As the fall open houses for New York City private schools continue, I had a chance to visit The Calhoun School on Manhattan's Upper West Side this past week. Calhoun has a large building housing grades 3-12 where it has about 725 students and a smaller building several blocks south for its pre-school (3 year olds) through first grade program.
Calhoun describes itself as a "progressive" school, and the school philosophy recognizes the importance of learning through experience and understanding that students have multiple intelligences and a variety of learning styles. As the Head of School, Steve Nelson, describes it, Calhoun believes that "Schools should not be stressful... making students sit still in a classroom shuts down the neural pathways that lead to learning. "
The physical setting of Calhoun mirrors its mission. Classrooms are designed as open pods, separated by walls but open to the center of each floor. Teachers and students who were asked about this arrangement noted that the noise from adjacent classes didn't pose a problem and the open system was something "you get used to". Classes are small, consisting of 12-15 students.
The student body is diverse, and the school involves its Director of Diversity in the admissions process to sustain this diversity. The students greeting visitors were articulate and clearly enthusiastic about their school. Unlike many schools which carefully guide prospective parents on tours, Calhoun invited visitors to wander the building and speak to students and staff. Only once they had a chance to do so did a more formal information program commence.
There was a good deal of space in the upper school dedicated to the arts, including state of the art theatre facilities, and students have numerous opportunities to take electives in such areas as music, painting, pottery, and improvisation.
Calhoun would not be a good fit for most students with learning disabilities or signicant attention issues. It is not a "specialized" school as are some other schools we have visited. But for students who would not be comfortable in a highly competitive setting or who "march to their own drummer", its progressive philosophy, appreciation of individual learning styles, and rich program in the arts, could make this a good choice for a private school setting in Manhattan.