Frequently Asked Questions

What do we look for in students?

We seek students who are bright, curious, and open-minded. The latter two assets afford ample opportunities for the kind of instruction that leads students to measurable intellectual growth. We seek students who are secure enough in who they are that they can be or will learn to become comfortable with taking risks. The classroom is an open forum; answering questions and presenting work in class by necessity involves risk and a certain degree of exposure. We seek students who find the exchange of ideas enlivening and who are eager to develop the discipline to rigorously engage with their interests.

What do we look for in teachers/faculty?

Teachers are the major role models for students each day and have daily opportunities to pass on their passion and love of learning to their students. With that reality in mind, we look for several critically important assets in our teachers. One is demonstrable excellence in an academic or artistic discipline and a dedication to this subject area that demonstrates a rigorous and lifelong dedication. The second is a fervent commitment to the school’s philosophy of “no grades.” In an ungraded school, the underpinnings of instruction rest on the process of study and learning, not on performance. It is through this process that teachers not only bring their students forward at their own pace of learning but also help students identify early on which subjects they find compelling. The third is intellectual dexterity, a requisite for addressing the needs of a heterogeneous student body. Good teachers have the flexibility that allows them to challenge the most capable student on the one hand and to create successful strategies for the student who struggles on the other. The fourth, and perhaps most obvious, is a love of children and a respect for their right to think and to speak for and from who they are. The primary job of a teacher is to help students find a way into to any subject and become the best students that they can be.

Why is placement according to proficiency so important?

As educators we recognize that differences exist between children in motivation, innate abilities, and temperament. We know that a “one-size fits-all” approach does not work. Children must feel respected and challenged in order to participate whole-heartedly in their education. Languishing in a classroom where the pace is too slow or the work is too easy damages a child’s intrinsic motivation to learn. In other words, a talented nine-year-old math student should not be restricted by the edicts of a “4th grade math” curriculum when she is capable of more complex work. Similarly, a five-year-old, who is already a fluent reader, should not be asked to sit quietly while his classmates learn the alphabet. Our goal is to place each child in the class that is right for him/her both academically and temperamentally. That said, it is not our goal to push children through a curriculum as quickly as possible; education is not a race to be won. Our goal is to nurture each student’s intellectual curiosity and to help each student to develop the discipline to pursue a course of studies with joy and integrity.

What is the role of the social environment in an academic setting?

For many of our students, enrolling in Pierrepont offers them a first opportunity to be in classes that routinely challenge and make demands of them. Frankly, many of our new students are used to completing work effortlessly and understanding concept easily. Being with students who are their intellectual peers and who exhibit a desire to learn may come as a bit of a shock. At Pierrepont students are asked to demand more of themselves; innate talent is just the starting point. Students must learn to be innovative, to improvise, to take risks and to routinely make mistakes, in other words, to be comfortable with not understanding. On any given day, students may be asked to interpret a passage from a 16th century text, read out the translation of a Latin sentence, present a new combination in dance, or attack a thorny math problem in front of their peers. Children can only take these risks as learners if they feel supported by their peers and teachers. Respect, tolerance and courtesy towards everyone in the community are essential to creating a dynamic educational environment.

Why do we focus on primary texts?

Primary texts are seminal texts that serve as the foundation for all texts that follow. They are permanent and transcendent, unbounded by the limitations of the moment. They can open windows onto other cultures and offer a chance opportunity to hear voices “hoarse from long silence.” They have an enduring value; people have read and studied primary texts for centuries or even millennia, not decades. Primary texts are often difficult, complicated, and complex. Reading them initiates the processes of mindful study and intellectual exertion and teaches the virtue of patience. With time, their readers come to realize the joy that can come from puzzling over a text and the pleasure to be drawn from the habit of rereading.

Why do we begin language study when we do?

Language study is a rigorous and exacting discipline; it requires focus and practice and, therefore, a certain degree of intellectual maturity. For successful study of a foreign language, students must be first well grounded in the structure of their first language. The prerequisite for the study of Latin and subsequently Greek is our year long Comparative Grammar program that begins once students have demonstrated the ability to read, navigate, and comprehend subtle and sophisticated texts in English. The daily discipline required for successful language study contributes to the strengthening of the mind. We routinely see this discipline acquired in language study spread into the other areas of students’ academic and artistic work.

Why do we emphasize language studies and focus heavily on Latin and Greek?

Language study offers students an in depth investigation of different cultures and introduces them to the people who think and speak in the languages of those cultures; it offers insight, for example, into the “English-speaking mind,” the “Chinese-speaking mind,” or the “Latin-speaking mind.” Ideally, students study foreign languages so that they may read in the original the best that has been written in those languages.

