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Faculty Perspectives: A Portrait of Beekman

Authored By: 
James Vescovi, English teacher

Having sent three children through New York City independent schools, I believed I was well acquainted with what they had to offer – that is, until I arrived at The Beekman School as an English teacher, after 25 years as an editor. 

The first thing that struck me about Beekman was how, in some ways, it operates like a small college. The classes, which include a maximum of 10 students, feel like seminars.  No student – no matter where he or she sits, or how “small” that student attempts to make him or herself – escapes a teacher’s eye.  This allows faculty to keep tabs on all students, to make sure that they are keeping up with homework and papers and understanding the material.

The class size also gives teachers the chance to get to know a class soon after a semester begins. Because of the flexibility built into the Beekman English curriculum, teachers can choose the novels, poems and plays that they think will reach and resonate with a given class – from classics by Stephen Crane, T.S. Eliot and Flannery O’Connor, to lesser known authors such as 19th century feminist Charlotte Perkins Gilman or 20th century Italian writer Primo Levi.

The Beekman School is also similar to college in that it offers parents and students flexibility in choosing both courses and course times. Some students have full schedules, while others take a few courses per semester at times that befit their current needs.  Whether a student is at school from 8:30 a.m. to 3:50 p.m., or for the afternoon only, he or she is a full member of the community and, with total enrollment around 80, does not fall through cracks.

However, unlike other high-pressure high school environments, Beekman understands how to balance academic rigor with the age and stage of its students. Certainly the academics are serious. Every fourth quarter, for example, students are required to write a research paper that builds its argument on scholarly sources. The goal of this four-week process is to instill in students skills of independence and resourcefulness, as well as to teach them to think critically and prepare them for college and a career.

Yet Beekman faculty, whether they teach Calculus, Chemistry or U.S. History, are equally serious about the fact that our charges are in their middle and late teens – with the requisite unpredictability, charm, struggle and brilliance that come with the territory. Our approach is a combination of firmness and compassion.

Having now become acquainted with the range of New York’s independent schools, I can say with confidence that there’s no other institution like Beekman. It is not for everyone. But every student who comes here, whether for a semester or an entire high school career, finds academic rigor, warmth and a wonderful chemistry among administration, faculty and students.

Read James Vescovi's Biography