Edward Pulling and his wife, Lucy, founded the Millbrook School more than 80 years ago with the idea of developing intelligent, socially responsible young adults. To that end they devised the school’s motto, “Non Sibi Sed Cunctis”: “not for oneself but for all.” Today that idea of giving back to the community through stewardship and service is integrated into all aspects of school life. “All” includes not just humans but all living creatures. Millbrook is the only school with a zoo as a key part of its program.
The Pullings’ dream is being carried on today by the current headmaster, Drew Casertano. “Leading an institution with such a meaningful and important mission—to help students to develop their ‘best selves’ in ways that ‘serve the common good’ is such a privilege,” he says.
The Flagler Chapel is a focal point of the school
Casertano stresses that “every student is needed … they all play a meaningful role in the life of the school.” Incoming students are chosen for their desire to connect and contribute as well as for their academic abilities. Once there they are encouraged to explore their talents and interests in order to discover their best selves and contribute to the well-being of others." Integrity is stressed.
Less than 100 miles from Manhattan, Millbrook’s 800-acre campus of rolling hills, forests and wetlands lies in the middle of one of the more beautiful parts of this country. Little wonder that the natural world is cherished. Today many of the buildings have geothermal heating and cooling systems. To fulfill its recent goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2020, the school has installed a 7-acre solar photovoltaic power field that will reduce the school’s greenhouse-gas emissions by 30 percent.
The Millbrook Campus
Millbrook goes out of its way to foster diversity, whether racial, ethnic, cultural or religious. Students come from 22 states and 17 countries, including Ghana, Germany and China. Each of the 44 day students has a bed in one of the dorms where they can spend the night. This allows them to be a part of programs in the evening.
Millbrook has an impressive array of programs, both scholastic and athletic. Their 36 teams in 12 different sports play in (or on) mostly new facilities. This year senior Edward Opoku, from Ghana, was the most sought-after soccer player by colleges. (He has chosen to go to UVA.) Millbrook’s best hockey player is verbally committed to Harvard. Lacrosse players are being recruited by Princeton.
Edward Opoku show the skill that made him the most sought after soccer player by colleges in this country
Academically, classrooms are set up to foster conversation and participation. Every student is expected to contribute. Several special programs are worth mentioning.
In the second semester, Intercession provides a week of learning outside the classroom. Students divided into groups of eight to ten study issues including hunger, homelessness, veteran services, and human rights. Each program comprises three parts: education in the issue, outreach and reflection. At the end of the week, each of the groups shares their conclusions with the rest of the school.
Another unique program is the Culminating Experience for Seniors (CES). In the autumn seniors chose a subject on which they will spend 15 hours a week for the balance of the year, researching, developing and refining a presentation to the faculty and the student body. The scope of the projects is imaginative and impressive. Last year John Norfleet designed and installed a webcam 90 feet above the Trevor Zoo to record the activities of two Great Blue Herons as they mated, nested, laid their eggs and cared for their young until they fledged. The video that played on the school’s website garnered a large following.
For his CES project George DeWitt turned an old truck into an electric vehicle
Millbrook’s arts program is exceptional. The visual arts as well as the performing arts are housed together in the Holbrook Arts Center to allow for cross-pollination among disciplines. An especially interesting program—conceived by Bill Hardy, former head of the art department, was designed for seniors in the advanced art history program. The students choose one artist to study in depth in the course of the year. Shortly before graduation they curate an exhibition of the artist’s work, write the didactics, and act as docents. The talk they give visitors serves as their final exam. Past artists include Gordon Parks, Willem de Kooning and Frank Lloyd Wright. This year’s artist is the photographer Alex Soth.
One of the more distinguishing aspects of the school is its emphasis on community service, based on school’s motto, “Non Sibi Sed Cunctis.” Each incoming freshman is required to rotate through the three main community service requirements: recycling, the community garden and the Trevor Zoo. Upper classmen must devote half an hour four times a week to one of the community projects.
The community garden had its origins in the 1940s when a group known as the “farm squad” reclaimed 12 acres of overgrown farmland and planted oats and potatoes. In 2008 the idea of a community garden was revived when two seniors, as part of their CES project, built raised beds. In 2012 working in the garden became one of the community service requirements. Thanks to a 2013 grant from the Edward Ford Foundation, a hoop house was built. Eventually the gardens might provide much of the fresh produce for the dining hall.
IV formers Will Conte, Melanie Carr, and Jasmine Thatcher. and Tahrieq Koonce standing plant seedlings in the community garden
The Trevor Zoo is probably the most popular part of community service—and why many students choose to come to Millbrook. One of only 216 [k1]zoos in the United States accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Trevor Zoo houses more than 80 different species, seven of them endangered. Four years ago working at the zoo became a compulsory part of incoming students’ community service; since then the number of “zooies” as they are called, has almost doubled.
Trevor Zoo director, Alan Tousignant, works to integrate the zoo's resources with the rest of the academic programs
Each term students are assigned a different animal to look after twice a day. Almost everyone agrees that the most important thing they learn is the sense of responsibility that comes from taking care of a living creature. Since endangered red panda pups were born last spring, a video camera allows people to follow their progress on the school’s website. After the live stream was recently picked up by the Washington Post, the Guardian and the Times website, it went viral, seen by an every growing number of people in this country as well as abroad.
Endangered red pandas, Hope and Mowmow, were born at the Trevor Zoo in June 2014
Much of the credit for what Millbrook is today belongs to headmaster Drew Casertano. In the course of his 25 years at Millbrook, the enrollment has increased from 150 students to 300. At the same time, the endowment has grown from a little over $6 million to well over $30 million today. The goal is $65 million by 2017.
Thanks to its capital campaign, under the leadership of Robert Anthony and Nancy Stahl, Millbrook has been able to renovate the old barn into a student center, build the West Dorm for girls, add new squash courts and make improvements to existing buildings. Seven million of the $9.5 million needed for the new dining hall has already been raised.
Casertano was largely responsible for the most recent donation (and the largest single donation in the school’s history): a $5 million gift by Frederic C. Hamilton ’45. In presenting the gift, Hamilton said, “I’ve said to Drew, ‘What’s your tenure?’ And he’s said that he’s there for the long pull. And if Drew’s going to stay, I thought, then I’ll do this.”
In the 25 years he has led the Millbrook School, Casertano says he is proudest of having restored the alumni’s pride in the school. Today every returning graduate tells him, “You have kept the very best of the school while moving it into the 21st century.”