Oakwood Friends School Prepares Students to Engage in a Rapidly Evolving World
Tracing its roots back to 1796, Oakwood — an independent school serving grades 6-12 — is New York State’s oldest co-educational boarding and day school. 224 years later, Oakwood remains true to its fundamental Quaker principle that each student, no matter their background, embodies a special spirit, a unique voice that speaks from the heart. Today, Oakwood continues to educate students for lives of conscience, compassion, and accomplishment within the framework of a rigorous, college preparatory program.
“Our alumni have a reputation for poise, thoughtfulness, and action” says Anna Bertucci, Associate Head of School and Director of Academics. “Our alumni possess both self-awareness and awareness of themselves in the broader world. They value community and know how to work well with people. Unlike conventional private schools — many of which emphasize competition — Oakwood focuses on collaborative problem solving, educational curiosity and pushing oneself outside their comfort zone.”
Oakwood draws a diverse student body, both locally and from multiple countries. Beginning in the 6th grade students engage in classes that challenge them to think critically about their place in society and how to put their learning into action. “Global education initiatives vary from partnerships with other schools, to service-learning exchanges, to academic classes with content focused on international affairs,” says Bertucci. “These types of educational initiatives are essential for preparing young people to meet the challenges of rapidly evolving world. These are moral as well as academic issues and schools need to make sure they are interweaving ethical understanding into their curriculum. This approach ensures students are not just cross-culturally competent but sophisticated about making sense of how morality and cultural differences intersect.”
Experiential global education includes service learning in the local community, cultural exchanges, and a course of study that stresses collaborative work and depth over breadth. Bertucci emphasizes that embedding an ethical component is crucial for students to make the learning a part of who they are. “It allows an opportunity for ethics to be experienced, which is an emotionally powerful thing,” she notes. “It is more likely to transform the learner. Students gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of the world when they are challenged to study and understand certain world views that are sometimes vastly different than their own.”
Blending the international perspective throughout the curriculum
To create a truly global perspective, Oakwood Friends integrates an international emphasis to many aspects of its curriculum. They also add ethical inquiry to existing subjects, including arts, science, literature, and history. Bertucci says, “We show students how to pay attention to the claims we make in discussions or in readings. For example, we ask them to consider what assumptions might be made in a claim? Is the claim born from a particular world view, ideology, or belief set? And how does this influence our understanding?”
Drawing on a diverse learning community
Oakwood Friends draws on the experiences and diversity of their student body both in the classroom and around the campus. In the past 10 years, students have hailed from Afghanistan, Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, Ghana, India, Japan, Korea, Niger, Nigeria, Russia, Rwanda, Spain, South Africa, Taiwan, Turkey, and Vietnam. These students, along with their classmates from the local Hudson Valley, create a truly engaged learning community. Bertucci says, “Having people from around the world who are part of their community and embedded in their lives creates a rich experience. Today’s students will need to address complex global issues. Nurturing the ability to listen to, respect, and collaborate with classmates and community members from different races, religions, orientations, and socio-economic backgrounds are key to the educational process.”
Learning is only step one for students. Bertucci says that the goal is to create students who can make positive changes in our world. At Oakwood Friends there are multiple programs that integrate the learning with action. Two examples in the High School are the Global Affairs Certificate Program and the United Nations Human Rights Internship program.
The Global Affairs Certificate Program is a capstone project for seniors, which includes one to two years of independent research on a topic of their own design. A few recent examples of student research include: ‘Sociopolitical Culture of Modern China’, ‘Cross-Cultural Elements in Game Development’, and ‘Water Access Disparity in Urban versus Rural Communities. Bertucci says students learn a great deal from each other as they share these projects.
Each year, five students also work with the United Nations Association of the Hudson Valley as interns, helping plan and implement several human rights events in New York City and the Hudson Valley. This past year they organized a panel discussion at the Eleanor Roosevelt House on migrant farmer labor laws and refugee immigration policy. They also ran a workshop for New York City high school students on how to how to host an event. “These programs are examples of students being able to act now on their interests and desire to solve world problems,” Bertucci adds.
Learn more about Oakwood Friends School, its programs and its global citizenship programs at www.oakwoodfriends.org or visit the students and faculty at their Open House Saturday and Sunday October 26th and 27th and Saturday and Sunday November 16th and 17th.
Oakwood Friends School
22 Spackenkill Rd