Woodstock Day School, Saugerties

A progressive school where students thrive with independent, individualized study



Some kids thrive more with independent, individualized study than in a traditional classroom setting. If that describes your child, a facility such as Woodstock Day School might be a perfect choice. Established in 1972, the school draws nursery through high school students, mostly from throughout the mid-Hudson Valley. The school features a 25-acre campus and a full academic program, from arts to athletics.

Matthew Essery, division head of Woodstock Day School’s upper school, says the facility is a “really good balance between structure and freedom. We’re a progressive school, but we also provide a structure and foundation so students aren’t overwhelmed.”

WDS’s senior program, for instance, involves in-depth, yearlong study. “Students pick a mentor, a teacher on campus, and research a topic they’re interested in. We help them craft it into a highly academic, 20-page research paper that puts the topic into a cultural and historical perspective. They study the subject all year and design some kind of cool project,” Essery says. “The project might be a music or dance recital. Last year, a student, now at Northeastern University, designed a wind generator shaped more like a jet engine than a big fan, which could fit on top of a building. He brought it to a New York City company that makes models, and they liked it so much they made a free model for him using 3-D printing.” 

Dr. Jim Handlin, head of school, notes, “We don’t put much emphasis on standardized tests, yet 100 percent of our Woodstock Day School students have gone on to college — and they thrive there.” 

Handlin says the focus at Saugerties-based WDS is on continuous learning, not just teaching to the test. “Parents ask what I think of the standardized tests. I tell them that I took the Regents in high school and got almost every answer on, say, the biology test, correct. But today, just about every one of those answers would be wrong, because the only thing that’s still true is that there’s a cell. Just about everything else we know about biology — and many other subjects — has changed and expanded since then. So it’s important to teach kids to learn how to learn, not just to pass tests.”

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