Private Schools

Private Schools

The Best Education Money Can Buy


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By Maria Bennett with Marisa LaScala


In a roundabout way, this article is about two little boys, cousins, both in first grade. Both tall for their age, both skinny as Twizzlers, and both fans of Yu-Gi-Oh! (the Pokémon-style trading card game). One, Gavin, attends public school and the other, Bennett, goes to a Montessori-based elementary institution. I am their aunt.


This Christmas, we were sitting in the playroom watching a video when Bennett started to read the FBI warning that appears before every video, perfectly enunciating each syllable. Gavin looked at him with a mix of envy and curiosity that would melt the hardest heart. “How come you can read that? I can’t.” he said. We asked the same question later of his classroom teacher, who is in charge of 29 kids in a large urban school district.

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“He’s slow. We’ll have to make him repeat first grade next year,” was her response.    


“Not acceptable,” was Gavin’s dad response.


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So what’s a family to do? Gavin will be attending private school next year, where he will learn to read, write, add and subtract with a half dozen other classmates—not more than two dozen other classmates. He will be among the nearly 28,000 other kids currently enrolled in private schools in our county.


If there’s one advantage private schools have over public schools, experts agree, it’s size—because, in education, smaller is better. Says Associate Professor at Columbia Teacher’s College Pearl Rock Kane: “Research shows that not only smaller class size but smaller schools are more effective.” Indeed, study after study has shown the advantage of a smaller class size. In our county, private schoolclass size ranges from six to 15 students—which educators applaud.


“Students in classrooms that have less than 20 pupils in kindergarten to third grade not only learn more while in those grades but continue to learn more and stay ahead through high school,” reports Jon Snyder, dean of the Graduate School at Bank Street College of Education in Manhattan. “It’s something that sticks with you for life.”


Why is small class size so important? The smaller the class, educators say, the more easily a teacher can provide individualized attention—something from which, most experts agree, any student can benefit. And individualized attention is even more important for struggling students, particularly in the crucial phase of learning in which Gavin, my young nephew, is still. Jean Piaget, the granddad of educational theory, opined that attention should be paid most heavily to toddlers and early childhood learners in order to develop a strong foundation for success in later years. Pediatrician-extraordinaire Dr. Benjamin Spock too echoed the importance of focusing on early-childhood education.


Private schools have still another advantage. Educators say private schools can be more flexible in their curricula and course offerings. “There are greater degrees of flexibility in independent schools to reflect the interests of the students and parents,” Snyder says. “

Bank Street

, for example, is able to offer a more progressive and learner-centered program because it is free of mandates that come from the state. There’s more freedom to teach the individual philosophy that’s desired”—and, presumably, more freedom to use different teaching methods. At the first Montessori school in Westchester, the Milestone School in Fleetwood, kids are grouped according to patterns of growth rather than a fixed grade. Thus at Milestone, which provides two teachers for each classroom, it’s easy to find a group of three-year-olds learning consonants and numbers, four-year-olds practicing French, or a combo class of second and third graders getting ready for their production of Romeo and Juliet. (If the stress gets to be a bit much, the school also offers yoga and meditation for six-year-olds.)


Says Mark Meyer, head of school at Hudson Country Montessori Day School in New Rochelle, NY, and Danbury, CT: “No two students learn at the same pace, nor best from the same methods. If we have a child who’s dyslexic or may have ADHD, if wiggling around helps get information into his head, it’s okay.”


Unlike public schools, private schools can specialize—focusing on perhaps teaching Hebrew or French or teaching children with special needs.


The Eagle Hill School in Greenwich, CT, for example, specializes in a multi-sensory approach for children with ADHD, using auditory and visual stimuli to enhance learning: “We never rely on just traditional lectures in class; our students get visuals and hands-on experience in a subject,” says Admissions Director Rayma Griffin. In math, for example, Griffin says students pick up actual money to help them learn addition and subtraction. Multi-sensory is also the focus of White Plains’s Windward School’s program for kids with language-based disorders.


