Hudson Valley Private Schools
Discover all the unique educational opportunities the Valley has to offer with this comprehensive guide to the region’s private schools
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Pairing a rigorous curriculum with a love of learning
THE MILLBROOK SCHOOL
The Millbrook School’s mission sounds like a tall order to fill: Provide an extensive curriculum that prepares students for the future,while keeping kids engaged and continually nurturing their natural love of learning.
But Kathy Havard, Millbrook’s dean of faculty, says students thrive in just this type of creative learning environment. “We don’t gear our curriculum to preparing students for standardized testing,” she says. “We feel that aptitude tests are skill-based, not content-based. They’re about testing specific skills — breadth of knowledge, not depth of knowledge — and that’s not in the best interest of our students.”
But Millbrook hasn’t totally dumped standardized testing. Students do take exams prior to applying to college, and the school offers some advanced placement courses — although, Havard notes, “There’s a strong move in independent schools across the country to drop or cut back on APs.”
As part of its innovative curriculum, Millbrook is launching a new approach to learning science. Starting this year, kids will begin taking physics in ninth grade. “Students will proceed by first observing something,” says Havard. “Then they’ll test it, make a hypothesis, and tinker with the hypothesis some more. It’s best to start with physics in this regard, because you can see, build, and model things in a way that’s not possible in, say, chemistry or biology.”
Havard says Millbrook teachers have a passion for the subjects they teach, a definite plus in passing on their enthusiasm to students: “They’re not just chemistry or physics teachers running through textbook drills. Generally, they’re working scientists.”
The school offers other off-the-beaten-path classes, too. Students (dubbed “zooies”) in the animal-behavior course get hands-on experience caring for the 180-plus critters at the school’s six-acre zoo; stargazers can focus on astronomy at the on-campus observatory.
But it’s not all beakers and biology. “Writing is strongly emphasized,” says Havard. “Our alumni often tell us that the preparation they got here for the writing they had to do in college was sensational. I’m an English teacher, so that means a lot,” she laughs.
Millbrook also offers a full curriculum including languages, math, history — and great studio space for its highly praised art program. Intercession projects — where kids spend a week learning outside the classroom — range from teaching sports to children in Guatemala, to hammering and sawing for Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans.
Despite the shaky national economy, Havard says enrollment is strong — even though tuition for room, board, and meals is $44,775.
So what makes the high price tag worthwhile? In addition to a top-notch environment and creative education, Havard says, “In some cases, parents say they want their kids to enjoy learning for learning’s sake. Others feel they’re giving their child a leg up in the college process if they come to an independent school.
“Our approach is that it’s all about making the right match — building a student’s confidence so they will be well-served wherever they go to college. If a student knows how to learn, how to get help from teachers, how to advocate for themselves — then it’s the right match.”
Favorite class: “I really like English. I’m also the editor of the school newspaper, and I love journalism.”
Why she transferred from public school: “I came here as a freshman. Both of my siblings went to Millbrook; because of them, I kind of knew what I would be getting into.”
Biggest difference from public school: “Classes are smaller here, anywhere from about six to 13 students. And they are mostly discussion-based. In my other school, a teacher might just hand out worksheets.”
Hardest thing to adjust to in private school: “The workload was drastically different, but I felt prepared for it.”
What’s cool on campus: “The quad. Especially in spring and fall, it looks like something out of a movie: everybody’s out there playing Frisbee and doing homework. The dorms are centered around the quad, and it’s all topped off with the chapel, which is probably the biggest meeting point on campus.”
Neat perk for students: “I’m a day student, so I commute. But we all have a bed on campus, so I stay over once or twice a week.”
What might surprise people about Millbrook School: “How diverse it is. A lot of people think private schools just have the wealthiest kids in the country coming from a very specific background. But I haven’t found that to be the case at all.”