Location: The Upper West Side of Manhattan
Students: 75 students ages 13-18, 60% boys/40% girls
Tuition: $49,000 per year
Financial Aid: About 80% of students receive funding through the state
Overview of the School
Robert Louis Stevenson School is a close-knit school with a therapeutic program. It serves about 75 students ages 13-18 (roughly from 8th grade through 12th grade) and offers them a supportive, progressive program that helps motivate them to learn. The typical student is a bright underachiever who can not reach his or her considerable academic potential in a mainstream public or private school.
The History of the School
Originally founded as a girls' school called the Scoville, Robert Louis Stevenson School opened in 1908 as a progressive school founded on the principles of educator John Dewey. Progressive schools were formed in reaction to the mainstream schools of the day, which focused on factual learning. In contrast, Stevenson focused on understanding rather than on rote memorization. The school then underwent a number of iterations, including serving as a night school for returning veterans following World War II.
The current school program dates back to 1961, when Stevenson started a course of study for bright, gifted students who were underachieving in other educational settings. Part of the reason more and more students were becoming disaffected in the late 1950s and early 1960s was the reaction of mainstream education to the launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik in October of 1957. As a result, there was a return to an emphasis on math and science and to the standardized assessment of achievement. Stevenson began to educate talented students who were turned off to mainstream schooling, and the program was infused with an understanding of psychology and its role in learning.
What the Program Offers
Today, the program at the school continues to offer a psychological understanding of each student, in addition to a concern for developing each student's cognitive potential. While the students do not need any specific diagnosis to be able to enter the school, most students are in the process of receiving therapeutic support outside of school. In addition, there is a psychologist at the school and a learning specialist.
The teachers at the school, who are also advisors, work to use their psychological understanding of each student to help the students develop academically. The school's small size means that all the staff members know the students very well and help them develop psychologically and cognitively. The teachers are intensely involved with helping to rehabilitate the kids, and the staff meets each day for half an hour to discuss the students' progress and share information.
The classes at the school, which have 5-10 students, focus on understanding rather than rote memorization or Advanced Placement or AP work. For example, an American History class might emphasize asking questions about a particular topic, such as slavery, and the teacher might ask students to conduct original research on aspects of the topic for a lively class discussion. Students are placed into classes based on their functioning at the time, not based on their grade level. Teachers work closely with students and try to remove some of the pressure students may be feeling at home from their parents around schoolwork. The goal is for teachers to help students take responsibility for their work and to remove parents from the role of enforcers of homework. To this end, parents at the school tend to step out of being involved with their children's daily work, and there are no parent-teacher conferences.
After graduating from the school, 90% of the students attend college. Recent colleges they have attended include Barnard, Goucher, Landmark, Savannah College of Art and Design, Stevens Institute of Technology, different SUNY (State University of New York) colleges, and Vassar.