There is something magical about autumn in New England, and a big part of that is the excitement of starting a new school year. The air is crisp, crunchy apples make their appearance on supermarket shelves, and the streets become covered with leaves, signaling to children, parents, and teachers that the long, relaxing days of summer are coming to an end. By Felicity Long
But there is more to getting ready for school than buying new clothes, stocking up on binders and pencils, and going to bed an hour earlier every night. For some parents, the desire to give their children a leg up on their education spurs them to look beyond their local schools to the ranks of private institutions. The good news is that New England boasts some of the best private schools in the country, which means that the hardest part will be choosing from among them. One private school criterion to consider is whether you want your child to be a day student or a boarder.
Tower School in Marblehead accepts day students from four years old through eighth grade. The student body is kept to 300 and so the atmosphere is safe and nurturing, as well as academically challenging. Noting that bullying has become a hot topic for many parents in recent years, Libby Parker, director of admissions, points out that Tower has made mutual respect a priority throughout its nearly 100-year history. However, “nurturing” doesn’t mean “sheltered,” says Parker, citing a humanitarian trip students recently took to Cuba as an example of global learning, an area in which the school excels. The curriculum is challenging, and students are taught learning strategies and habits of mind that carry them to great success in high school and beyond.
Louise Stilphen, headmaster of Sparhawk School on the North Shore, glories in the playful yet academic culture of kindness among students, teachers, and parents alike, which permeates the campuses. Students benefit from the freedom Sparhawk teachers have to educate beyond the confines of a state-mandated curriculum, Stilphen says, adding, “One reason parents come to us is because MCAS takes class time, and the teaching burden is being shifted to parents in the form of homework.” The school, which accepts 170 day students from Pre-K through 12th grade via rolling admissions, offers a customized, challenging curriculum. Sparhawk boasts a 100 percent college acceptance rate, and 100 percent of students are accepted into at least one of their top three chosen schools.
The Pike School is an independent elementary day school in Andover that serves 438 children in Pre-K through 9th grade. The value of a Pike School education lies in the individual attention each student receives from passionate and caring teachers, according to Head of School John Waters. Through a vigorous and challenging academic curriculum and robust programs in physical education and the arts, Pike students attain a life-long love of learning, Waters says, adding: “The ones who don’t do their work are the exceptions.” The especially diverse community of students and teachers provides an environment in which Pike students “develop the values necessary to become responsible citizens with a respect for others,” Waters says.
When it comes to co-ed college prep schools, Austin Preparatory School in Reading benefits from being both a middle school and a high school, according to Director of Admission and Financial Aid Kevin Driscoll. “We work with our 700 students throughout their formative years, and that makes us very different from most private schools in the area,” Driscoll says. A Catholic independent day school, Austin uses the Phase system, which allows students the flexibility to be taught at the appropriate academic level in each subject area. Austin offers small classes, averaging 16 students, and boasts a student-teacher ratio of just 10:1. With more than 50 extra-curricular clubs and activities, there is something for every student at Austin, Driscoll says.
Brookwood, a co-ed day school on the North Shore dedicated to academic excellence, was founded in 1956 on the idea that children learn best when they feel emotionally safe in the classroom. “We have been true to that mission, and today’s research backs that philosophy,” says Headmaster John Peterman. Key to educating pre-adolescents is Brookwood’s signature program, “Personal Growth and Development,” which encourages children to challenge themselves. “At Brookwood, it’s cool to achieve, to speak in class, and to take academic risks,” Peterman says. The school draws from more than 30 communities to make up its 400 pupils in grades Pre-K through 8. Class sizes range from 15 to 16 students in Grades 5 through 8; to 18 in Pre-K to 4.
Glen Urquhart School, an independent K-8th grade day school in Beverly Farms, takes pride in its ability to integrate challenging academic curricula with strong athletics and its signature arts and community service programs. “One thing that sets us apart is the sense of community among the teachers, students, and parents and our shared commitment to ‘Knowledge, Creativity, and Character,'” says Director of Admission Leslie Marchesseault. In addition to a student-teacher ratio of about 7 to 1 and being the only school on the North Shore with two fully credentialed teachers in every lower school classroom, the 230 students benefit from a 7,000-square-foot greenhouse, a nature trail, and an outdoor classroom on the 23-acre campus.
Waring School, a 32-acre co-ed day school for grades 6 to 12 in Beverly, takes pride in offering measurable benefits-such as college admission statistics-and those less easy to quantify, such as inspiring a passion to learn and encouraging students to seek learning moments and opportunities beyond the classroom. Waring’s 152 students are encouraged to find their voices and become engaged with the school and each other. The student-teacher ratio is 8:1, and all students learn French. “We find that focusing on one foreign language means that you can give children a very strong experience in that language that can be applied to learning other languages,” explains Headmaster Peter Smick.
