Dalton School review by Wellesley College student. Academics at Dalton are rigorous across the board. Some departments, such as the history department, are undoubtedly stronger than others, though there is no single department that struggles. The departments embrace old and new teaching methods from books to iPads to blogging which make almost every course, even something pretty standard like math, a well-curated learning experience. The humanities departments are excellent. English and History at Dalton prepared me the most for the demands of college. I came to college with stronger writing skills than my peers, and a strong ability to read dense texts and be able to draw the key points from them. Additionally, the emphasis on class discussion made me much more confident in contributing my opinion in roundtable discussions in college. The English department is very strong and not at all "by the book." It teaches students how to read, write, and think critically and analytically. 9th grade English focuses on classic literature and is writing-heavy, which builds writing skills early on. 10th grade English splits poetry and drama into two semesters. 11th grade English centers around American Literature, but offers theme-based courses such as New Frontiers and the American Dream, and Rebels, Conformists, and Dreamers. 12th grade English is purely elective based, with exciting courses such as Russian Fiction, Social Misfits in the Victorian Novel, and Existential Comedies: Art & Anxiety in Philip Roth & Woody Allen. (I was no book worm in high school, but had an excellent first semester in 12th grade English and decided to take two English classes my final semester.) The History Department is arguably the most rigorous department. The classes are discussion-based and our curriculum drew mostly from primary sources rather than textbook readings (with the exception of 10th grade where the main text was a textbook). The teacher played a guiding role rather than a lecturing one, and it was up the students to analyze, discuss, and ask questions about the reading, which would have been assigned as homework the night before. What I learned in the Dalton history department for some reason stuck with me more than anything else--perhaps it was all the studying required because so much was expected of us! Math is a department with a decent side and an excellent side. From 9th grade onward, there is an accelerated track in math, and the students who follow that course have a lot of work and get an excellent education. Advanced courses go beyond calculus: the department offers Linear Algebra and Multivariable Calculus to particularly advanced students. I came into high school with what one might call a fear of math--something common to many students I think--and by 10th grade was beginning to enjoy it. I entered honors math in 12th grade and finished off strong, feeling confident about math. Computer Science is a department which went from relatively small to a full-grown, overflowing department full of innovation and excitement within five years. I did not take any classes in the subject, but had many friends who did and really enjoyed it. As this is an increasingly important subject and a very popular major among college undergraduates, it's great that Dalton puts so much focus into making the department strong. Science at Dalton follows a standard path: mandatory 9th grade Biology, 10th grade standard or honors Chemistry, 11th grade and 12th grade electives: Environmental Science, Human Physiology, Biotechnology, regular/honors Physics, advanced Chemistry, advanced Physics, and advanced Biology. I think of all the departments, the science department adheres to standard science curricula pretty closely. We had lab components to almost all of the classes, giving us a solid introduction to college labs. For students planning to go to college and focus on the sciences, I strongly suggest taking the advanced versions of courses to best prepare them. Language departments are also strong--the school offers Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, French, Ancient Greek, and Latin. Classes meet four days a week, so the frequency of class meetings helps cement the language skills. Advanced levels of the classes are comparable to college level language classes, conducting classes strictly in the language and basing discussions and essays on sophisticated French, Spanish, etc. literary classics. The arts at Dalton are fantastic, and one of the best components of the school. Visual Arts, Performing Arts (Theater, Dance), and Music are well-funded and well-enrolled departments. The teachers are passionate, and many have been teaching at Dalton for a long time. It's often hard to fit the arts into an already packed schedule, but as someone passionate about both visual arts and music, I found time for both. I think the arts are a set of Dalton's best assets which make it different from other prep schools. In my experience, going to the 12th floor (visual arts department) was a time to leave behind the stress and competition of the academics on all of the floors below me and focus in on something I was passionate about. I'm sure that many students felt the same way about art, music, dance, and theater classes; the quality of work or performances reflected genuine passion and interest. I have read countless so-called "exposés"about prep school courses which are so outrageously demanding that in order to get a decent grade in a course, students hire expensive tutors. This is not the case at Dalton. Though some students definitely are tutored, it is completely feasible to learn the material and excel in exams, papers, and class discussions. It takes practice and confidence, and definitely a good work-ethic, but success is possible and the teachers are there to help you. One-on-one sessions are easy to arrange with teachers, who have free time in their schedules specifically for this purpose. These one-on-one meetings are known in the Dalton plan as "lab" meetings. The educational philosophy of Dalton prides itself in allowing its students to focus in on a subject that interests them, allowing them to focus in and excel in a particular subject as they make their way though high school. Typically by junior and senior year, a student has found this focus. Unfortunately, this appealing educational philosophy is at odds with the increasing pressure for students to diversify their interests and excel in multiple subjects to gain admission to top colleges and universities. Though Dalton does not follow the Advanced Placement (AP) system, you see students scrambling to get into and take as many honors classes as possible as it gives them an upper edge for admissions. Thus, the specialization that the Dalton Plan describes gets lost in a rush to simply be good at everything. That brings me to the academic culture of Dalton. The academic culture at Dalton is intense. In my experience, students are still in a relatively care-free post-middle school daze upon entering high school and their work ethic reflected that. But things undoubtedly pick up in 10th grade. The increased pressure comes from within the student body--there is healthy competition. It also comes from the culture of success that permeates the high school. Pressure to get good grades and excel academically comes from students themselves, their parents, and unsurprisingly, a desire to get into college.
Student life was good, though as a day school, Dalton students didn't do much mingling during the day. The cafeteria is unbelievably good and has diverse, high-quality offerings. (Think: "braised pork tenderloin with broccoli rabe and balsamic reduction" for lunch...). Students have the freedom to leave the building during free time without supervision which fosters independence and responsibility. The 12-story building is beautiful, up-to-date, and comfortable. Students have access to elevators so moving around is easy. The 10th floor library is beautiful and a great, popular place to study. Group study areas are sparse, however. The school's liberal philosophy was reflected in the mostly liberal mindsets of students. Given my current college's intensely political and socially aware culture, I look back at Dalton and am amazed at how little discussion went on about political or social issues. In an institution where many of the students are straight, white, and middle to upper class, I am shocked that conversations addressing things such as privilege, racism, and sexism were rarely brought up. Though the GLASS (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Students) alliance had a presence at school hosting events such as Day of Silence, and Visibility, the LGBTQ* student community at Dalton is very small. While students are by and large tolerant and accepting of queer students, few come out during high school. Overall Dalton is unique among prep schools because there is a sense of community, respect, and cooperation that trumps the everyday competition. There was little to no bullying and the "popular vs. unpopular" social lines of middle school became irrelevant.
Almost every student at Dalton participated in one or more extracurricular activities. In addition to studying music outside of Dalton, I participated in the student newspaper and the yearbook. Extracurriculars are taken seriously at Dalton, and whatever their mission or product is, it reflects the dedication and focus that students put into it. Unfortunately, colleges put pressure on students to hold leadership positions in their extracurriculars. There are only so many of these positions in Dalton's extracurriculars, leading to a surprising amount of competition and political negotiations, which I really disliked. Sports at Dalton are a big part of the school, and even as a city school, we had a good amount of school spirit (go tigers!). Extracurriculars at Dalton are a big part of developing each student's personality--whether it is through community service, clubs/activities, or sports, students were always engaged with projects outside of the classroom.