provide a continuous open space for assemblies and games.” (Stuyvesant has this design, but the small PS 3 site precluded it.) Large double-hung windows for classroom light became another of his trademarks, and are a feature PS 3 parents still appreciate.
Snyder’s early inner-city schools had a forbidding, castle-like appearance. By the late 1890s he was using a more domestic, sloped roof design, perhaps reflecting an increasingly humanitarian attitude toward the poor. But this did not allow for roof playgrounds. Finally, Snyder combined the two styles by using a flat roof with false fronts to give a sloped-roof appearance while still permitting a roof playground. That is the arrangement we have at PS 3, although there is no evidence yet of a playground ever having been constructed on the roof. In fact, plans show that there were originally large skylights on the roof letting light into the fifth floor.