In Stamford, The Mead School Embraces the K-8 Model

It’s been a while since the Mead School was located on Pemberwick Road in Greenwich, but the school, now located in residential north Stamford, remains popular among Greenwich families seeking
a progressive education for their children.

The school was considered revolutionary when it was founded in 1969 by Dr. Elaine de Beauport who believed that students needed a more experiential environment to become active learners. The school initially served students in grades K-4. Over the years, it expanded to include students through grade 8, and children as young as infants in the Early Learning Center.

Peter Herzberg, Head of School, at The Mead School in Stamford.
Student practicing the drums at The Mead School in Stamford.

Today, Peter Herzberg, Head of School, said that while the area is rich in independent schools, one would have to go to New York City to find a school similar to Mead.

“There are a number of very good independent schools in our area,” he said. “We’re solidly in the progressive tradition of education. But we’re also founded on a concept that was way ahead of its time, which is this notion–new neuroscience at the time–that different parts of the brain linked the social-emotional and cognitive and that you could train that connection to forge stronger learners.”

Herzberg said other schools have since embraced that concept, but from the start, Mead emphasized that the study of the creative self and the arts was equally important as math and science.

“The expressive arts program has always been very important. We don’t think of the arts – drama, music and visual arts – as a minor. Kids get those courses almost as often as they get math and language arts.”

Students working on computers at The Mead School.

Entrance to the Black Box Theater at The Mead School in Stamford.
Black Box Theater at The Mead School in Stamford.

The school not only has a sizable auditorium, but they also have a black box theater.

Herzberg said Mead also stresses that every student is unique in how they learn.

“They have to be curious and they have to be fairly able. They have to be able to work on grade level, but we take, by design, a very inclusive, wide range of learners,” he said, adding that there are children who are “angular,” meaning they really good at fewer things, as well as more conventional learners who are strong across the board.

“Because if you take seriously the neuroscience we were founded on, that means the teachers have to be flexible in their teaching too,” he said. “We have to be very adaptable. The building lends itself to that too. It’s very light and airy and spaces can be used in different ways. We do a lot of work with the outdoors.”

Student artwork is displayed prominently throughout The Mead School in Stamford.
At Mead, students are outdoors frequently, making good use of the 13 acre campus, four miles of nature trails and six playgrounds.

In addition to the diversity of learners, Herzberg said students are diverse socio-economically. “We give a significant portion of financial aid here,” he said.

At Mead, students are outdoors frequently, making good use of the 13 acre campus, four miles of nature trails and six playgrounds.

Not only is the campus expansive, but the school boasts deliberately small learning groups. While classes are capped at 12 students, learning groups average seven students. The student to teacher ratio is six to one.

Having such a big building for 120 children and such a vast campus was advantageous during Covid.

Herzberg said the school didn’t have a single case of Covid until the Omicron variant. “We were only closed that spring lockdown from March to May 2020, and we developed a really good remote learning program. As soon as fall rolled around, we were back in person.”

Another unique aspect of The Mead School is that it mixes ages and gives the older children opportunities to help the younger ones.

“K-8 schools prepare kids in a very different way – we prepare them for high school, but your oldest kids are your middle school kids, which is a very sensitive time for identity,” he said.

A great example of how the school mixes ages is in their “home centers,” which are intentionally unlike traditional homerooms.

“It’s similar to a homeroom, but we mix ages: K-2, 3-5 and 6-8,” Herzberg said, adding that the model fosters mixed age friendships.

“The Home Center Director is a combination of school counselor, principal and personal mentor,” he said.

Indeed, Home Center Directors serve as each student’s social-emotional coach and advocate.

“Math and language arts are in the home center too,” Herzberg said. “They start and end the day there. They are also in the center for snack, lunch and play time too. That center is where their life is.”

Books on display during Black History Month in February.

Another unique feature to The Mead School is “Open Wednesdays”. We’ve taken Wednesday and deconstructed the whole schedule to allow students to work on projects of particular passion and interest and also developed a STEAM program and club program,” Herzberg said.

“I think of Open Wednesdays like a mini ‘Winterim,’ like what colleges do, but every week.”

Highlights of the Winterim schedule include work on student independent projects, STEAM team challenges, and academic club electives.

“That really begins to capture what the school was founded on,” Herzberg said “It’s a faith in exploration and invention and intimate relationships with teachers to build trust.”

Another unique facet of the school is its unhurried pace.

“Most schools are very rushed places,” Herzberg said. “You have these schedules that package things into 40 minutes. We tend to take our time. Our days are more relaxed than most schools. We give kids breaks and lots of outdoor time, but we also take our time in class. If we feel we get to the end of the week and need to extend something we’re doing in the curriculum, we’re not concerned about that. Whether there is a test at the end of that week or not,doesn’t guide us.”

Today about 60 students are enrolled in Pre-K through 8, and another 60 in the Early Learning Center, though Herzberg said the sweet spot would be between 80-100 students in Pre-K through 8.

“As we grow we are redefining our founding principles,” he said.

Herzberg said in his career he had previously worked at eight schools, including both public and private schools.

He said the last three schools couldn’t have been more different from each other. At Greens Farms Academy in Westport, he was Dean of Faculty and Head of the Upper School. From there he went on to be the Associate Head of The Brearley School in New York City. Following that, he founded an all-boys elementary Charter School in the South Bronx.

There is a small teacher to student ratio at The Mead School in Stamford.

Herzberg said it was at Greens Farms where he first learned of The Mead School after meeting two boys there who he described as unique in terms of the way they carried themselves.

“I remember they were courageous about asking difficult questions,” he said. “They didn’t seem to care about social stature very much.”

“And they didn’t seem to care about grades that much either,” he said. “They wanted to do well, but there wasn’t much of ‘What did you get on that test?’”

Herzberg said, from there he researched The Mead School and was later invited to join the board.

“So I first discovered the school through kids who learned in distinctively different ways from their peers,” he said.

“Kids who want to compare each other through their grades – there are kids who really like to do that…Those kids would probably be happier elsewhere. Our kids are interested in doing well, but not in comparing themselves to each other. They do a lot of collaborative work, a lot of project work together, but you rarely hear them talk about who is doing better than the other person. Social stature isn’t a huge thing.”

Mead School students come from 14 different towns, though Herzberg said the preponderance of students are from Greenwich and Stamford, and towns in Westchester, including Bedford, Pound Ridge, Larchmont, and Rye.

“We draw from a radius of about 40 miles,” he said.

In 2019 The Mead School celebrated its 50th anniversary. Today it is located at 1095 Riverbank Road in Stamford.

After Mead School, 98 percent of graduates enter their first choice high school. Herzberg said graduates go on to various boarding schools, private day schools, and public schools.

One last unique aspect of The Mead School Herzberg mentioned was teacher longevity.

“While some veteran teachers begin to retire, we have brought new teachers on board who are also eager to be a part of a progressive school. Also, a lot of our teachers send their own children here,” he added.

The Mead School is located at 1095 Riverbank Road, Stamford, CT 06903. Tel. (203) 595-9500