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Students Learn Through Experience at The Calhoun School

Students Learn Through Experience at The Calhoun School

One student says the school's curriculum helped her leave her comfort zone and become a better learner.

The Calhoun School was founded in 1896 by Laura Jacobi, an early progressive committed to women’s rights. More than a century later, it remains one of the most progressive in the city—although Calhoun’s brand of “progressive” is unique, explains Danny Isquith, the Upper School’s director. “It’s student-centered, student-driven learning—something that is experiential,” Isquith says. “We try to get our kids outside the building as often as possible to experience what they’re learning.”

Calhoun also benefits from its intimate size and vibe. Its 700 students, from pre-K through 12th grade, are spread out across three buildings on the Upper West Side. There are 12-15 students per class with a student-to-teacher ratio of 7-to-1. “This is one of the warmest, most welcoming, safest communities I’ve ever been a part of, whether it’s a school or anything else,” Isquith says. “Our students feel comfortable being themselves here.” And they are encouraged to pursue their own identity. “Our mission and our philosophy are really rooted in…if you know yourself, you’re a better learner,” he says.

The Calhoun curriculum follows a similarly individualized path—the school often builds the class to accommodate the student.

One of these students is Margaret Barnsley, a senior who has been at Calhoun since she was in kindergarten. She says Calhoun helped her turn her interest in history classes into real-life extracurriculars. She is a founding member of the Empowered Citizens Club, which last year worked to educate the school about bail reform, and a member of Social Justice Organizers, which helped “educate and empower students who couldn’t vote to be involved in local political processes” and helped students who were almost 18 register to vote.

Barnsley says Calhoun helped her extend herself beyond her comfort zone. For example, as a freshman she took an elective that required her to teach a class to seniors.

Like Isquith, Barnsley sees Calhoun’s progressiveness as an integration of life and academics. “Learning and going to school and being in this social environment is all part of the real world. And it’s the school’s job to do so much more than just teach you certain facts. And I think [Calhoun] supports you and prepares you."

Main Image: Margaret Barnsley, a senior at The Calhoun School

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Shana Liebman


Shana Liebman is the features editor of NYMP. She’s a writer and editor who has worked for magazines including New York MagazineSalon, and Travel & Leisure—and she is the mom of two energetic little boys.

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