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Hogwarts on the Hudson

New British-style school plans to save expats and anglophiles from the lack of “rigour” in New York schools.

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Accepting applications for the fall is the British International School of New York, the only place in the city to enforce the quite rigid official national curriculum of England on its pupils. “I think American families are looking for a school that requires more structure, politeness, poise, manners, the British accent, and attention to detail,” says co-founder Elizabeth Perelstein, who says she was inspired by Englishmen who were coming to work here and were worried that their kids would be “playing,” not learning, in American schools.

Despite the fact that she expects half the students to be American, British spellings (colour gets au) and vocabulary (rubbish) will be fostered, whilst British sports (football, not football) will be played. The uniforms will be traditional (red sweaters, gray wool trousers for the boys; tartan plaid skirts for the girls). Co-founder Andrea Greystoke, headmistress of the Abercorn School in London, says students will be encouraged to perfect handwriting and read and write at earlier ages.

The school itself is next door to the United Nations International School on East 23rd Street. Tuition is $26,000, and there are 100 spaces open. But that doesn’t include any Brit-cafeteria regulars like toad-in-the-hole or spotted dick. “We’ll be fortunate not to have British food,” Perelstein says.

Do expats actually want to send their kids there? Art dealer Gavin Brown says he would never enroll his 4-year-old, calling it “another way to spread another layer of class over New York.” Publicist Oberon Sinclair-Carin says she’d consider it for her 4-year-old, as long as the school doesn’t became “another novelty or a class thing.”

Toby Young, who spent some time in New York working for the anglophiles of Vanity Fair before returning to London, says the school’s “programme” is a bit out of date: Some elementary schools in England are converting to less strict “92nd Street Y”–type models, with no uniforms. “The days when the British ruling class sent their toddlers to school in quaint little uniforms are over,” Young declares. On the other hand, what kid doesn’t want to go to Hogwarts?

“Harry Potter, interest in British things, it’s all intertwined,” Perelstein says. “That’s why this feels like the right thing at the right time.”


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