St. Bernard's School

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St. Bernard's School
St. Bernard's School (shield).jpg
Motto Perge sed caute
(Proceed, but with caution)
Established 1904
Type Independent, secular, all-male
Headmaster Stuart H. Johnson, III
Students 372 Boys
Grades K-9
Location 4 E. 98th Street,
New York City, New York, United States
Campus Urban
Colors red and white
Mascot St. Bernard (dog)
Yearbook The Keg

St. Bernard's School, founded in 1904 by John Card Jenkins,[1] is a private all-male elementary school on Manhattan's Upper East Side. St. Bernard's offers motivated young boys of diverse backgrounds an exceptionally thorough, rigorous, and enjoyable introduction to learning and community life. The school "aims to inspire boys to appreciate hard work and fair play, to develop confidence in themselves, consideration for others and a sense of citizenship, and to have fun while doing these things."[1] St. Bernard's educates boys from grades K-9, and is seen by its students, faculty and friends as a bastion of old-fashioned values (in terms of education and teaching methods), which are often very British in tone.

St. Bernard's alumni, known as Old Boys, earn admission to a wide range of the finest secondary schools in the United States and the United Kingdom, both day and boarding. The schools attended with greatest frequency include Andover, Collegiate, Deerfield, Exeter, Groton, Horace Mann, Lawrenceville, Loyola, Regis, St. Paul's, Stuyvesant, and Trinity.[1] There have also been a number of students who go on to English boarding schools, which can be attributed to both the high number of students with English parents and the overall Anglophilia of the school.

The school shield depicts an eagle (representing the United States of America), a lion (representing Great Britain), a book (symbol of education), and a cross (representing a tradition of Christianity)

Although the school's name is spelled (though not pronounced) the same as that of the breed of dog, which is also its mascot, it was in fact named for the rue St-Bernard in Brussels, Belgium, where a relative of one of St. Bernard's founders had also founded a school.

The school's yearbook is named the Keg, and is edited each year by Grade 9.

The schools has three divisions: the Lower School consists of grades K through 3, the Middle School grades 4 through 6, and the Upper School grades 7 through 9. Mondays through Thursdays, boys in the Lower School must wear St. Bernard's polo shirts (polo shirts with the school shield emblazoned upon the chest) in either red, white, or blue, khakis, and a blazer. Boys in the Middle and Upper Schools must wear a polo or oxford shirt, accompanied by khakis and blazers as well. On Fridays, all boys wear jackets and ties (with the exception of the Kindergarteners).

Many team sports are played at the school, including soccer, basketball, lacrosse, baseball, and track. Fencing has recently been re-introduced after a long hiatus. Furthermore, sports such as bombardment (a form of dodgeball) and capture the flag are played in gym class.

The school has an unusually high endowment for an institution of its nature, and its Development Office continues to be the envy of most other New York City private schools; Old Boys tend to possess an enormous sense of gratitude towards the school and hence are ready to support it financially. The tuition is currently $40,680.[1]

The current headmaster of the school is Stuart H. Johnson III (born August 14, 1954). A graduate of Yale University, he previously taught at St. Bernard's, and at Groton School, before becoming headmaster in 1985.


St. Bernard's is home to a number of traditions. The most noteworthy (and oldest) of these is the annual Shakespeare Play, performed by the entire eighth grade. Other important traditions include:

