40+ Years 

In East Harlem

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Central Park East I was founded in 1974 by teachers with strong beliefs about learning and community.  CPE1 quickly grew to be a model of progressive education in public schools.  Educators from around the world continue to visit to study our practices and design.

Central Park East I has kept its deep roots in East Harlem.  Today, children from pre-kindergarten through fifth grade go to school in the same neighborhood where CPE1 began.  Throughout its history, the school has emphasized integrated curriculum.  Our curricula emerge from children's particular curiosity and passions, extensive opportunities in the visual and performing arts, parent participation, cross-age groupings and intensive, ongoing exploration of educational practice.  Through rich experiences with materials and the world outside of school, children develop socially, physically, and intellectually.

The teacher, child and family collaborate to understand each child.

When CPE1 began, many schools told families that English was the only language that they should speak at home, and many schools separated children with disabilities  from their peers.  Early on, teachers at CPE1 wrote and spoke Spanish in class; the school worked hard to understand each child's individual strengths.  Today, CPE1 still believes children's home lives are important.  The teacher, child and family collaborate to understand each child.  This strong collaboration is another reason that CPE1 continues to be a landmark so many educators know so well.

Building Community


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Practices and Traditions

All-School Sing

Each Monday at 8:30, all students and staff come to the auditorium to sing as a group.  We sing songs of freedom and joy, including old favorites that CPE1 has been singing for decades. Families are invited to join in singing loudly and proudly. 

Fall Festival

The CPE1 Fall Festival takes place on a Saturday toward the end of October. Our schoolyard opens up for the whole community.

Each class prepares a game to play and a craft to sell.   There is also a large rummage sale on the sidewalk, and food table on which parents often place a signature dish from their cultural.   Face painting, craft tables, nail art, and pumpkin decoration, and spending time with new families are among the highlights of the day.

Families pitch in organizing, donating items to rummage, preparing food, helping with set-up and clean-up, and manning booths.    

Ice Skating

From November through the end of March, every child at CPE1 skates weekly with classmates at Lasker Rink in Central Park.  This is a program that began over 30 years ago, and is an important part of your child’s physical education.  The school lends ice skates for the season to all children who do not have their own pair.

Festival of Lights

The Festival of Lights is held in early December to celebrate cultural traditions of the winter season.  A potluck dinner is held.  All are encouraged to bring their familiy's traditional foods to share.  After dinner, families gather for singing and storytelling.  Everyone has an electric candle representing the light of the season.

Concert & Art Show

CPE1 children perform at the spring and winter concerts.  Children sing chorally, and students who participate in Opus 118’s violin program perform with their instruments.  Art is on display in the lobby area outside the auditorium.  Every child rehearses for the concert, and families support everyone’s hard work by making sure their child is present and prepared.

Book Exchange

CPE1 does not have a traditional book fair that costs money to participate.  Instead, families donate their gently-used books to book exchange.  Children browse and take home several books for free.

Family Picnic

On the final Friday of each school year, families gather in Central Park, bring a picnic lunch, and come together as a community.   New families are invited to picnic and play.


The entire school attends graduation.  This ceremony marks the formal end of fifth graders’ time at CPE1.  Fourth grade families host the graduation reception in the courtyard.  It’s a celebration of fifth graders who are leaving school, and fourth graders who will be preparing to come back for their own graduation the following year.