Ethical Culture Fieldston School (ECFS), known as just Fieldston, is a private, highly selective independent school in New York City. The school is a member of the Ivy Preparatory School League. The school serves approximately 1700 students and 325 faculty and staff. Jessica L. Bagby has been the Head of School since June 2016. The school consists of four divisions: Ethical Culture, Fieldston Lower, Fieldston Middle, and Fieldston Upper. Ethical Culture, located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and Fieldston Lower, located on the Fieldston campus in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, serve Pre-K through 5th Grade. The two lower schools feed into Fieldston Middle (grades 6–8) and Fieldston Upper (grades 9–12)—also located on the Fieldston campus in Riverdale. Ethical Culture is headed by Rob Cousins, Fieldston Lower is headed by George Burns, Fieldston Middle is headed by Chia Chee-Chiu (New Principal), and Fieldston Upper is headed by Robert J. Cairo (Interim Principal). Tuition and fees for ECFS were $43,265 for the 2014–15 school year.
The school opened in 1878 as a free kindergarten, founded by Felix Adler at the age of 24. In 1880, elementary grades were added, and the school was then called the Workingman's School. At that time, the idea that the children of the poor should be educated was innovative. By 1890 the school's academic reputation encouraged many more wealthy parents to seek it out, and the school was expanded to accommodate the upper-class as well, and began charging tuition; in 1895 the name changed to "The Ethical Culture School", and in 1903 the New York Society for Ethical Culture became its sponsor. The economic diversity which was important then is threatened by an annual tuition that exceeded $43,000 in 2016. To help continue the school's original mission, Fieldston awards over $13 million in financial aid to 22% of the student body.
The school moved into its landmark Manhattan building at 33 Central Park West in 1904. The entire school was located in that building until 1928 when the high school division (Fieldston) moved to its 18-acre (73,000 m²) campus on Fieldston Road in the exclusive Fieldston section of Riverdale; the Manhattan branch of the Lower School remained there, and in 1932 a second Lower School was opened on the Riverdale campus. In 2007, a new middle school was opened on the same Riverdale campus, for the 6th, 7th, and 8th grades.
Ethical Culture was said to pursue social justice, racial equality, and intellectual freedom. The school and the affiliated Ethical Culture Society were
havens for secular Jews who rejected the mysticism and rituals of Judaism, but accepted many of its ethical teachings. Additionally, because the institutionalized anti-Semitism of the times established rigid quota systems against Jews in private schools, the Ethical Culture School had a disproportionately large number of Jewish students. Ethical was the only one that did not discriminate because of race, color, or creed."
This tolerant spirit, and the founding philosophy overall, continues to draw families today although they might now be welcome anywhere. The school ended its formal ties with the Society in the 1990s, although retaining its name and striving to maintain the ethical tradition of its roots.
One of the early faculty members was the famous documentary photographer Lewis Hine.
ECF is not the only Ethical Culture School in the New York City area. In 1922, an Ethical Culture School was founded in Brooklyn, near Prospect Park, by Julie Wurtzberger Neuman. However, this school is unrelated to the Ethical Culture Fieldston School.
Each year the number of students enrolled in the school system grows. In 2002, talk of expansion began; plans were laid out the following year. A new middle school as well as new gym facilities were planned, and construction began in June 2004 with an estimated date of completion of September 2007. The design of the two new buildings as well as significant renovations to the dining hall and classrooms was done by the New York architecture firm Cooper, Robertson & Partners.
The Progressive movement is important to Fieldston. Part of the school's curriculum, per the philosophy of Adler, includes courses in ethics and moral philosophy, along with required community service. Drawing heavily on the educational philosophy of John Dewey, hands-on "learning by doing" is emphasized from pre-kindergarten through the senior year of high school.
There are many elective courses for the upper grades. The community service program is a cornerstone of the school, with students volunteering within the school, the surrounding community and the city at large. A hallmark of the school's ethics program has been the interaction by older students as peer advisors for younger ones, with 5th graders working with kindergarteners, and 11th and 12th grade students leading 7th and 8th graders in ethics courses (through a program called Student to Student), for example.
Fieldston dropped its participation in the Advanced Placement Program in 2002 to give its faculty the freedom to offer supposedly more challenging and thought-provoking material. Students can take AP exams, but the school no longer officially sponsors such courses. While there was some concern that college admissions could be negatively affected, Fieldston's college office worked closely with admissions officers of schools across the country to explain the change, and to assure that its students would be evaluated on the quality of its courses, even without the AP designation.
The upper school's student newspaper is called the Fieldston News and the yearbook is the Fieldglass. The ECF Reporter and Field Notes provide news of the schools to alumni and parents. There are several student-run literary and art magazines, as well, such as Litmag, Dope Ink Prints, the popular satirical publication The Gouda, the mathematics magazine Ars Magna, the music magazine The Fieldston LP, and the sports magazine "Season Pass".
Its ideal is stated as follows:
The ideal of the school is not the adaptation of the individual to the existing social environment, but to develop individuals who will be competent to change their environment to greater conformity with moral ideals.
Fieldston's athletic program includes 44 teams covering 14 sports. The teams, known as the "Fieldston Eagles," play in the Ivy Preparatory School League against other private schools in the region. The school's hockey team as well as the girls and boys ultimate frisbee teams, however, do not play in the league and schedules their own games.Fieldston Outdoors – a six-week environmental day camp
Weeks of Discovery/Computer Camps – one-week sports, computer, and other activity camps during school breaks
BeforeSchool and AfterSchool – at the two Lower schools
Fieldston Enrichment Program (FEP) – tutoring program for selected public school students in preparation of public and private high school entrance exams and requirements
Young Dancemakers Company – acclaimed summer dance program
City Semester – a "study at home" program that reorients a semesters worth of classes through the lens of the local: the Bronx.
STS (Students Teaching Students) – a specialized ethics program where Form V & Form VI students (Juniors and Seniors) teach the ethics curriculum to middle schoolers. This curriculum covers a wide range of topics including community norms, relationships, social issues encountered in high school situations (sex, drugs, alcohol, and bullying), and social media.
Among its many notable alumni and former students are:
Ethical Culture Fieldston is a part of the Ivy Preparatory School League, with many of the city's elite private schools. The three high schools Fieldston, Riverdale, and Horace Mann together are known as the "Hill schools," as all three are located within a short walking distance of each other in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, on a hilly area above Van Cortlandt Park. The three are also involved in inter-school sports rivalry.