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What Makes Brearley Brearley?

There is no one answer to this question. Time and place are surely factors in the development of Brearley’s culture, and other key elements come to mind as well: 

The School’s historic mission to provide girls with a rigorous liberal arts education; 

The dedication and expertise of faculty and staff; 

The earnest intellectualism of the student body, a.k.a. “splendid nerdiness"; 

The accomplishments and contributions of alumnae to their school and communities; 

The uniqueness of the relationships between students and faculty that are fostered through cross-divisional teaching; 

The diversity of a community that represents the city’s boroughs and the greater NYC region. 

At a time when the Brearley community is thinking a lot about architecture and a new schedule, there is another framework that connects all of these facets of the School’s identity. At Brearley the curriculum has been carefully developed by generations of faculty. Teachers expert in their field of study have collaborated on the sequence, pace and content of a course of study that, like a massive wave train rolling across the ocean, builds over the K-XII years, amassing momentum and carrying the community along until breaking on the shores of Last Day, then ferrying our newest alumnae to their next educational experience. 

Having worked mostly in secondary schools, I have been a student of the Brearley curriculum since arriving. It’s fascinating to study a program that methodically builds upon itself, sparking students to think critically, compassionately and courageously—to engage in a passionate exchange of ideas and to go beyond the familiar. Teachers have the freedom to create their curriculum, to adapt it each year or even mid-year so that it continues to challenge and inspire as well as respond to students’ needs and department goals. Working in teams, faculty introduce new pedagogy and scholarship to the curriculum. The process is iterative and ongoing. 

A new member of the community is constantly reminded that the learning endeavor is different here. That our students read closely and discuss deeply The Odyssey in Class VI or Great Expectations in VII never ceases to amaze me. The way they decode language, pick up the nuances of the writing, relate the text to others they’ve read, respond respectfully to classmates’ ideas and connect personally to the story is inspiring to watch in action. It’s the same in every discipline at the School. Look at the student art displayed on the walls, watch a drama or music performance, stroll around the science symposium to listen to students describe their research, make note of the questions asked in a Lower School Assembly. Being a witness to a Brearley education is a privilege. And the students don’t know, as I sometimes hear from educators, that they “aren’t supposed to be able to do this kind of work until they are older.” There is no need to know this because it’s not true. Brearley has never allowed the external world to inhibit its vision, its teaching or its students’ learning. 

I love the bravery of this School. I love our teachers’ belief in their students and how their carefully crafted curriculum introduces girls to the power of their intellect, to their authentic selves and to their capacity to make a positive difference in the lives of others. Brearley’s curriculum, like that wave train, carries all the students from K-XII, and I am thankful for the many teachers who have contributed to it, passing along their expertise from one generation of faculty and students to another. We owe former and current Brearley faculty our appreciation. Their freedom to create a rigorous liberal arts program for Brearley students helped to redefine society’s expectations for girls and set the School on its path to becoming a leader in elementary and secondary education. This, too, is what makes Brearley Brearley.

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