  • The Budget - a biannual student-edited literature magazine with poems, essays, compositions and photographs of artwork of boys from every grade.
  • The Keg- the school's yearbook edited by the ninth grade with pictures taken by Peg Caldwell Ott.
  • Friday Assembly - each Friday, the entire school gathers in the small gym, during which sports scores are announced, school news is related, the Alligator is given away, one homeroom performs a play, and hymns and school songs are sung. By the end of the academic year, each homeroom will have performed once at Friday Assembly. This tradition teaches boys to be comfortable speaking in public from an early age.
  • The Alligator - At each Friday assembly, a taxidermal baby alligator is presented to the neatest classroom by the class which held it the previous week. This ceremony usually involves an elaborate skit.
  • School Songs - a number of school songs, most of them written by one of the school's founders, and collected in a beloved "Red Song Book" are sung regularly. The songs vary from descriptions of life in each of the school's divisions ("The Lower School Song", "The Middle School Song", "The Upper School Song") to an exemplification of values the school deems important ("The Sportsmanship Song"), to a celebration of some of the sports played at the school ("The Baseball Song", "The Football Song"—which refers not to American football, but rather soccer.)
  • Sports Day - once a year, the entire school gathers in Central Park to engage in a fun day of athletic competitions, sports games and races. The day used to include events that have subsequently been canceled as they are no longer appropriate in 21st century America (e.g. a chauffeur's race) and which indicate the historic socio-economic status of St. Bernard's families, which has remained largely unchanged.
  • The Debate Society - the entire eighth grade engages in an Oxford Union / Lincoln-Douglas style debate once every other week during the second semester of the year. Topics range from questions of national interest such as the legalization of marijuana to those of more local interest, such as the abolishment of the school's dress code.
  • Christmas Carols - on the last day of classes before the Christmas Recess, the entire school gathers at a church on Madison Avenue (the location sometimes varies from year to year) to sing a number of traditional Christmas carols. Students, faculty and friends of the school tend to participate regardless of religious affiliation, as the event's major purpose is to celebrate the values of Christmas (and, by extension, unity as a school) rather than specific Christian events. Historically, however, most of the school's students have nevertheless been Christian, although the number of students of different religions is on the rise.
  • The Singers & Chamber Singers - there are two boys' choirs, the Singers and the Chamber Singers, both of which are selective in terms of admission. The Chamber Singers have performed at Carnegie Hall and some boys have sung children's roles at the Metropolitan Opera. The group of singers from the 7th through 9th grades is called the Glee Club.
  • "Britishness" - the school has a British tone and feel to it, and historically many of its faculty have been (and continue to be) British. This aspect of the school is accompanied by a respect for old-fashioned methods of education. In fact, St. Bernard's now has a short exchange with The Dragon School in Oxford, a prestigious English prep school. Students are often called lad; the school is very proper.
  • The Raffle - every year the school has a raffle, often with over one hundred prizes. It is organized by several St. Bernard's parents and members of the faculty. At the end of a three week or so span, the prizes are drawn, and the class with the most tickets sold will win a trip to a New York Yankees' baseball game. There are other prizes for classes that sell a lot of tickets. Many of the prizes are provided by St. Bernard's parents who might work in the business of the prize. This event is enjoyed by many "St. Bernard's Boys."
  • The Shakespeare play - every year the eighth grade performs a different Shakespeare play for which they rehearse for much of the school year.
  • Grammar - the school is very particular when concerning English grammar. They take exams for it and receive a grade on their report cards. This gives them not just a foundation, but rather a mastery of the English language. One example of its importance in the life at St. B's would be the Oxford Comma, which, as the school sees it, is most certainly required.

Notable alumni[edit]

References in popular culture[edit]

The film Prince of the City referenced the school as the alma mater of one of the prosecutors charged with investigating police corruption. The film's cop protagonist remarks, "St. Bernard's. That's in the 2-3, that's, uh, little blond boys in blazers, right?"

In Season 2, Episode 13 ("The Whole Truth") of Lie To Me, Victor Musso, best friend and business partner of the deceased victim, takes to the stand to say, "We've been best friends since we were ten at St. Bernard's."

In 1936, James Merrill played the First Herald ("a small part...but an important one") in St. Bernard's production of Richard II. Merrill recalled the experience in his 1985 poem "The School Play":

. . . that flushed, far-reaching hour came back
Months of rehearsal in the gymnasium
Had led to: when the skinny nobodies
Who'd memorized the verse and learned to speak it
Emerged in beards and hose (or gowns and rouge)
Vivid with character, having put themselves
All unsuspecting into the masters' hands.[2]


  1. ^ a b c d - the school's website
  2. ^ Merrill, James. Collected Poems. New York: Knopf, 2001, p. 422. Originally published in Late Settings, New York: Atheneum, 1985. Merrill's 1986 reading of "The School Play" is available for MP3 download.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°47′19.6″N 73°57′15.17″W / 40.788778°N 73.9542139°W / 40.788778; -73.9542139