February 21, 2018

“Failed Experiment” With Open Classroom Policy Opened Door to Stuart for Princeton Student

To the Editor:

Is it true that Princeton is going to experiment with open classrooms again? Good! More students will have the same opportunity that I was given, when open classrooms were first implemented in the early 70s. I was in fifth grade then at Witherspoon School, and my parents were alarmed at the prospect of my entering middle school where sixth, seventh, and eighth grades were going to be taught as a group, with no age divisions. With six kids at home, my parents relied on the public school system, and for the most part it served us well. However, I remember clearly the day my parents sat me down and told me they were going to take me out of public school and enroll me at Stuart. They explained that I would be there for three years, after which I would return to the public school system for high school. I distinctly remember them saying that they didn’t want me to lose three years of my education, and this was the only way they could ensure that my education would continue on track.

Those three years at Stuart were the best three years of my young life, and I am grateful that my parents had the wisdom and foresight to send me there. Of course they would never have done it if the Princeton School Board had not attempted this (failed) experiment with open classrooms, so ultimately I owe my Stuart experience to the School Board at that time.

Yes, I did complete three years at Stuart, and when I entered Princeton High I was academically advanced — so much so that they ran out of classes for me in my favorite subject and had to enroll me at Princeton University as a non-matriculated student. I was a good student before Stuart, and an excellent student afterwards. Not only did Stuart catapult me academically beyond my peers, but also it taught me that I could achieve anything I wanted in life, and that being a girl was irrelevant to my life choices. That was a pretty bold message in 1970, just one year after Princeton University first accepted female students. Stuart was way ahead of its time then, and continues to educate and inspire girls from pre-K through 12 to catapult past their peers. Registration for their Lead Like A Girl conference “sold out” within 24 hours, with 1,100 attendees and a waiting list of 400 more.

I’m all in favor of open classrooms in the Princeton Public Schools. It was the reason why I had the great privilege of attending Stuart for those three years, and that experience transformed me as a person, as a girl, and as a woman. I have no doubt that implementing the open classroom experiment again will give many more young girls the opportunity to experience the finest education that this town has to offer — at Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart.

Barbara J. Clarke

Balcort Drive