Diversity is an important value at City and Country. Effort goes into making our community a more diverse place, but there are inherent challenges for private schools when it comes to socioeconomic diversity.
City and Country’s high tuition as well as outside influences, such as the surrounding neighborhood, have resulted in relatively low economic diversity in the community.
Nevertheless, in the past, City and Country was a much more economically diverse place, albeit less racially and ethnically diverse. As the neighborhood changed, the school expanded and tuition rose. The City and Country community became increasingly less socioeconomically diverse as a result.
In the mid-1900s, City and Country had much more economic and professional diversity. Caroline Pratt originally started the school with the children of artists, construction workers, musicians, and superintendents who lived in the West Village. The majority of students were not the kids of well-off parents, especially in the early years of the school. As it gained more recognition and expanded into larger buildings, kids from wealthier families started attending the school. Even so, it was still a much more diverse place than it is now.
However, in the early 1980s, the environment began to change, according to Gino Crocetti, Specials/Academics Supporter, who was a C&C student in the graduating class of 1959. He returned as a teacher in 1980 and came back to a noticeably different student body. The neighborhood was more affluent. This resulted in a less diverse community because the kids attending the school were from wealthier families. The children of artists and superintendents were replaced by children of investors and real estate developers. In the 1980s, the culture of City and Country School students began to change.
At the same time, in 1982, the school was dangerously close to bankruptcy. As a result of City and Country’s precarious financial situation, tuition was raised so that the School could expand, or at least survive. In the 1950s, tuition was around $900 a year for the XIIIs. Even when that is adjusted to account for inflation, the number is still more than four times less than the current approximately $50,000 tuition for the XIIIs. As tuition increased, poorer students could no longer afford to attend.
On the subject of cost, Gino also mentioned that in the 1950s, the school was tiny, with only 97 kids, where full enrollment was 197 students. The smaller student body resulted in less revenue from tuition. As a result of City and Country’s financial issues, financial aid was effectively non-existent.
A chart from the school’s Archives showed that in 1983, 40% of students were on scholarship. However, by 1988, less than 10% were awarded financial aid due to the extreme cutting back of operating expenses. Now, the school has a much larger budget for financial aid, but in the past, it could not afford aid, resulting in many lower-class kids not being able to enroll.
As well as being unable to provide financial aid to less privileged kids, City and Country did not foster the same kinds of discussions about race, class, and sexual orientation that they do now.
Today, discussions about social issues are held from the IXs and up, increasing each year. Without them, articles like this would never be written and students would have less of an opportunity to express their concerns about the greater community.
While current students may take these discussions for granted, Gino never had them in school. He explained that these issues were not on the minds of students in the same way they are now, and he was not aware of any steps the administrators made towards diversity.
This is not to say that City and Country was not a progressive school for its time. Although the number of non-white children in City and Country’s student body was low in early years, children of color were still admitted prior to when the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that segregation of public school students goes against the Constitution. These are the benefits of being a privately-run school because it is exempt from many federal laws.
However, having a progressive, lesbian-run, and non-traditional school meant that City and Country School had to maintain a low profile. A liberal school that went against the grain of society was not widely tolerated during the McCarthy Era, when progressivism of any kind was scrutinized.
Caroline Pratt arguably had some association to Communism in the form of accepting students whose parents were associated with the Communist Party or having ties to Communist professors. It is no wonder that City and Country was so cautious in a time when being a Communist sympathizer was dangerous.
In the 1950s, the School reached a point when even Gino’s parents, friends of John Dewey, were unaware that the School still existed. John Dewey was a contemporary and peer of Caroline Pratt who worked in progressive education. These circumstances likely contributed to admissions going down, prices going up, and a decrease of financial aid.
Even though the increase in tuition and changing neighborhood resulted in a less socioeconomically diverse community, there have been upsides to the changes. In the early 1980s, the School was on the brink of closure. The School actually announced that they would close, but alumni donated enough money to keep it open. However, even with the donations, City and Country could not have survived if there had not been wealthier families who could afford to pay the higher tuition required to keep the l doors open.
In addition, the neighborhood changes actually made the school a more racially diverse community. More Latino, Asian, and black families moved in, and those changes greatly influenced how racially and ethnically diverse our school is today.
Regardless of Caroline Pratt’s values, her school endured challenges based on the political climate, neighborhood gentrification, and inflation.
While City and Country may have stood at the forefront of progressive education, the lack of significant racial or economic diversity is still a hurdle that is not easy to overcome.
Bluntly put, if the School prioritized money to use for financial aid, there is no doubt that City and Country could have regained some of the socioeconomic diversity it had before the early 1980s. This, of course, is only the case in a time when the school is financially sound. Until then, it is crucial that discussions about social issues our community faces continue to be held, and that people realize that even having the space and time to speak about such problems is in itself a privilege.