For over 130 years the Ethical Culture Fieldston School has been committed to excellence in education as it seeks to develop the intellectual, artistic and moral potential of its students.
In 1878, Felix Adler, founder of the New York Society for Ethical Culture, opened the doors of a free kindergarten to eight children of the working poor. Elementary grades were added in 1880. From the outset, the Workingman’s School emphasized moral education, psychological development, teacher training and the integration of "manual arts" with academics. Based on the belief that hands-on education gives children the most lasting and satisfying learning experiences, the broad-based curriculum included geography, history, nature study, creative writing, arts and crafts, wood working, singing, field trips and drama – startling innovations in that day.
In 1890, the Workingman’s School became "The Ethical Culture School" and admitted its first paying students. Enrollment increased dramatically over the next 15 years. In 1904, the school moved into a stately new building at 33 Central Park West, and graduated its first official high school class of nine students.
In 1928, on the 50th anniversary of its founding, the school expanded its facilities, relocating the high school to an 18-acre campus in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. "The Fieldston Plan" envisioned an environment for older children in which knowledge and space were connected. The spacious campus of eight interlocking buildings and a central quadrangle was designed to enable students to move indoors and outdoors, from building to building, and through inter-disciplinary areas of inquiry. Fieldston Lower, characterized by progressive teaching techniques, including a core curriculum, was established on the Fieldston campus in 1932, offering a second elementary school program.
A firm believer in education for all, regardless of class, gender, or race, Felix Adler dedicated 55 years of his life to building an institution that would promote achievement, creativity and understanding. The commitment to diversity in the composition of the community and in the curriculum remains central to the mission of the school. Students come to the campuses from a wide range of cultural, racial, religious and economic backgrounds. To help make this possible, the school supports a strong financial aid program, one of the largest of any independent co-ed day school in the country. A diverse group of students, faculty, staff, parents and alumni participates actively in the school.