by George J Elbaum
Founded in 1967, Fayerweather is a co-educational independent private school enrolling approximately 200 students in PreKindergarten through 8th grade. Fayerweather structures its Progressive Education on the precepts of Project-Based Learning, Social Justice, and Social-Emotional Development. It approaches these precepts on the belief that to learn and thrive, children need adults who know, understand and care about them, a sense of security and consistency, high expectations, and a healthy self-image. To maximize these, at Fayerweather children and teachers work in partnership and dive deeply into subject matter to foster higher level problem solving and 21st century skills. Social justice is also a core element of the Fayerweather’s philosophy, including understanding different perspectives and caring about one’s community and the greater world. At Fayerweather, strong academics go hand in hand with a student’s social-emotional health and are interwoven into every aspect of the school day. While these elements of Progressive Education manifest in different ways for different age groups, the use of hands-on, project-based learning is almost always present.
This overall approach is manifested in the following specifics: use of a co-teacher model to provide more opportunities for 1:1 instruction; multi-aged classrooms throughout the school starting in PreK; teacher/student ratio of 1:11, except in PreK where it is 1:8 and an overall ratio of teaching staff to students of 1:6; 85% of faculty with advanced degrees; community service and social justice work integrated throughout the curriculum. The results are exemplified by a quotation from a 2015 graduate: “Without my amazing teachers, I wouldn’t be the hard working, risk taking, intelligent student I am now. They helped me solve math problems, write descriptively, know the periodic table, think outside the box, and even learn a new language.”
Fayerweather’s diversity is shown by 40% of students self-identifying as kids of color, 27% faculty and staff identifying as people of color. Over 30% of students receive tuition assistance.
Because I arrived at Fayerweather somewhat early for my talk, I witnessed an especially impressive event of education, creativity and confidence building through public speaking. The Biographies Project is an annual event for which each 5th and 6th grader selects a current or historical person whom they admire and would emulate, studies that person’s life and accomplishments, prepares an appropriate 1-2 min. speech that person might make, and in a self-designed costume and role-appropriate entry (walking, running, tumbling, etc) onto the stage, gives the speech to the gathered audience of other students, teachers and parents. Bravo!
My talk to Fayerweather’s 7th & 8th graders was truly a cooperative effort. It was first suggested to me by Krishna Rajagopal, Professor of Physics at MIT whom I know through my membership in the Physics Department’s Visiting Committee and whose son Isaak is a 7th grade student at Fayerweather. Krishna and 7th & 8th Grade Teacher Jenn Kay.Goodman organized it, and specific arrangements with me were made through Judi Bohn of Facing History and Ourselves. Also attending it were Fayerweather’s Head of School Edward Kuh, Humanities Teacher Carolyn Bloomberg-O’Brien, Spanish Teacher Chela Badel-Watson, and Growth Education and Sports Teacher Dorla White-Simpson.