At Dwight School on the Upper West Side that serves students from nursery through 12th grade, Vice Chancellor Blake Spahn, himself a graduate of the school and parent to two children who now attend, believes the state of New York City’s independent schools is “exceedingly robust” post-pandemic.
“The pandemic really forcefully opened the door for much greater innovation, more creative teaching, learning methodologies [and] I think it really accelerated positive change,” Spahn said in a recent interview. He added that the leadership at the city’s schools had to “rethink, retool and recraft experiences at every stage for students” and thinks it has really raised the bar across the board.
Celebrating their 150th year, Dwight has not only returned to normal he said, but to more of “a next level normal.” There has been a significant increase in enrollment in the middle and upper school since the pandemic, a large percentage coming from public schools. “I think many families who had previously not considered independent schools for their children have really since sought them out based on how well they navigated COVID-19 and remote learning,” Spahn said.
Part of an international network of schools offering the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum, Spahn said the whole school community is particularly excited for the return of their annual global concert taking place at Lincoln Center on February 23rd this year.
“That is where students from across our global network rehearse and perform together,” Spahn said. “It’s spectacular! That of course was on hold during COVID, so it’s a great to see that back and a great way to celebrate our 150th.
At Saint Vincent Ferrer High School, a Catholic college preparatory school for girls on the Upper East Side, longtime administrator and Latin teacher Sister Christine Cosgrove O.P, says she thinks they have rebounded well at the 400-student school.
“Thankfully, we are back to normal. We reopened with in-person teaching in September ,” she said, and having students back together, interacting with their classmates helped very much during the challenging time.
Sister Cosgrove says their enrollment is now healthy again after a slight change during the early days of the pandemic and, similar to Dwight, the school has seen “a huge interest” from parents of children attending public schools.
“[Families] who want their daughters to attend a solid, proven, college prep, high school,” have enrolled their children at the school that was founded in 1884 by Dominican Fathers of St. Vincent Ferrer Church to meet the then grade school needs of the rapidly expanding neighborhood. “Their adjustment into the culture has been smooth and they are now fully incorporated into the day-to-day life of a Ferrer girl,” Cosgrove said of the newly transferred students.
Several blocks south at East 56th Street near First Avenue is Cathedral High School, also a Catholic college preparatory school for girls, and of the Archdiocese of New York. School President Juliette M. Picciano says the school has weathered the pandemic and is thriving.
“Over the course of the last 100 years, Cathedral has persevered through many difficult periods of history, and our great mission and legacy has continued to thrive and evolve,” Picciano says of the school’s success in providing young women with an “education that challenges them to fulfill their academic potential, inspires them to care for their communities, and imbues them with a deep sense of their own human dignity.”
The school of close to 500 students returned to about 50 percent capacity at the height of the pandemic while finding creative ways to keep the remaining students engaged and on track through remote learning. One of the programs they are especially proud of is the CHS Medical Gateways Program where students spend one day per week during their junior year in a clinical or research experience at organizations such as Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and NYU Langone Health. “Although in-person internships were suspended during the pandemic, Cathedralites were able to participate in virtual seminars at these same locations,” Picciano shared.
Picciano said one recent graduate, Zemira Meade, now a freshman studying neuroscience at Colgate University, is one of the successful graduates of the medical program. Meade shared that it was this experience that “solidified my interest” in pursuing medical research as a career.
Cathedral High School has also welcomed many public school transfers over the last several years to the Midtown school of young women who speak 26 languages and represent 59 nationalities, “really a microcosm of New York City,” Picciano said. With the whole community fully back to in-person activities the school’s president says: “We are ready for the next 100 years!”
One of the city’s newer private schools, BASIS Independent Manhattan, a PreK–12 school, opened in Manhattan in 2017 and now has campuses on the Upper West Side and in Chelsea. Part of a larger network of schools founded in Arizona in 1998, the school seeks to “educate students to the highest international levels” with the goal of helping each child who walks through their doors achieve excellence along with leadership skills.
LaNette Hodge, Head of School of the Upper School in Chelsea for grades 6 – 12, welcomes the in-person connections that have returned to the school and the positive impact that has had on the school community.
“Parent involvement is on the rise. They are coming back in the building for publishing parties, to share cultural traditions with their child’s class, and as volunteers at teacher appreciation events,” she said. “We continue to plan and host very successful student socials including bonding activities like a boys’ game night and girls’ movie night. These in-person interactions are fundamental building blocks of a community and school culture.”
Hodge added that there has been increased interest from both public and private schools, with double the applications in key entry-point grade levels such as kindergarten, grade 6, and grade 9. Associate Head of School, Christine Pham, also shared that Basis Independent Manhattan was in a great place academically.
“While many in the field of education are reporting gaps in learning, we have benchmark assessments that show our student learning outcomes year over year are exceeding our goals from kindergarten to high school,” Pham said. And teachers are also refocusing on social connections as the city moves past pandemic restrictions by using a balanced approach to their lessons that incorporates social-emotional learning in classes. “Moving away from a lot of the recently adapted technology, and revisiting [past] resources that bring the classroom back to basics, but with a fresh appreciation of what is old is new again,” she said.
Also located in Chelsea, Avenues The World School New York campus for two to 18-year-olds opened in 2012 and overlooks the scenic High Line park on Tenth Ave at 26th Street. Unique in its admission practice, this global school with campuses on three continents allows a student admitted to one Avenues campus to be admitted to all the schools without a reapplication process.
With a current student body of close to 1800 students, Avenues was still able to return quickly to in-person learning every day, in every grade since fall of 2020, said Tara Powers, Global Director of Communications at the school. “We have resumed on-campus community events, including recently hosting hundreds of parents on campus for our J-Term student showcases,” Powers said of the return to normal day-to-day life on campus. “It’s been a welcome return for our entire community.”
She added that since the height of the pandemic, Avenues has received increased interest from prospective families. “We welcomed 375 new students to our New York campus this year,” Powers said. “Roughly a quarter of our new students hail from public schools.”
Attracting new students, innovating, and with a positive outlook for the future at New York City’s independent school. An “exceedingly robust” state indeed.
“It’s been a welcome return for our entire community.” Tara Powers, global director of communications, Avenues the World School