York Prep School's 40th Anniversary Celebration Evokes Memories for Alumni, Teachers and Founders

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York Prep, a private co-educational college in Manhattan, is celebrating 40 years of scholastic excellence. Founded to provide structured, compassionate, and academically challenging schooling, York Prep has grown to become one of the most highly regarded of all New York private schools.

Some faces were instantly recognizable.

The past, present, and future of York Prep School came together during a decade-spanning 40th anniversary reunion on Saturday afternoon, September 27, 2008. More than 300 alumni and teachers of this prestigious Manhattan private school joined founders Ronald and Jayme Stewart in the gymnasium, chatted animatedly with long-lost peers while savoring gourmet hors d'oeuvres, and unconsciously tapped their feet to tunes from the '70s to the present.

Over 20% of total graduates shared in the festivities, with high representation from the classes of 1981 and 1990. All of the former students seized the opportunity to catch up with long-lost friends and classmates. Squeals of surprise and laughter resounded through the crowd as alumni recognized faces and summoned memories. "I was overwhelmed by the whole experience, seeing people I haven't seen in 25 years!" said Katherine Lucas, Class of '83.

Former students, unfamiliar with the West 68th Street building, were also encouraged to wander around the six floors, where large screens projected slides of candids from years past. Undoubtedly, anyone who graduated prior to 1997 could not help but comment favorably on the current spaciousness of the classrooms, hallways, and stairways as compared to the "cozy" quality of the townhouses on East 85th Street where York Prep had resided for 28 years.

Teachers and administrators enjoyed the opportunity to hear they had made a difference and to see that their students turned out well. "It was exciting to see so many people I hadn't seen in so many years," said Dr. Robert Reese, a 38-year veteran instructor. "Some faces were instantly recognizable."

Looking back fondly on the celebration a few days later, Lucas offered her profound appreciation to Stewart and the school. "I can't express the gratitude and sentiment I have for you, York Prep, and all the teachers who were instrumental in helping me become the person I am."
What is now a solid reality started with a young couple's dream. Having worked for a number of years together at Tripp Lake Camp in Maine, the Stewarts--he, a barrister; she, an English teacher--dreamed of educating students in the same close and personal manner they had learned from their camp experience. Their goal was to establish a structured, compassionate New York City private school that would stretch its students and enable them to achieve academic and personal success.

During the summer of 1969, the Stewarts simultaneously saw prospective parents and supervised the renovation of an abandoned building at 116 East 85th Street. York Prep opened its doors in September 1969 to 158 students. Several faculty and administration members hired in those initial years are still with the school today.

An opportunity to take over a building on West 68th Street presented itself in 1997. Although in a state of disrepair, the building's intrinsic majesty was apparent to the Stewarts. In just 16 weeks, the building was completely restored and expanded. Among the renovations, the floor of the auditorium was removed to make a modern gymnasium--a far cry from the early days when students were shuttled to a rented gym. York Prep opened its new stately doors in the fall of 1997 to 188 students.

Since its inception, York Prep has been a traditional private college-preparatory school with a dress code and structured classes. The school uses a system called "tracking," which places students in one of several ability groups available in every subject area. This allows students to work at an advanced pace through Honors courses, AP classes, and the Scholars Program, in subjects in which they excel, and at a moderate pace in those subjects where they need more guidance. Also, York Prep's Jump Start Program enables students with different learning styles to function successfully in an academically challenging mainstream setting. Study skills, test-taking skills, and organizational skills are key components of this supplemental program.
Currently, there are 340 students with a faculty and administration of more than 60 professionals at York, a New York preparatory school in the Lincoln Center area of Manhattan. Mrs. Stewart, director of college guidance and author of How to Get into the College of Your Choice, is widely known for her outstanding college guidance program. Mr. Stewart remains as the headmaster and teaches ethics to all seniors. Recently, the Stewarts' son-in-law, Chris Durnford, became York Prep's principal.

For more information about this esteemed Manhattan preparatory school, please visit http://www.yorkprep.org.

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Elizabeth Norton
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