The Fieldston School is a middle and high school located in Riverdale
, NY (which is a part of the Bronx
, itself a borough
of New York City
). It is a private school
in the American sense, which is to say that it is not supported by government funding but by tuition
payments and an endowment
. The latter is provided by charitable donations as well as by its parent organization.
Fieldston (as it is known for short) is in fact a religious school, although this sometimes comes as a shocking piece of news to those who attend it - it certainly did to me, three years after I arrived. Its full name is the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, and it is part of the Ethical Culture Society of New York. Ethical Culture is a humanist movement which has the legal status of a religion in the United States. It was founded in the mid 1800s by Felix Adler, and is based on a set of precepts concerning not guidance for belief but guidance for everyday behavior designed to promote a more humane society right here on earth. It is explicitly not concerned with matters above and beyond the mortal plane. The School does not, in fact, proselytize this 'religion'. Most students aren't even aware that the Society that runs it in fact holds religious status. Students come from all backgrounds, from Jewish to Catholic to Muslim and atheist. Although it has been known as a popular choice for Reform and Conservative Jews, the student body (used to be?) is fairly diverse - I had a Zoroastrian classmate, for example. The sole concession to its Ethical Culturist roots is a mandatory class, each year, in Ethics - an applied philosophy class, if you will.
Fieldston is located on Fieldston Road, which is adjacent to Riverdale Avenue at around 242nd street. Established in 1878, it has an actual campus, one of its more powerful attractions as a middle and high school in the New York City area - an enclosed Quadrangle, with hundred-plus year old school buildings surrounding it, as well as athletic fields, a thirty-six thousand volume library, gymnasiums, a pool, and enough trees to pretend it's not quite in a city. Despite this, it is within walking distance of the 1/9 subway line's northern terminus at Van Cortlandt Park, and express bus services are available. When I attended, seniors were allowed parking - something unheard of in the City. It is quite close to two of its rival schools, making a group of three known as The Hill Schools for their placement on the high ground of Riverdale - Fieldston, Horace Mann, and Riverdale Country Day School.
Academically, Fieldston is a prep school. It prides itself on its placement of its alumni in first and second-rank colleges and universities, or in career or study tracks that inspire the well-heeled parents who send their children there to speak of them smugly. Although there are, in fact, many quite decent (and some incredible) teachers there - at least, there were when I attended some years ago - the school is hampered by its somewhat service-oriented administration and helicopter parent population. In spite of that, though, it has several things to strongly recommend it.
In addition to the campus itself, it has (or had, at least) several facilities which set it apart. It had a first-rate technical theater program and shop. It had a full print shop, with instruction for students. Wood and metalworking, pottery, dance, music and other strong arts programs (which unfortunately had suffered at the hands of college-emphasizing administration and parent activists) as well as sports programs and academic electives made it somewhere where kids of nearly any interest could find somewhere to hide.
Fieldston, as an extremely expensive private school, maintains a scholarship program for 'inner-city' students. Whether it does enough is open to debate, but many children who might otherwise have been soured on education by indifferent New York City public schooling have gone on to top colleges and universities through this program and their own determination.
The majority of Fieldston students come from the two Ethical Culture Society lower schools in the New York area, the Ethical Culture School on Central Park West in Manhattan and the Fieldston Lower School adjacent to Fieldston itself. Those two schools offer pre-kindergarten through Sixth Grade. Fieldston Middle School, the equivalent of grades seven and eight, is 'Form I and Form II' and Fieldston Upper School is Forms III-VI.
Some notable Fieldston alumni include J. Robert Oppenheimer, Marvin Minsky, Walter Koenig, Carly Simon, David Denby and Christopher Lehman-Haupt. The school is featured in the second segment of the film New York Stories.
Fieldston's school song is is entitled Iam cantate. If you want to be recognized as a true alum, make sure you hold the 'ssss' at the end of the chorus (think snake) to really piss off the faculty:
Iam cantate! Jubilate!
Iam canamus! Jubilamus!