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For one hundred years, Bank Street’s focus has been children—how they learn, what they need, what teachers need to help children learn, and what kinds of schools and communities learners of every age need in order to reach their full potential.

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Roots


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Roots


Bank Street began in 1916 as the Bureau of Educational Experiments, signaling founder Lucy Sprague Mitchell’s resolve that education begins with the scientific study of children to understand their needs and interests. It is just not possible, she argued, to design the right school, or change a failed one, if we do not know, first of all, how children learn.

Mitchell set out to research child development in experimental schools to discover how children learn best. When the Bureau first opened its doors its staff included a social worker, a doctor, psychologists, and teachers, laying the groundwork to welcome children to a new kind of nursery school in 1918 — the forerunner of today’s School for Children.

When it moved to 69 Bank Street in New York’s Greenwich Village in 1930, the Bureau expanded its nursery school and opened a Cooperative School for Teachers. 20 years later, the school began conferring master’s degrees when it formally became Bank Street Graduate School of Education, which today remains known for its intensive fieldwork and advisement component.

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Principles


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Principles


Bank Street's Credo

Nearly a century ago, Lucy Sprague Mitchell, Bank Street’s founder, wrote a credo that continues to define the spirit of imaginative and critical inquiry that motivates and guides our work today:

What potentialities in human beings—children, teachers, and ourselves—do we want to see develop?

  • A zest for living that comes from taking in the world with all five senses alert
  • Lively intellectual curiosities that turn the world into an exciting laboratory and keep one ever a learner
  • Flexibility when confronted with change and ability to relinquish patterns that no longer fit the present
  • The courage to work, unafraid and efficiently, in a world of new needs, new problems, and new ideas
  • Gentleness combined with justice in passing judgments on other human beings
  • Sensitivity, not only to the external formal rights of the “other fellow,” but to him as another human being seeking a good life through his own standards
  • A striving to live democratically, in and out of schools, as the best way to advance our concept of democracy

Our credo demands ethical standards as well as scientific attitudes. Our work is based on the faith that human beings can improve the society they have created.


The child “projects his own pattern of the world into the play, and in so doing brings the real world closer to himself. He is building the feeling that the world is his to understand, to interpret, to puzzle about, to make over. For the future we need citizens in whom these attitudes are deeply ingrained.”

— Barbara Biber
BANK STREET EDUCATOR, RESEARCHER, SCHOLAR
From Play as a Growth Process, 1951

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Long Trip


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Long Trip


Each spring, from 1935-1951, excluding the years of World War II when the trips were suspended, Lucy Sprague Mitchell led the entire class of approximately 25 to 35 student teachers, all traveling together by bus over a thousand miles, to areas of the country dramatically different from New York City.

These week to ten-day trips placed the student teachers in a position to confront directly social and political issues of their day—the labor movement, poverty, conservation, government intervention programs, race relations—all the while considering the lives of children and their families, and the educational implications of what they experienced.

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the creation of Head Start


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the creation of Head Start


Growing out of the civil rights movement of the early 1960s, the federal government established Head Start to provide comprehensive educational and social support for young children from low-income families across the country. Bank Street faculty members, led by President John H. Niemeyer, played an integral role in the formation of the national Head Start program. Head Start’s first concept paper—by the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity—pointed to Bank Street classrooms as models for Head Start settings.

From 1968 to 1981, following the success of Head Start's service at the prekindergarten level, Bank Street was a prime sponsor and designer of Project Follow Through, a federal program to provide educational support services for Kindergarten and early elementary school children and their families in economically disadvantaged areas.

Bank Street led the 42nd Street Early Childhood Model Head Start Training Center in the 1960s and 70s, and revived its Head Start programs in the 1990s. Today, Bank Street's own Head Start program serves 68 families each year in New York’s East Village.

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Children's Literature


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Children's Literature


In Bank Street’s early years, founder Lucy Sprague Mitchell became a student of children’s language, observing and recording their interactions and the stories they told. She concluded that straying from a traditional model and creating a more child-centered classroom, best seen through play, opens up their natural expression and reflects an insatiable interest in the world around them.

In subsequent decades, Mitchell would see her modest experiment grow to become a source of exceptional literature. She opened the Bank Street Writers Lab, which encouraged authors to produce children’s literature that reflected an understanding of the language of growing children, was responsive to their real and imagined worlds, and affirmed each of their social and cultural heritages. Members included prolific children’s book authors like Margaret Wise Brown, who played around with “storytelling” in Goodnight Moon, and Maurice Sendak, often called the Picasso of children’s literature for his brilliant illustrations that complemented language to create meaningful experiences for children.

In 1965, The Bank Street Readers were published as the first multicultural, multi-ethnic books to teach children to read — amplifying two of Bank Street's most important goals: helping children explore the world through language and reaching them by reflecting the real settings and contexts in which they live and learn.