Q&A with Head of School Barbara Pasteris of Chapin School

Describe Chapin’s history and campus.

In 1931, Chapin’s first head of school and founder, Frances Chapin, began teaching reading at 23 Chambers Street in Princeton. Under her leadership, enrollment grew steadily, additional grade levels were incorporated, and the curriculum expanded. Requiring successively larger spaces to accommodate the increases in the student body and faculty, the school moved to its permanent home on Princeton Pike in 1958.

As the physical plant has changed, so has the curriculum. What remains at the center of our approach is what is best for the children, is best for Chapin. That belief has guided the school from its small beginnings on Chambers Street to our nearly 90,000-square-foot facility on 14.5 acres replete with a new state-of-the-art design lab, science labs, library and learning commons, outdoor classrooms, sustainable garden, and playing fields.

What are the benefits of a pre-K through eighth grade community?

Leadership. The age 4 through grade eight model creates an environment that promotes leadership at an early age. Our students experience age-appropriate activities and challenges that encourage them to reach beyond their comfort zone without the pressure of emulating or competing against older high school students. Our students are able to “grow up” at their own pace. It is a unique opportunity to spend the formative years of one’s life in a community whose mission is dedicated to the belief that lifelong habits of the mind and heart are formed in the elementary and middle school years. When our students graduate, they are powerful advocates for themselves and ready for success in any secondary school.

Describe Chapin’s Character Education Program.

We value character as much as we do academics. Character is ingrained in everything we do. Every student is immersed in our school culture that values our five virtues — Respect, Responsibility, Honesty, Kindness, and Perseverance. Our virtues are the foundation for social interactions and emotional growth. Whether in class, advisory, on the playing fields, or at home, the virtues become who they are.

What role does sustainability play within student learning?

Sustainability is a guiding principle throughout our curriculum. Through experiential learning opportunities and with the participation of the entire Chapin community, we are striving to create an enduring culture of sustainability. Chapin students become active stewards of the Earth by learning about and practicing conservation and preservation in all grade levels such as growing vegetables and composting in our organic garden, calculating carbon footprints, and conducting waste and water audits. Sixth graders study the three pillars of sustainability in a required course that combines sustainability with service learning. Through our student-led recycling program, Chapin won the national Green Schools Alliance Green Cup Recycle Challenge in 2013 and 2017.

How is educational technology utilized across the curriculum?

Our focus is on teaching students at the youngest levels how to be creators, not simply consumers of technology. Starting in Explorers, our 4-year-old program, all students learn the foundations of coding, computer skills, and programs, which prepares them for the 1:1 iPad program. Each teacher works with our academic integration specialist, who is dedicated to developing projects and learning experiences that challenge our students to analyze, evaluate, and create. Academic Integration and Discovery classes provide time for teachers and students to collaborate and develop STEAM and inquiry-based projects that extend core academic learning. Integration of technology is key to student learning, which takes place outside, in the classroom, and in our new Technology Center, Design Lab (grades three through eight), and STEAM Workshop (age 4 through grade two). The use of technology does not end at the school door. In order to prepare our students to become responsible users of social media, Digital Citizenship is embedded throughout the year and across the curriculum.

Give examples of recent secondary school placement for Chapin graduates.

We hear consistently from secondary schools that Chapin graduates are well prepared academically and immediately contribute to the community. In the past five years, Chapin students have been able to choose from the following schools for their secondary school matriculation: The Dalton School, Deerfield Academy, George School, The Hun School of Princeton, The Lawrenceville School, Peddie School, The Pennington School, Philips Exeter Academy, Princeton Day School, Princeton High School, and many others.

What are Chapin School’s plans for the future?

Recognizing that the world is increasingly complex, our continual goal is for students to be passionate about questioning, learning, exploring, and creating. Chapin is a dynamic place. We consistently reflect on our mission and revise the curriculum to challenge our students. We equip them with the skills they need to lead with character, successfully navigating academic and social challenges. When we do this every day, every year, we are not only planning for the future, we give our students the tools to create the future.