Location can be another key factor in choosing a school, and Dublin School in Dublin, New Hampshire, makes the most of its acreage and high elevations. The 130 students work hard, says Director of Admissions Sheila Bogan, but they also play hard, learning to ski, snowboard, and play tennis and be on crew in a friendly, relaxed environment. Students are aged 13 to 18, and about 75 percent are boarders, although Bogan stresses that the day students are on campus nearly as often as the residents. There are four homey dorms for boys and three for girls, with 10 to 26 students in each. New this year is a state-of-the-art science observatory and renovated theater, Bogan says, and 100 percent of students go on to four-year colleges.
Miss Porter’s School is an independent college preparatory boarding and day school in Farmington, Connecticut, for girls in grades 9 through 12. The 322 students, 198 of whom board, are taught in classes of 11 students on average, with a student-teacher ratio of 8:1. At Porter’s, girls hold all of the 255 student leadership positions, both inside and outside of the classroom. “Girls reach their full potential at Porter’s because intellectual curiosity, personal excellence, and the relationships between students, faculty, and alumnae are prioritized,” says Head of School Dr. Katherine G. Windsor. “Our students flourish because our community is designed with the best practices in girls’ education in mind. Porter’s is a school for, about, and by girls.”
Meritor Academy, a co-ed day school in Middleton, Massachusetts, for grades Pre-K through 6, blends a traditional curriculum with a vibrant new STEM program aimed at teaching students science, technology, engineering, and math. “We follow the Massachusetts state framework, but we also offer additional classes, such as our new Global Studies program,” says Head of School Susan Morrissey. “We are looking to integrate subject matter, from cultural studies to music, to help students make connections and extend the learning experience.” Opening as an educational resource to the broader community, Meritor is opening specialty classes in art, Spanish, music, technology, and physical education to home-schooled students, as well as opening after school programs to local families outside the school.
Why do some parents pay college-level tuitions to send their children to private schools? Clearly, they feel the investment in their children’s education is worth it, and the good news is that many of the top private schools offer financial aid in various forms. Area administrator weigh in:
“A generous need-based financial aid program allows parents to pay the tuition they can afford. The reality is that this school can happen for any family.” –Libby Parker, Tower School, director of admissions
“For a small school, we give away quite a bit of financial aid because we are committed to diversity.” –Sheila Bogan, Dublin School director of admissions
“Our mission is to be affordable to the middle class, and we have merit-based financial aid for qualified students.” –Louise Stilphen, Sparhawk School headmaster
“We have a fairly healthy financial aid budget, as well as a Merrimack Valley program that offers two scholarship spots in every grade from K through 9.” –John Waters, Pike School head of school
“Each year, Brookwood awards more than $1 million in need-based financial assistance.”Â –John Peterman, Brookwood School headmaster
“Austin Preparatory School awards eight academic scholarships to rising 9th graders-four from our middle school and four from the outside-and about $750,000 in financial aid to about 20 percent of our students.” –Kevin Driscoll, Austin Preparatory School director of admission and financial aid
“Glen Urquhart School values a diverse community and sets aside over 11 percent of its tuition income for need-based financial aid.” –Leslie Marchesseault, Glen Urquhart School director of admission
“Porter’s is committed to generous financial aid, awarding $3.9 million each year.” –Dr. Katherine G. Windsor, Miss Porter’s School headmaster
“Approximately one-third of students receive financial aid, which helps promote a diverse student body. Financial aid is awarded on the basis of proven need and the availability of funds.”Â – Peter Smick, Waring School headmaster
“Meritor Academy is committed to working with families for whom full tuition payment is not possible.Â Confidential agreements may be arranged through the head of school.” –Susan Morrissey, Meritor Academy headmaster
18 Lehman Way
Dublin, NH 03444
Open House Dates: November 7 Â– 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
75 West Shore Drive
Marblehead, MA 01945
Open House Dates: November 11 Â– 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. November 17 Â– 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. November 18 Â– 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. December 8 Â– 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
35 Standley Street
Beverly, MAÂ 01915
Open House Dates: October 19 Â– anytime between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.
The Pike School
34 Sunset Rock Road
Andover, MAÂ 01810
Open House Dates: November 7 Â– 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. December 7 (Upper School) Â–Â 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
One Brookwood Road
Manchester, MAÂ 01944
Open House Dates: November 4 Â–?8:45 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. November 30 Â– 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. January 30 Â–?1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
259 Elm Street
Amesbury, MAÂ 01913
(Lower and Middle School)
18 Maple Street
Salisbury, Mass. 01952
Open House Dates: November 6 Â– 10 a.m. to noon
Austin Preparatory School
101 Willow Street
Reading, MAÂ 01867
Open House Dates: November 14 Â– noon to 4 p.m.
Glen Urquhart School
74 Hart Street
Beverly Farms, MAÂ 01915
978 927-1064, www.gus.org
Open House Dates: November 18, November 21, or January 20
Miss Porter’s School
60 Main Street
Farmington, CTÂ 06032
Open House Dates: October 11 Â– 9 a.m.; optional info sessions at 1:30 November 11 Â– 9 a.m.; optional info sessions at 1:30 p.m.
261 North Main Street
Middleton, MAÂ 01949
Open House Dates: January 9 Â– 10 a.m. to noon