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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 (6th-8th grades) and Fieldston Upper (9th-12th grades)--also located on the Fieldston campus in Riverdale. Ethical Culture is headed by Principal Rob Cousins, Fieldston Lower is headed by Principal Joe McCauley, Fieldston Middle is headed by Interim Principal John Alschuler, and Fieldston Upper is headed by Principal Nigel Furlonge. Tuition and fees for ECFS were $55,510 for the 2020-2021 school year.
Workingmens school, in 1893
Ethical Culture in New York City
Felix Adler, circa 1913
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. Fieldston awards over $15 million in tuition-based 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.
One of the early faculty members was famous documentary photographer Lewis Hine.
In March 1970, about 60 students occupied the administration building in protest to demand that more black and Puerto Rican students be admitted to the school. They also aimed to have a greater number of minority courses, teachers, advisors, employees. The school agreed to some of the student demands.
Beginning in 2015, the school began separating children for mandatory weekly "affinity group" meetings based on their self-identified race, to discuss issues of race and bias. The experimental program met with controversy from Fieldston parents, many of whom compared the meetings to segregation.
In February 2019, a video that is believed to be created years previously was discovered by administrators after it was shared during a dispute between students. The students in the video use derogatory and racist language. Students involved who were still enrolled in the school were punished; however, some 100 students who thought the actions were not enough staged a sit-in reminiscent of the 1970 protest. The students presented the administrators with twenty demands that included increased racial bias training, more faculty of color, the recruitment of more students of color, and a required ethnic studies course; the students' demands were agreed to and are planned to be implemented over the course of 2-3 years.
The school also attracted attention in November 2019 after it hosted a guest speaker who compared the Israeli treatment of Palestinians to the Holocaust, a statement which was denounced by many as antisemitic, including two Reform Jewish rabbis who spoke at the school in the wake of the controversy and subsequently published a New York Times editorial about the incident. The school's response to the controversy was sharply criticized as being inadequate and itself antisemitic by many parents of Fieldston students. U.S. Congressmen Josh Gottheimer and Max Rose also wrote its administrators condemning the incident. In January 2020, the school fired a Jewish teacher who posted tweets opposing Zionism. There were parents who asked for the teacher's reinstatement.
Fieldston dropped its participation in the Advanced Placement Program in 2002 to give its faculty the freedom to offer more innovative, 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.
Fieldston's athletic program includes 62 teams covering 23 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 schedule their own games.
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 - an interdisciplinary experiential-education based semester program focusing all class on the local: New York City
STS (Students Teaching Students) - a specialized ethics program where Form V & Form VI students (Juniors and Seniors) teach an ethics curriculum to middle schoolers. This curriculum covers a wide range of topics including community norms, relationships, decision-making, navigating choices encountered in middle and high school situations (e.g., around social media, sex, drugs, alcohol, and bullying).
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.
Notable alumni and former students
Among its many notable alumni and former students are: