Boys’ Life
At Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart, boys learn in a supportive atmosphere designed to foster values and independent thinking
by Leigh Stuart

Princeton Academy, an outstanding institute for boys in junior kindergarten through eighth grade, is poised to do great things in the coming school year. With the addition of a number of stellar new administrators, including Alfred “Rik” F. Dugan III, the newly appointed headmaster who started July 1, and a continuing focus on Sacred Heart values, the 2015-2016 school year is sure to be a bright one at Princeton Academy.

One of the fundamental elements of a Princeton Academy education, and what sets it apart from many other private schools for children of the same ages, is the school’s emphasis on Sacred Heart values and the mission to “educate to personal growth in an atmosphere of wise freedom,” as Dugan says.

“What makes us unique is the all-boys Sacred Heart education,” says Fred McGaughan, director of admissions. “The Sacred Heart goals are posted in every classroom. The boys know them backwards and forwards, our admissions conversations point toward those, and class meetings are a constant reminder that being a Sacred Heart student means something more than just getting good grades.”

Though still relatively new to the campus, Dugan says he has seen the Sacred Heart values in action firsthand.

“When I was touring the campus as a candidate … I asked a young man what it meant to go to Princeton Academy, to be part of a Sacred Heart school,” he recalls. “The young man said he was ‘learning how to be a gentleman’ and said, ‘When I shake someone’s hand and look them in the eye, I always think of the other person before I think of myself.’

“That’s the mission in action,” Dugan continues. “Our school develops creative, compassionate, courageous young men.”

Paris McLean, the head of the lower school, is another new addition to the Princeton Academy family. He already understands the importance of instilling the Sacred Heart values in students.

“Sacred Heart and the five goals are ones that have stood the test of time,” McLean says. “They’ve continued to be pillars and staples in individuals’ lives here. When I think about those five words—faith, respect, awareness, community and growth—I feel great about the school because I know we’re doing the right thing and we’re preparing young men to be productive people.”

Princeton Academy’s drive to immerse students in a values-based learning environment is matched by the school’s commitment to providing a superior education that caters to the unique ways in which boys learn.

Dugan explains that Princeton Academy’s missions of fostering and developing character, as well as the research-based pedagogic focus on what’s best for boys, are what truly set the school apart. “I believe in the power of these fundamental years,” Dugan says, “and the mission here is just loud and clear.”

“Current research out there is in support of the notion that boys, especially boys in pre-K through grade eight, thrive in a single-sex environment because developmentally, both physically and mentally, they’re on a different path than girls are,” McGaughan adds. “They certainly require more hands-on activity.”

Classes at Princeton Academy are specially geared toward research-based methods regarding how boys learn. Kathy Humora, who is the head of the middle school, as well as a teacher, applies this methodology when crafting lessons for her science classes. For one lesson, for example, boys experiment with the non-Newtonian substance called “ooblek,” which has both liquid and solid properties, to utilize hands-on learning.

Kinesthetic learning opportunities can be found throughout the day at Princeton Academy. “Research shows that boys need to be comfortable in their space but also have freedom to move around the space, within boundaries,” says Dugan, who notes that students begin each day with a run around the sprawling and bucolic campus, which comprises nearly 50 acres, including grasslands for exploration in science classes and vintage Princetonian buildings. “It’s very much a part of their day, to put them in the proper place and space to come into the classroom and learn,” he says.

Interdisciplinary teaching also abounds, as subjects and skills emphasized in one classroom often carry over into numerous other areas of the boys’ studies.

“Whether it is building trebuchets in social studies, composing an original music composition in general music, carrying out a real-world application in math, investigating a murder mystery in science, creating an animal sculpture in art and, of course, working on communication skills in Spanish by acting out the vocabulary, you see movement, action, connections, guidelines, competition, exploration, and much more,” Humora says. “You see these key foundations at work, you see these key foundations crisscross throughout the classrooms, and you see these key foundations fuse as they work together to provide boys the best possible learning environment.” 

As McLean explains, classrooms are hands-on constructivist environments, meaning students don’t simply open textbooks and memorize the words within them. Also, laptops, smartboards and other forms of technology play a vital role in creating an experiential learning environment for Princeton Academy boys.

Another factor that sets Princeton Academy apart is its staff, all of whom are deeply committed to staying up to date on the latest research in education.

“Our school is small enough that the teachers get to know the students as individuals,” Dugan says. “Each boy is unique, different, and our teachers take great pride in relational learning.”

“The teachers here know these boys as individuals and as learners,” adds Humora. “Each boy is on a separate journey, and a school with good teachers really knows how to help students make that journey.”

Princeton Academy is poised to forge into the 2015-2016 school year by starting a new era in the school’s nearly 20-year history.

“We are writing a new chapter, but we’re still writing the same novel,” McLean says. “It’s about leaning on the past to help envision the future, and the future is exceedingly bright here.”

As Dugan says, “When parents dream of their son’s ideal educational experience, we want to be part of their journey and invite them to discover Princeton Academy, where each boy soars with joy.”

Princeton Academy’s focus on the whole child—an approach that places emphasis on the development of mind, body and spirit, equally—ensures the school’s graduates will be leaders in the arts, sciences, athletics and beyond, tomorrow and for years to come.

Princeton Academy
1128 Great Road
Princeton, NJ 08540

Photograph by Alison Dunlap