What a High School Can Be

The Putney School is a coeducational boarding and day school for grades 9-12 founded in 1935 by educational pioneer, Carmelita Hinton, who wanted “to make school life a more real, less sheltered, less self-centered venture.”

We are a progressive school, which means we believe people learn best by doing, not by being told. Other schools are beginning to discover project-based learning, integrated curricula and hands-on education, but we’ve been doing it for more than 75 years.

Progressive educational thought stems from the work of American philosopher John Dewey. He thought that to create an engaged citizenry, students had to take an active role in their own schooling. Education is a hard-won prize.

As a progressive school, we foster intellectual freedom and student agency. We believe teenagers are capable and trustworthy. Our guided independent studies and opportunities for student leadership promote personal initiative and adaptability, engaging all parts of a student’s development, not just the academic part. Our culture embodies respect for the individual and the rewards of participation in a community.

We regard the curriculum as everything we do here and therefore eschew the word ‘extra-curricular’. The four pillars of the school, rigorous academics, the work program, the arts, and physical activity, all combine and intertwine to create students who understand what it takes to get things done. One of the hallmarks of Putney is transparency with our students and our willingness to engage them in the running of the school. We allow and often require our students to struggle with the real dilemmas of crafting a community in which rights and responsibilities balance. Much of a student’s life at Putney is experiential education, and they enjoy both independence and responsibility.

Progressive does not mean permissive

Putney is informal, but not lax. Because our demanding academic program is balanced with physical work, play, and arts for everyone, our days are very busy. Students are encouraged to think for themselves and respect is one of the key values of the community. Our students are known as individuals and are constantly interacting with adults, with whom they become very comfortable. The realities of working the land, caring for animals and contributing to the well-being of a larger community all lead to natural self-discipline and an ability to be constructively self-reflective.

Why don’t we teach to Advanced Placement or other standardized tests?

Our goal is to teach students how to define good questions, how to research and analyze, and how to present their thinking in coherent and compelling ways. None of this can be measured by standardized tests such as the APs, which are designed to teach students how to answer finite questions which others have posed. Putney has never had an AP curriculum, and we are now being joined by many of the top schools in the country. It is clear to us that colleges understand our program, because our students do well in today’s competitive college process.

Here’s an excerpted list of Colleges and Universities to which our students have been admitted in the past three years.

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