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History of City Semester

Founder Felix Adler, in his mission statement for the Ethical Culture School,  stated that,

The ideal of the school is to develop individuals who will be competent to change their environment to greater conformity with moral ideals.

Wedded to this principle of reform were both the progressive call for “learning by doing” and a desire to connect education to the world.  Inspired by this history, teachers at Fieldston have sought to create challenging courses that break across disciplinary boundaries to wrestle with universal questions, that put students in charge of their learning, and that step beyond the walls of the academy to address “real world” problems.

Inspired by a New York City course from the 1960s, Kate Reynolds and Andrew Meyers created, in 1997, Inventing Gotham: the History and Literature of New York City, paired courses that met separately but shared the same group of students and student-led historical and literary walking tours. 

As the course evolved, Joe Kleinman, Nancy Banks and Jennifer Tammi brought public policy into the mix, reaching out to the Fieldston community for reformers and policymakers to contribute their expertise to the course.  Mr. Meyers brought the course to the Columbia University Summer Program for High School Students, expanding the policy and fieldwork components, and inviting other Fieldston teachers to participate At Columbia, the value of having students immersed in the work for a full day, with the possibility of fieldwork that does not conflict with a traditional school schedule, became palpable.

In 2008, Lorenzo Krakowsky and Ms. Banks introduced Beyond the Golden Door, an interdisciplinary course on immigration that brought the class off campus to engage contemporary political debates and hands-on encounters with immigrant culture. 

Bringing all of these threads together, and encouraged by the growing sophistication and popularity of place-based semester programs like the Mountain School, Island School,  CityTerm and Maine Coast Semester, Ms. Banks, Maura Furfey, Ms. Krakowsky,  Mr. Meyers, Clare Mottola, Shelby Stokes and Howard Waldman, with the support and aid of Principal John Love, created Settlement: The West Bronx Story in 2009.  

The success of that course led the group to propose integrating the experiences from the Gotham, Immigration, Columbia and Bronx courses into a full semester program for Fieldston Juniors and Seniors- City Semester: the Bronx Experience.