The languages that we offer have rich literary traditions that are, as noted above, permanent and transcendent. Latin and ancient Greek offer students certain challenges and experiences that are qualitatively different from those encountered in the study of modern languages. Their morphology and syntax is somewhat complex and daunting at first. Understanding vocabularies that have not been in use for millennia offers challenges to the students; it demands that they engage with the art of memorization. Although no longer spoken, ancient Greek and Latin were once used to convey thought, often quite brilliant thought at that. The rewards of reading Homer, Plato, Vergil, or Catullus in the original are immeasurable. Additionally, when reading a Latin or Greek text in the original, students are participating in the act of keeping human thought alive. Seen this way, Greek and Latin can hardly be called dead languages.

The fact that we begin language study when we do means that our students study at least two and more typically three languages. At graduation, they will have seven or more years of Latin and six years of Greek. Those studying Chinese will have seven years or more as well.

What kind of math student do we want to graduate?

We want to produce students who can execute algorithms accurately and who know when each technique is appropriate. We also want to develop problem-solving mathematicians, who are comfortable encountering an unfamiliar type of problem and are able to apply a diverse set of tools to solve it. Successful problem-solvers are able to recognize a mathematical idea when it is presented in a new guise. They commonly seek out patterns and determine which ones are useful and which are irrelevant; they will probably also pursue a few dead ends and then begin again without becoming discouraged.

Our math program, then, seeks to educate students to reach a certain mastery of calculation, and we also want them to understand the meaning of those calculations well enough so that math is not seen as a simple, mechanical exercise. We want it to be an arena of discovery, creativity, and graspable elegance.

Why do we emphasize problem solving?

The first reason we include problem solving in the curriculum is that it can make students better at calculating. Asking students to solve unfamiliar problems forces them to try several techniques in order to learn which ones will help. There are often multiple correct strategies, and their discoveries can allow students to see the connections between topics. The students may even end up teaching themselves the next algorithm they were meant to learn. For instance, students may work out the rules for operations with exponents on their own, just by extending the rules they have for multiplication.

Another role that problem-solving plays is to help kids stay flexible in their learning. It is important that they understand how math exists beyond a piece of paper or a classroom. We want them to see math as a set of tools that can make their lives more precise and predictable, as well as a way to find an unexpected elegance in the world. We want real mathematical thinking to be part of our students’ rich internal lives, and the only way to achieve this is for them to seek and discover knowledge on their own.

How do we approach teaching science?

We want our students to view science as a body of knowledge that is evolving and that has practical application. From the outset, our students are introduced to the study of scientific method, theory and the discrete disciplines within the sciences. Their work includes extensive experimentation and hands-on engineering projects. A strong emphasis is put on helping them advance their scientific reasoning ability. In addition, our students are encouraged to study how science developed over time. Historical discoveries are woven into the material they study with an emphasis placed on the role and importance of uncertainty and disagreement. Students are asked to acknowledge the plausibility of various now-discredited theories and to articulate experiments that can be used to test these theories. Throughout our curriculum, students learn to write and speak about science with an increasingly added emphasis on sophisticated organization.

How do we define rigor in the sciences?

We set ambitious pedagogical goals for our students. Understanding the balance between rigorous objectivity and subjective creativity is vital in shaping a student’s critical thinking abilities. Developing the capacity to synthesize, analyze, and communication of scientific ideas enables the students to articulate simple ideas clearly and concisely at first and then to learn how to combine them into more sophisticated concepts. Students are encouraged to take risks, to think on a detailed level, to seek new perspectives, and to continuously question and validate information. Another goal that we have is to first provoke and then increase their intellectual curiosity.

Our idea of rigor also embraces the treatment of science as a body of knowledge that has developed (and continues to develop) over time, progressing not just through brilliant flashes of insight, but through incremental advances in the technology of observation, the extensiveness of investigative effort, and the conversations within a community of scientific scholars that are all necessary to the development of an understanding of the natural world.

In addition, we hope to instill a desire not only to pursue discovery, but also to acquire applicable and relevant skills. Faculties such as proficiency with numbers, reasoning, and data interpretation can be considered in contexts not limited to science alone.

At what age does foreign language study begin?

Most Pierrepont students begin foreign language study at age nine.

What languages do you offer?

We offer Latin, Ancient Greek, and Mandarin Chinese to students beginning at age nine. Other languages are occasionally offered on a case-by-case basis depending on student interest and faculty availability.

What arts classes do you offer?

Arts classes are fully integrated into the school day. All Pierrepont students study music, studio art, dance and theater in addition to their academic classes.

Do you have a sports program?

Though we have no organized sports programs at Pierrepont, our students take advantage of our blacktop playground and engage in high spirited, student-run football and soccer tournaments. Many of our younger students also take advantage of local sports programs outside of school. Our focused athletes compete at high levels in a variety of club, premiere and academy programs in soccer, lacrosse, water polo, tennis, karate and rowing.

What extracurricular activities do you offer?

We currently offer calligraphy, robotics, choreography, poetry, chess, math club, chamber singers, children’s chorus, computer science, and community service club.
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