Early Childhood Open House
St. Hilda's & St. Hugh's historic commitment to equity, the value of an early childhood program at an ongoing school, and the school's unique location within the "academic acropolis" of Morningside Heights were some of the highlights presented at the Early Childhood Admission Open House on Dec. 3. The admission team was joined by Head of School Virginia Connor and Lower Division Director Nicole Johnson '05 to speak with parents considering their options for their preschool and kindergarten-aged students.
Why Early Childhood Through Eighth Grade
Parents looking at schools for their young children have many different choices, said Kate Dworkoski, Director of Admission, and one of the goals of the presentation was to help parents sort through the various school philosophies and approaches, as well as the unique benefits of St. Hilda's & St. Hugh’s program.
“A core tenet of our early childhood program is that we are a building block in a school that goes through eighth grade,” said Ms. Johnson, who previously taught third grade at St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s and is also an alumna of the school. “We look at learning as being very sequential and each year as an opportunity to build on the previous year.”
The Early Childhood program establishes core values of caring for one another and of being a committed part of a community, Ms. Johnson said. “Recently, I encountered a group of seventh graders who stopped on their way to recess to talk to an early childhood teacher who was hanging projects in the hallway. It was amazing to see these middle schoolers connecting with a teacher they hadn’t had in years. They cared so deeply about their former teacher and asked lots of questions about how her students were adjusting to school this year,” she said. “This is what we see in a school like ours. The foundation formed in early childhood continues to develop so that when students get to be in eighth grade, they know how they want to go out in the world.”
The early childhood program is further distinguished by its faculty and the resources available thanks to the ongoing program. “All of our teachers are professionals that are dedicated to and knowledgeable about developmental needs of the age groups they are teaching,” Ms. Johnson said. “From flexible, thoughtfully handled transitions to individual support in selecting a half or full-day schedule that is appropriate, our teachers work closely with parents every step of the way to ensure success through every stage of their development.”
Each early childhood class has at least two homeroom teachers as well as additional teachers who specialize in different subjects such as music, art, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, French, movement, and science.
A Historic Commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
The history behind its location and founder continue to define St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s today, providing insight into the qualities that set it apart. Ms. Connor told the story of school founder, The Reverend Mother Ruth, a biracial Episcopal nun who envisioned St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s as a school that would unite children and families from all faith, socio-economic, and racial and ethnic identities to reflect the diversity of New York City. “In 1950, Mother Ruth saw this prevailing tide of exclusion in independent schools, and she said, ‘I want a school that is positioned to do exactly the opposite and will bring children together.’”
The significance of the school’s founding, in 1950, speaks volumes to the identity that has evolved over the past 75 years, Ms. Connor said. “St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s was founded four years before historic moments of integration such as the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling and 14 years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Mother Ruth’s vision guides the program that we have today and every faculty member and family shares the values of this commitment.” Click here to learn more about DEIL.
Morningside Heights - An ‘Academic Acropolis’
Morningside Heights, the West Harlem neighborhood on the Upper West Side where St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s has been located for 75 years, is an apt setting for young learners, said Ms. Dworkoski. “When Columbia University moved from downtown up to Morningside Heights years ago, they had a vision for creating an ‘academic acropolis,’” she said. “In fact, Morningside Heights now contains the greatest concentration of historic institutions of higher learning of any neighborhood in the United States. St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s is very much an extension of that acropolis.” The neighborhood also boasts independent bookstores and game shops, not to mention Riverside Park’s playgrounds and greenways.
Commitment to In-Person Learning
This year, that same deep commitment to children and togetherness was the driving force behind reopening the school to all students on September 8 and offering a full time program to our students during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Every single person felt that the most important thing we could do for the students would be to open in-person if we could do it safely.” Thanks to the dedicated work of teachers, staff, administrators, and expert medical and architectural advisory teams, the school was able to successfully reopen in September and has not closed since.
Early Childhood Program Highlights
Ms. Johnson offered parents a closer look at the nuts and bolts of the early childhood program. In Beginners (age 2), Nursery (age 3), Junior Kindergarten (age 4), and Senior Kindergarten (age 5), Ms. Johnson said the faculty’s approach combines a play-based and traditional. “In our play-based world we focus on the children learning and developing skills through play,” Ms. Johnson said. “Everything in the curriculum is designed with deliberate intention, and we support children’s play by carefully choosing materials in carefully constructed environments and is often inspired by class themes or units of study.”
Everyday structure and routines that children rely upon are clearly established early on then reinforced consistently. “It’s play-based because play is incorporated into everything that we do, but this will look different depending on the age of the child,” said Emily Holt, a member of the lower division faculty who is also an admission associate. Ms. Holt described the progression from Beginners whose morning schedules are all about play, exploration, and getting used to being in a shared space; to Nursery and Junior Kindergarten when themes become more complex and structured times like Morning Meeting gradually increase in length; to Senior Kindergarten which is a combination of scheduled academic time like Language Arts and Math while still allowing plenty of time for play.
Contacting the Admission Office
For general inquiries or questions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and a member of our team will respond to you.
Kate Dworkoski (P'25, P'28)
Director of Admission
Associate Director of Admission
Emily Holt (P'21, P'25, P'28)
Admission, Early Childhood - Grade 3