Of course, private schools aren’t free. Tuitions range from $2,000 (Colonial Hills Christian Academy) to $52,000 (Eagle Hill School).


Private schools, too, tend to emphasize values-based education; for many parents, it’s not enough for Johnny to get a hefty dose of the three Rs from 9 to 3 each day—if he can’t tell right from wrong. Ethics is a required subject at Fieldston in Riverdale, and in Greenwich, CT, the boys-only Brunswick School focuses on values as central to a young man’s development. Its motto, “Courage, Honor, Truth,” is put into practice through service to the community and an emphasis on personal responsibility. Headmaster Thomas W. Philip declares: “Our collective goal is to prepare our students for successful and meaningful lives after they leave our door. Great emphasis is placed on the development of the ‘whole boy.’”


Soundview Prep in Mt. Kisco stresses  ethical values as a way to build self-esteem. “We minimize competition,” says Director of Admissions and Assistant Headmaster Mary Ivanyi. “Any senior can speak at graduation, and there are no valedictorians. And anyone can participate in our talent show. If you want to do it, you commit.” She adds, “Good conduct is central at our school, and believe me when I say that kids actually like to come to the headmaster’s office.”


Finally, if you think the Stanwich Seven is a new rock group, you’re happily mistaken. At The Stanwich School in Greenwich, CT, there are seven watchwords which students are asked to meditate on and discuss each day: Courage, Curiosity, Honesty, Compassion, Forgiveness, Commitment and Joy. Says Director of Admissions Whitney Brown: “Our kids keep a values notebook, which goes home to the parents to share. And we regard mistakes as a learning opportunity. If a child has a problem with bullying, for example, we have a conference with the student, the teacher and the house heads. The teacher then talks to every student and parent about the issue, so it doesn’t get hushed up. As a result, there’s not a lot of misbehavior.”


So is a private school education better than a public school education? Maybe, for some students, not necessarily all. Indeed, like children themselves, one size does not fit all. Says educational consultant Lynne O’Connell: “Maybe there’s not as much diversity in private schools, but private schools seem to nurture students in a different way. And for many kids, that’s a good thing.”


Maria Bennett is an assistant professor at the City University of New York whose work has appeared in Utne Reader, Daily News, Epicurean and The Journal News.


Brunswick School

100 Maher Avenue

Greenwich, CT

(203) 625-5800


Eagle Hill School

45 Glenville Road

Greenwich, CT

(203) 622-9240



4400 Fieldston Road

Bronx, NY

(718) 329-7300


Greenwich Academy

200 North Maple Avenue

Greenwich, CT

(203) 625-8900


Hackley School

293 Benedict Avenue

Tarrytown, NY

(914) 631-0128


Harvey School

260 Jay Street

Katonah, NY

(914) 232-3161


Hudson Country Montessori

340 Quaker Ridge Rd.

New Rochelle, NY

(914) 636-6202


Horace Mann

231 West 246th Street

Riverdale, NY

(718) 432-4100


The Milestone School

70 West Broad Street

Fleetwood, NY

(914) 667-3478


Rippowam Cisqua School

Bedford, NY

(914) 244-1250

Mt. Kisco, NY

(914) 244-1200


The Masters School

49 Clinton Avenue

Dobbs Ferry, NY

(914) 693-1400


Rye Country Day School

Cedar Street

Rye, NY

(914) 967-1417


The Stanwich School

257 Stanwich Road

Greenwich, CT

(203) 869-4515


Soundview Preparatory School

272 N. Bedford Road

Mt. Kisco, NY

(914) 242-9693


Thornton Donovan School

100 Overlook Circle

New Rochelle, NY

(914) 632-8836


Windward School

13 Windward Avenue

White Plains, NY

(914) 949-6968


Wooster School

19 Miry Brook Road

Danbury, CT

(203) 830-3900












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