At St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s annual Admission Open House on Oct. 17, prospective parents “met” three somewhat obscure figures who loom large in the school’s past and present: Hilda of Whitby, the seventh century abbess who educated both men and women together (“the first co-educationalist,” said Head of School Virginia Connor); Hugh of Lincoln, the 12th century bishop who protected Jewish people from persecution under Richard I; and Ruth Younger of Harlem, the 20th century nun who founded St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s to create a school community that would invite children from all ethnic, socioeconomic, and religious backgrounds to learn together.
“Our program is imbued with the spirit of these three heroes,” says Ms. Connor. “What goes on in here is not the making of mere mortals. It comes from these three.”
More than 200 prospective parents attended Open House to learn about the school, visit classrooms, and talk with Ms. Connor, current parents, and teachers. Parents considering St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s had a chance to ask about important elements of St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s program:
- Why choose an elementary school?
Parents applying to St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s may also be applying to K-12 schools or standalone nursery or preschools. The choice is a personal one that depends upon each family, says Director of Admission Kate Dworkoski. “We are a small school, and our early childhood and elementary program allows us to focus on children at the earliest stages of their development,” she says. “We also have the benefit of faculty who are experts in child development and their chosen profession.”
As students progress from lower school to upper division, they have a chance to take on leadership roles and act as unofficial mentors to younger students. The secondary school placement process is an important moment in the life of a student and his or her family, Ms. Connor says. “You’re not likely to know what high school is best for your child when he or she is nearing kindergarten. By eighth grade, both parents and children have a better sense of what kind of environment will bring out the best in them.”
- How does the school’s religious tradition come into play?
St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s is an Episcopal school, but this religious identity is an inclusive one. From the school’s founding through today, families of all faiths and no faith tradition have been welcomed—Ms. Connor recalled the words of Mother Ruth: “I hope that an Episcopalian who attends our school becomes a better Episcopalian, a Jewish child a better Jew, and an agnostic a better agnostic.”
Beginning in senior kindergarten, children attend Chapel weekly, and then in first grade they attend daily; first grade also marks the beginning of religious knowledge instruction. These programs provide opportunities for children to explore religious and spiritual themes, social justice, and morality. But this exploration does not take place in Chapel and religious knowledge alone, Ms. Connor says. “In every interaction, from the earliest ages, teachers are guiding students as they learn how to be good friends, helpers in the community, and to make choices that reflect our shared moral and ethical values.”
- Why would a parent choose a co-ed school rather than a single-sex environment?
“In a world that is so polarized on so many topics, here we have the duality of girls and boys learning alongside each other,” says Ms. Connor. “Our founder believed that children learn about the world by learning from one another.”
The faculty's expertise in child development, and the strong relationships that develop between teachers, students, and families, mean that every child is known and cherished, Ms. Connor says. “A good teacher won’t let a quiet child fade into the background, and will engage an active child in a way that brings out his or her best.”
Is St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s a traditional school? If so, how does your program reflect current educational practices?
St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s is proudly a traditional school, and that will not change, Ms. Connor says. Uniforms and desks beginning in first grade, learning cursive, addressing teachers as “Ms.” and “Mr.,” and age-appropriate homework and assessments are elements that reflect this pedagogical choice.
“However, traditional does not mean ‘old-fashioned,’” Ms. Connor says. “Teachers are continually engaged in professional development that reflects current research and understanding of how children learn best. Their classrooms are responsive, meaning that they understand the role that culture plays in learning and interaction, and they use this knowledge to inform their teaching. They use technology in thoughtful ways that reinforce and amplify their lessons, rather than putting focus on the technology itself. They teach skills and habits that build a firm foundation for future learning and technological pursuits.”
Following the formal remarks and question and answer session, prospective parents were able to visit classrooms and speak with teachers about the program. Current parents were also on hand to speak about their children’s experiences at the school.