P.S. 187, when it opened in 1929, consisted of kindergarten through eighth grade. The first graduating class was comprised of eight people and classes averaged fifteen students. There were so few students that the third floor was an annex for George Washington High School. Even into the early fifties, there were only approximately twenty pupils to a class. Sewing and cooking classes were on the fourth floor; children sewed the caps and aprons they wore in cooking class. The girls made their own graduation dresses, a practice that continued into the fifties. The eighth graders also wrote their own graduation song. In the thirties and forties the staff was all female, except for Mr. Squires, the shop teacher. The small size of the school cultivated a feeling of closeness in which the upper grades were involved with and protective of the lower grades.
There have always been many special school activities at 187, such as music programs, gardening, and writing contests with prizes. However, some things were missing. There were not always language or art classes and science fairs. One parent recalled that the most bothersome problem was the lack of a school library even as late as the fifties.
As soon as 187 opened, rules were established and strictly enforced by Miss Roberts, the principal. Girls did not wear pants; boys did not wear dungarees. Skirts and blouses for the girls and pants with a dress shirt (and a tie on Assembly Day) were the rule. Once the whistle blew in the yard, there was silence. Gum chewing was prohibited and students were not allowed to run through the hallways or speak while walking down the hallway. During the early years of our school, gum chewers had to put the gum on their nose and wrongdoers missed recess and stayed after school. Sometimes students had to write things one hundred times. Perhaps the worst punishment was sitting on the bench outside the principal’s office! Expectations and procedures have changed throughout the years.
In a little over ninety years there have only been eight principals at 187. They have been the most dominating force for change and stability in the school. Miss Cecile Roberts was the principal from our school’s opening until 1952. She was strict but easy to talk to. All agree that 187 was a place where they learned a great deal and worked together happily under her firm leadership.
In 1952, upon Miss Roberts’ retirement, Mrs. Martha Froelich became principal. During her administration, P.S. 187 was a K-6 school. She was a dynamic educational innovator. The attitude within the school became more relaxed, with the Assembly Dress Code being dropped to only a white shirt on Assembly days. Creativity in teaching and learning was fostered under her leadership.
Mrs. Sarah Mandel arrived in 1961 and succeeded Mrs. Froelich. The school was well run, quiet, and well disciplined. The school’s population went from having a low enrollment to being overcrowded. There were many special activities such as science fairs, art shows, and the Melody in May springtime celebration. In 1972, P.S. 187 was restored to an eighth grade school, as a result of a strongly united effort of both parents and teachers.
In 1974, Mr. Richard Darwick became principal. He dealt with overcrowding by utilizing every single space of the building and it was under his leadership that the open classroom structure started and the bilingual program was instituted. Mr. Darwick continued to run a well structured school, but also provided a comforting presence to his students.* There were two silent passings during the day and the fourth floor gymnasium was converted into classrooms. Every Halloween, he would dress up as a monster and, along with Ms. Wendy Lipsky, one of the teachers who was dressed up as a witch, would run around the schoolyard at line up to entertain the students. While the younger students were taken by surprise and thrilled, the older students, who had come to expect it, still enjoyed seeing their principal participate in this tradition for their sheer entertainment.
In 1989, Mr. Darwick retired and Ms. Vivian Chicurel became the principal. She had a strong belief in continuing 187’s traditions of excellence and respect. P.S./I.S.187 continued to thrive under her leadership.
In 1991, Ms. Joan Harte became principal. She was intent on raising reading scores, keeping students safe, and maintaining the structures 187 was known for. Under Ms. Harte’s leadership, the Word of the Day Program was begun, students participated in a variety of school run and district wide activities, and our playground was built. The Melody in May program began to incorporate acting, and the Advisory program was created. Teachers began planning and teaching in teams and the interdisciplinary approach to teaching was incorporated into lessons. The shop room was converted into classrooms and the computer room was revitalized.
Ms. Harte was known for her adherence to rules, no nonsense approach to school and responsibility and high expectations. She was highly respected and several of her former students are presently 187 staff members.
In 1999, Ms. Janet Aravena became principal. She adhered to the traditions and guidelines she inherited from former principals, but promoted a sense of teamwork among the staff. At this time, a more independent type of learning that was driven by student interests and teachers’ individual ideas was encouraged.
In 2006, Ms. Cynthia Chory became principal. At this time, Smartboards were installed in the classrooms. Under her leadership, past activities and programs have been revitalized like our Student Government (which used to be Student Council) and our I.S. musical. New events have been introduced like our annual Talent Show, Ring Day, our evening County Fair, and all of our Spirit Days. With Ms. Chory at the helm, we continue to adapt, grow, and prosper and look forward to doing so for many more years!
There are certain traditions that have changed or have held fast throughout the year that deserve to be noted. There used to be two silent passings – one in the morning and one in the afternoon, now there’s only one. The whistle still blows in the yard and in the cafeteria and the same silent response is expected. Field Day is still going strong but some activities have been replaced by newer ideas, although the pop the balloon relay is holding strong!
In 2020, Ms. Emel Topbas became principal on the first day all NYCDOE schools were fully remote. Under her leadership, our school continues to thrive and adapt to the tremendous challenges and constant changes due to the Covid 19 pandemic. We strive to use this unprecedented time to enhance our technological skills and embrace outdoor learning for years to come.
Clearly, P.S./I.S. 187 is a school that has the recipe for success! For over 90 years it had produced not only knowledgeable and respectful members of our community, but also graduates who return to become staff members. Other graduates have become parents and send their children here. Others are adults who simply sing 187’s praises whenever given the opportunity. Education, traditions, and community form the basis for our programs, our thinking, and our day- to-day living. We have always focused on teaching our students as we made the necessary changes and adjustments throughout the years while including everyone – staff, parents, students, and community members in our efforts.
*The preceding information was obtained from the P.S./I.S. 187 90th Anniversary Journal, 2019