Education: PS1 students learn to understand themselves as individuals and as part of a democratic society. Courtesy photos

Santa Monica’s PS1 Pluralistic School turns 50 this year, and its founder Joel Pelcyger continues to live by the school’s founding question: “What is the purpose of school?”

Pelcyger was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. A child of the 60’s, he was an idealistic kid that wanted to change the world. He’s been in charge of PS1 Pluralistic School for over 50 years and gained great aspiration from the US national motto “E Pluribus Unum,” which means out of many, one.

“You’re different from anybody else on this earth and the more you are valued for who you are and you get to see who you are — strengths, stretches, blemishes, gorgeous nature, genius, we all have all these different kinds of talents and we all have a lot of weaknesses too,” Pelcyger said. “And if you’re in an environment where that is acknowledged and nobody is better than anyone else, we’re just different from each other, you’re going to be creating a much better world because each person has a chance to be really fulfilled in their life.”

PS1 Pluralistic School is a private elementary school in Santa Monica. According to the school’s website, the ‘P’ in PS1 – refers to respecting, recognizing, and building upon a child’s passions, interests, talents, personal expressions, and uniqueness.

The school believes that understanding and original thinkers can build a better world for all. Pelcyger believes the best time to nurture this mindset is in children’s earliest years.

From the first day of kindergarten through 6th grade, PS1 Pluralistic School helps students understand themselves as individuals by designing their classes and physical campus to bring out the student’s individualistic aura.

When Pelcyger talks to the children attending his school, he physically gets down to their level to relate to them as people. He also tries to ask them questions that keep them in the moment.

“It’s not like we try to make a kid be anything but who they want to be,” Pelcyger said. “And we don’t say what are you going to be when you grow up, which is the most common thing an adult says to a kid and we encourage the kid to turn to the adult and say, ‘I don’t know, what are you going to be when you grow up?’ We’re living life now, life is in the present. Life is not a preparation for future life; life is a journey that you’re always on.”

The school motto, “Celebrate the many, build one,” sticks with students.

“When I reflect upon my experience, it’s a collection of experiences of feeling loved, feeling welcomed and feeling respected by a community that took me and my family in with open arms,” Alumni Farid Adibi said. “And that made us feel like we have a second home. Even though my parents aren’t from this country; they immigrated from Iran approximately 25 years ago. However, it was really nice to find people like Joel, and the faculty there that really treated me like their son, not just a student.”

For a school to truly incorporate this style of thinking, it must be accepted by teachers and put in their lesson plans.

“I think that families that apply to PS1 also really value preserving childhood and, at our school we actually really understand the value of keeping children, children, and not having them grow up so fast,” Bonnie Koo, kindergarten and first grade teacher said.

Pelcyger announced his retirement after this year and the search for a new Head of School is underway. The pluralistic school is in strong financial shape and has been preparing for this moment over the last 13 years.

He will leave the school on June 30, 2022. Whoever is named new Head of School inherits an institution with a financial backbone paired with a study foundation of support.

“It’s kind of hard to toot your own horn like this,” Pelcyger said. “But we are a success story.”

daniel@smdp.com