Tiny Private High School Gives Students Individualized Education

By Heather Holland on May 5, 2014 6:30am 

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  The intimacy of The Beekman School helps teachers focus on the needs of each student.
The Beekman School
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MIDTOWN EAST — In a high school of 80 students, no one slips through the cracks.

The Beekman School, housed in a three-story townhouse at 220 E. 50th St. near Third Avenue, prides itself on accommodating each student’s needs.

“Our school is really small, really individualized, so we’re able to work with a wide variety of students who come with all kinds of specific requirements,” said George Higgins, The Beekman School’s headmaster.

"I have part-time students coming in, I have students who are catching up to graduate on time and I have students who are taking extra time," he continued. “There are kids who just freeze in a math classroom. Those students can work on that same book or that same syllabus, but take it as a one-on-one course, or a small group class."

In the small private school, which charges $36,500 tuition per year and was founded in 1925, there’s only space for eight classrooms and a handful of cubicles in the basement for one-on-one tutoring. There's no cafeteria and no music room.

The intimate environment allows the school to quickly crack down on any bullying and to provide more attention to those struggling with problems at home.

“I have kids who come here who were victimized in their last school,” said Higgins. “They were on the verge of dropping out of school. They were so miserable and their parents had trouble getting them to go to school because of bullying issues.

“We’re too small to have that happen. If we see any signs of bullying, we jump on that.”

Q: What are some challenges for a small school?

I have students who walk in and say, "I don’t want to go to a school like that, it’s so small." They like the idea of being a little anonymous. Most teenagers like disappearing into the crowd, but you don’t slip through the cracks with 80 kids in a townhouse. Everybody knows everybody.

Another challenge is getting enough students to take the course. Teachers all get to do an elective — you get bored doing geometry for 35 years.

Teachers get really excited about an elective (like philosophy), and they really want someone to take it, and nobody signs up for it. The kids, they want to do what they have to do, and still have time to go home and do social media or whatever kids do.

Q: Where are the students attending Beekman coming from?

We have kids who come in here every day who commute from Westchester, Long Island, New Jersey, but most of the [students] live in Manhattan. I also have kids who live in the neighborhood, who chose the school because they want to walk to school.

And we’re close to the United Nations, so we get quite a few kids from the United Nations. Imagine being 15 years old in a strange city and not speaking the language. What a perfect place to go to school, because you’re not going to get lost and you can go to our tutoring school.

Q: How’d you get to become the headmaster of a private school?

I became headmaster in 1990, but I came into the school as a part-time teacher in the 1979-1980 school year. I lived in the neighborhood, and I just stumbled upon it. I had a different job. I worked for Morgan Guaranty Trust, and I got on the subway every morning and went down to Wall Street, and I hated it.

I quit and I looked for a school close by, and I found this school. Nobody stays in a job for 34 years, but I have 12 or so years until I retire. I walked into the school to teach at 21, and I’m staying here until I retire — it’s unheard of.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge you face as a headmaster?

You can never make a good decision, because if you make a decision either she’s not happy or he’s not happy.

I’m under fire frequently — I mean I’ve had my life threatened several times by parents. I try to keep calm, and I try to say, "they’re just worried about their child."

Q: What’s your proudest moment?

My proudest moment is every year at graduation. I know those parents and I know those kids. I’ve been here for 30 some years, and I get worked up every year over it. It never gets tiring. It’s a beautiful way to end the year. My job has a beginning, a middle and an end, and then it starts over and it’s wonderful.

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