This is a truly unique school where the project-based approach is a collaborative method to learning that actively builds relationships among peers and with faculty members. The environment is very warm and nurturing, but still centered on making the children actively think about coursework, activities, and exploring ideas.
I encourage all parents to be skeptical about the selection bias that goes into these reviews. The administration at Duke School has recently changed with a very negative impact on the study experience. Ask serious questions if you are applying this year.
Duke School is everything that I could hope for in a primary school for my two kids. I have been a Duke School parent for 6 years and can unequivocally say that it is a fantastic learning environment for kids. I have no concerns/complaints about the school at all. Initially I was concerned about possible elitism at a private school (having done my undergraduate work at Duke University). This does not exist at Duke School. There are also NO drugs, concerns about boy-girl interaction, or cliquish behavior. Duke School benefits from graduating its kids at the 8th grade level, and while at first I thought this would be a drawback, it has turned out to be the opposite. By not having high school kids around the younger kids, there is not the older kid influence on the middle schoolers. I would not change a thing about Duke School and would recommend it to anyone without reservation.
We have been very happy since transitioning our two children to Duke School. Our son was under the radar at his previous school. We assumed this was because he was well-behaved and had no problems with his schoolwork. Since joining Duke School, his teachers have engaged him, challenging him to improve his work and ask thoughtful questions. Good enough is not enough. We made the transition primarily because of our son. But, within the first several weeks at Duke School, it was clear that our daughter was benefiting greatly. She made a lot of friends and her teachers were dynamic and caring. The curriculum integrates technology with didactic learning, and the project-based work allows the children to be creative and take 'deep dives' into various subjects. it is evident that the teachers put in a tremendous amount of work to help each child execute their vision with the projects.
Individualized instruction for kids, especially gifted/high performing kids, fabulous, in-depth project work that engages kids and teaches them 21st century skills, caring, tight knit community, safe, beautiful campus. The teachers are warm and caring and the teacher to student ratio is the best around. By middle school, kids are independent learners who care about the world around them and each other. Virtually no bullying, fights, drugs, etc. at all at this school!
coming up on our 3rd year with Duke School. PRO's: challenging curriculum. lots of extracurricular activities, real life projects. However, seems like we see a few kids go in the lower school classes each yr. Not a school really geared towards "individual" child. If you don't fit the Duke School Learner mold...you suddenly feel like u are under the microscope. Close monitoring of student progress is a plus but it often feels more political, financial, weed out based than on the actual growth of the student. Campus is sterile looking and less community feel compared to previous campus. Can seem elitist but we have still met some very nice individuals. not much room for informal talks with teachers unless pre arranged face to face or you are there volunteering for lunch coverage. Director seems aloof and with chain of communication instructions, you might have little to no interaction with her. Overall good school but does not value uniqueness.
Education/communication practices are outdated and inflexible, and decisions are made about individual children without engaging parents. Groupthink resulted in poor decisions for our child, who was labeled in ways shown to be incorrect after evaluation. Badly managed project-based learning fosters cliques. I questioned whether the children on the inside of the cliques were gaining valuable life skills as we watched our child react to being excluded. We asked an administrator for help, but her only response was to ask us what our plans were for next year. Our child received less attention after we did not renew our contract. We heard through several educator/psychologist/parent sources that DS is less flexible with meeting the needs of individual children than many other private schools in the area. Our child's behavior and overall progress improved immediately and dramatically at a new school with a better social environment and more diverse student body.
Duke School has a unique ability to engage children in learning unlike any school I have seen. The curriculum is demanding yet made exciting and engaging by the caring and exceptional teachers. This is a revolutionary school and the way it should be everywhere. My children have learned to love learning.
My nieces have gone through Duke School from preschool into the Middle School. They always wake up wanting to go to school. They are inspired to love learning and have a fascination with the world here. The project-oriented learning allows them to study interesting topics in depth. They have been doing this with increasing skill from preschool on up. They become experts on a multitude of topics like aerodynamics, African tribes, Colonial healing, native plants, and so much more. In addition to reading and writing about topics, they directly observe things, experiment with them, act them out, build models to scale, collect data to graph and analyze the data mathematically. They learn to solve complex problems, and to work collaboratively with peers. As they gain expertise on a topic, the students learn to share their knowledge with others through factual and fictional writing, to represent their learning through 3D models, varied types of art work, museum-style displays, drama, computer simulation, and multi-media presentations. I ve learned almost as much from them as they have.