Mission Statement

Past

It started with a vision:

The Dalton School, originally called the Children's University School, was founded by Helen Parkhurst in 1919. It was a time marked by educational reform. Philosophers, teachers, and child psychologists identified as "progressives" began to question the conventional wisdom of the day which held that education was a process of drill and memorization and that the only way to teach was to regiment children in classrooms. Their natural instincts to play, to move, to talk, and to inquire freely were to be suppressed.

Progressive educators believed that the development of the whole child is of primary importance; that children are social beings and that schools should be communities where they can learn to live with others; that these communities should devote themselves to the total enrichment of mind, body, and spirit.

Helen Parkhurst, after experimentation in her own one-room school with Maria Montessori, developed what she termed the Laboratory Plan. It called for teachers and students to work together toward individualized goals. The Laboratory Plan was put into effect as an experiment in the High School of Dalton, Massachusetts, in 1916. From this beginning, the Laboratory Plan and The Dalton School eventually took their names and their mission.

Helen Parkhurst in Education on the Dalton Plan, 1922

Thought runs in a new direction. No longer does one think how to bring the matter, the information, to the child, but how to lead the child to find it for himself.* One thinks how to arouse and maintain that interest in dealing with a subject, so that work becomes a 'breath and finer spirit.'
*The use of male pronouns in Helen Parkhurst's writings reflects language usage of her era and does not denote male preference.
In 1919, Helen Parkhurst relocated to New York City, where she opened her first school on West 74th Street. Larger facilities soon became necessary; the Lower School was moved to West 72nd Street, and the High School opened in the autumn of 1929 in the current building at 108 East 89th Street. Eleanor Roosevelt admired the work of Helen Parkhurst and played an important role in expanding the population and resources of the school by promoting a merger between the Todhunter School and Dalton in 1939.

Enlarged and modified through the years, Dalton has served as the center of an ever expanding community, always alert to promising innovations in education and yet, in the best sense, committed to traditional values. Dalton still celebrates many of the school-wide traditions begun by Helen Parkhurst, including the Candle Lighting Ceremony, Greek Festival, and Arch Day.

Over the years, Dalton has gained international recognition for its academic excellence. Schools in The Netherlands, Australia, England, Korea, The Czech Republic, Taiwan, and Chile have adopted the Dalton Plan. Today, there are three schools founded on the Dalton Plan in Japan. Leading educators from public and private schools and universities, from the United States and abroad, visit Dalton on a regular basis to observe its system of education and to learn more about the school's recognized achievements in the area of technology.

Dalton's population and facilities have grown considerably in the last three decades. In 1964, the First Program was moved from 89th Street to a facility of its own at 61 East 91st Street, providing an ideal setting for kindergartners and first graders. In 1978, the First Program expanded to include the adjacent building at 53 East 91st Street, and it was enlarged again in the fall of 1992 to include 63 East 91st Street. One entire floor of this new building was converted into a science and art center for Dalton's youngest students.

In 1992, a Physical Education Center was constructed at 200 East 87th Street. This state-of-the-art facility is used by all students in the second through twelfth grades. Comprising over 32,000 square feet and three floors in a new high-rise building, the air-conditioned Center represents Dalton's largest single addition of space since the school's opening at 108 East 89th Street in 1929. It includes an exhibition gymnasium capable of seating 500 spectators, as well as a second practice gym, an aerobics room, a wrestling room, and a fully equipped fitness and weight training facility.

Construction of Dalton's Physical Education Center enabled the school to convert its former gymnasium into academic space including classrooms, a dance studio, and a multimedia art and architecture Laboratory. In 1995, an entire new top floor was built which Houses The Abby and Mitch Leigh Fine Arts Center. Modern art studios with skylights and large windows overlook Manhattan's skyline. Two levels below are Dalton's newly renovated Middle School and High School Crane libraries containing over 50,000 volumes. A Web-based online public access catalog (OPAC) enables users to have easy access to the catalogs of all three Dalton libraries via workstations in the library or the Internet.

The Norma and Gordon H. Smith Science Center, completed during the summer of 1996, involved the redesign and restructuring of an entire floor. Transformed into a state-of-the-art Science Center, it provides ample space for both Middle and High School science. Curved hallways and a domed entry lead to chemistry and biology Labs, spaces for astronomy, physics, and environmental science, as well as a workshop for independent study including a wet Lab, a technology center, and a conference facility.

Most recently, the music floor was dramatically renovated and now houses the Performing Arts Center. This dynamic new space enables Middle and High School students to pursue their passion in the arts, whether in music, theater, or dance. With state-of-the-art acoustics, theatrical rigging and lights, a music library, a control booth, recording capabilities, a large rehearsal hall, and new classroom space, Dalton's performing arts curricula continues to be vibrant and innovative.