Outstanding Private Elementary School
It’s been decades since students curtsied at The Hewitt School, founded in 1920 as “Miss Hewitt’s Classes,” when little girls greeted their headmistress each morning with this formal gesture. Today, the all-girl, K-12 school prepares students to take intellectual, academic, athletic and artistic risks and become leaders who will help make the world a better place.
Five years ago, Hewitt opened a new lower school for kindergarten through 3rd grade at 3 E. 76th St., one block away from the middle and upper school building at 45 E. 75th St. There are 45 students in each of the lower school grades, divided into three classrooms, and the school offers an overall student faculty ratio of 7 to 1.
Hewitt works to address all aspects of a child’s development—academic, social and emotional—said Shereen Beydoun, lower school principal. Learning in the lower school focuses on a traditional curriculum of reading and writing, mathematics, social studies, science and foreign languages, which are emphasized.
“We are the only girls’ school that offers two languages—French and Spanish—starting in kindergarten,” Beydoun said.
Linda Van Kesteren’s two daughters, who are starting 2nd and 4th grades this fall, have attended Hewitt since kindergarten. Van Kesteren, head of the parents’ association, and her husband wanted their daughters to attend a single sex school so that they could focus on their studies, rather than on the tensions between boys and girls.
“We were hoping to find a school that would give them a self-esteem boost,” Van Kesteren said.
The content and depth of Hewitt’s lower school curriculum satisfied Van Kesteren’s goals for her daughters. In Hewitt’s 1st grade social studies and science classes, the children study Central Park. They explore its environment and natural history and attend zoo school. In 1st grade, students are also required to write their first book report on a child-friendly topic, an animal.
The school’s 2nd graders expand their field of study to all five boroughs. Field trips include visits to Ellis Island, Fraunces Tavern, the Queens Hall of Science, the Whitney and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 3rd grade, the children study New York City’s history and demonstrate their newfound knowledge in a play performed at the end of the year.
Van Kesteren has also found that the school excels at creating a welcoming and family-friendly community through activities such as its annual blue and white competition. All 515 Hewitt students from kindergarten through 12th grade participate throughout the school year in sports events, a talent show, spelling bees and other contests on one of the two color teams, with the goal of building school spirit and involvement.
Hewitt also offers a dads’ committee to help fathers take on a bigger part in the life of the school. They host a family picnic, attend sporting events, help out at the school’s book fair and spend a night at the Museum of Natural History.
Annette Younger, whose family moved to the Upper East Side from Canada four years ago, said that Hewitt has been a nurturing and intensely academic environment for her two daughters, now in 1st and 4th grades. When her older daughter, Arabel, balked at going to school in 2nd grade, a Hewitt counselor met mother and daughter at the front door each day, hugged Arabel and coached Younger on how to handle her daughter’s short-lived reluctance.
“Hewitt provides a rigorous academic program with great attention to the individual child,” said Linda MacMurray Gibbs, head of school. “It’s not a place to come to if you want to be anonymous; we will know you and your child,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs, head for the past eight years, said that interest in Hewitt and the number of applications has skyrocketed. Under her leadership, the school’s endowment has increased to $12 million from $3 million, the total number of students grew to 515 from 390 and Hewitt expanded its campus with the addition of the new lower school building five years ago.
In the future, Gibbs said that Hewitt faces several challenges. It will need to expand again, as the lower school grades that average 45 students move into middle and upper school, where the average grade size is 30. She said that the school must continually review and update its curriculum and place even greater emphasis on science, math and technology to prepare students for their futures. Hewitt is also trying to increase the diversity of its student body. Most of its student population resides on the Upper East Side, enters the school in its lower grades and remains through graduation. Annual tuition is $31,000 for all grades and approximately 15 percent of Hewitt’s students receive financial aid.
Hewitt stresses the value of community service for the entire student body. In the lower school, students make sandwiches every Friday morning that parents deliver to the Yorkville Common Pantry, an emergency food bank that serves the Upper East Side and East Harlem. Last year, lower schoolers also raised more than $3,000 for UNICEF and contributed to a school wide project that donated 2,000 pairs of pajamas to the New York Foundling Hospital for foster children.
Each year, Hewitt chooses a one-word theme for students to ponder and incorporate into their lives. Last year, it was “gratitude.” Gibbs said that Hewitt strives to help all students understand the obligation that President John F. Kennedy posed in 1961: “For of those to whom much is given, much is required.”
The Hewitt School
45 E. 75th St. New York, N.Y. 10021
Linda MacMurray Gibbs, Head of School
Shereen Beydoun, Lower School Principal
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