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


(page 5 of 7)

poughkeepsie day school
Strong academics for thirsty learners


The philosophy of our school is to focus on learning,” says Josie Holford, head of Poughkeepsie Day School. But what learning even means can change, she adds. “In the 20th century it made sense to many that education was an achievement-driven, sorting process. Conformity and memory were prized.”

Now, with the ever-evolving challenges of today’s world, “What made sense in the past no longer applies. We need to educate children for active, ethical participation in life — and that means engaging in solving real problems from the very start.”

So, for the just-under-300 kindergarten-through-12th-grade students at PDS, the emphasis is on individualized, innovative learning. “We go beyond test prep by putting the joy of learning at the heart of the process,” says Holford. Students are encouraged to excel in ways that can’t be graded by the usual teach-and-test standards.

“Kids discover how to have a healthy appreciation of themselves and others — and to be smart as learners, dreamers, and problem-solvers. That’s why we don’t confine assessments to grades and numbers. If you’re a straight-A student, there is only one way to go — and that’s down. Instead, the emphasis is on purpose, depth and understanding, beginning in the earliest grades.”

Kids do face rigorous academic requirements at PDS. “They have to take subjects such as history and math,” Holford acknowledges. “But we’ve developed a flexible schedule that allows students to double or even triple up on courses in an area of interest.” Such courses run the gamut from calculus to theater and visual arts, from environmental studies to astronomy. Classes concentrate on group work, and students are encouraged to individually develop new problem-solving techniques.

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Students also sit for tests such as the SATs, says Holford. She adds that each year, 100 percent of PDS students who apply to college are typically accepted by at least one of their three top choices — and that last year’s 19 grads were offered more than $1.7 million in merit aid alone. “The irony is that we don’t teach to these tests, but typically, the kids still do very well on them,” she notes.

The type of innovative, extensive learning offered by PDS does come with a hefty price tag ($21,675 annually in high school). “Expenses are definitely a factor for many parents, especially in this economy,” acknowledges Holford. “But we encourage parents to apply even if they think they can’t afford it. We have a very robust financial aid program.” (About 30 percent of PDS students receive financial assistance.)

One of the best things about running PDS is interacting with enthusiastic students, Holford says. “It’s exciting that these kids aren’t turned off by school. They’ve got a thirst for learning — sort of like kids did back in kindergarten. We think that hard work and happiness are not incompatible in education — and that learning should be joyful.”

sophia wallach poughkeepsie day school
Poughkeepsie Day School student

Sophia Wallach

Age: 17
Grade: Senior
Favorite class: “My favorite subject is history. In junior year, we did an independent study on a topic of our choice. I picked the fall of democracy in Weimar Germany between World War I and II; it’s very interesting.”
Backstory: “I’ve been at Poughkeepsie Day School since first grade; I took a year of leave freshman year and went to public school, then I came back.”
Biggest difference between public and private school: “There were so many more students in public school. Here, there’s more of a focus on learning for learning’s sake; kids don’t do something just to get academic credit. And here, you can go to your teachers if you have a problem or question; that was harder in public school.”
Favorite spot on campus: “The student center; that’s where everybody meets.”
Neat thing about PDS: “We have four school periods a day, and one is sometimes a free period. It’s really nice to be able to use that time to your advantage. You can catch up with studying, or sometimes I’ll go meet with my counselor about college applications.”

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