Manhattan has the largest population density of any city in the US, and its K-12 schools serve more than 1 million students.
Yet, there is only one boarding school on the entire island: Léman Manhattan Preparatory School.
Léman is an elite private school located in the southernmost part of the city. It educates more than 700 students in grades pre-kindergarten through 12, and is home to about 100 students who board from all over the world.
Its price tag for tuition, room, and board is more than $A100,000 a year, nearly $A21,000 more than Harvard. And boarding students enjoy perks likely unheard of even at the collegiate level, like full-service concierge and luxury apartment buildings.
So when Léman invited Business Insider to take a tour of the school, we jumped at the opportunity to see just how unique the facilities and course offerings really are. Paige Murphy, the director of admissions at Léman, was our tour guide for the day.
Here’s what it’s like to attend Léman as a high school boarding student.
We arrived in the Financial District of New York City on a sunny February day to start our tour of Léman and its surrounding neighbourhood. The first thing we saw was popular tourist attraction Charging Bull, the 7,000 pound bronze sculpture and Wall Street icon.
Turning the corner, we found the Léman entrance on the quieter Morris Street. Léman opened its doors in 2005 starting with just 54 students. Twelve years later it has more than 700 students, about 100 of whom are boarders.
'You think of the American boarding school experience and you think more New England, rural, fields, not in the heart of the biggest capital city and financial center of the world,' head of admissions Paige Murphy said.
Rural it is not. The Financial District (FiDi) is a bustling part of the city, especially during work hours. Goldman Sachs, The New York Stock Exchange, and Deutsche Bank are just some of the financial companies with offices in FiDi.
Murphy said students and families attracted to Léman tend to be those who want an urban environment and access to business internships and the city's top arts programs, that the school can help provide.
'It's really competitive for university admissions. A lot of the top tier schools, the Ivy Leagues, are looking for squash players,' Murphy continued. Léman currently has three students nationally ranked in the top 50 for junior squash players.
We moved on to the competition-sized pool and electronic scoreboard, where we were briefed on some of the maritime history in Léman's neighbourhood.
Before Battery Park was made, ships used to dock where the building is now located. It's part of the reason all students at Léman have a swimming requirement. 'We're on an island, right?' athletic director Keith Sequeira said. 'You should learn how to swim.'
The school rents out some of its facilities after school hours. One of the qualities Léman most appreciates about its location in FiDi is the extent to which it's able to engage with the outside community.
As is a hallmark of life as a New Yorker, we noticed the school feels more vertical than horizontal. Léman has seven floors in the building.
We walked into Mr. Ryan John's digital music class, which is a newer offering for students. In the class students learn how to use GarageBand to create things like remixes and mashups.
Students were building a bridge and a chorus of a song due the following week, John, a classically trained music teacher who went to Westminster Choir College, explained. The irony that one of his classes is an app-based music course doesn't escape him. 'That program makes all of the information I got degrees in less relevant,' he laughed.
Administrators at Léman feel that classes like this digital music class is vital to preparing kids for future, and allowing them to be artists in a nontraditional ways, if they so choose.
'This is one of the places Léman feels it provides more options,' Murphy said. 'We don't have 150 years of history which we think is liberating because it allows us to push through a proposal with relative ease. It's good for kids.'
Léman aims to offer students broad options when choosing electives. Film studies, acting studio, and creative writing courses are just a few of the options.
We passed through another art class and learned from Murphy about some of the other requirements at Léman. All students must have proficiency in two languages other than their mother tongue.
There are certainly some perks to living in a city often called the cultural capital of America.
Léman has an artist in residence program, for example, which recruits a New York artist to live in the school's dorms and work with students to better connect students with a real-life artist.
The school has also had Broadway performers or choreographers provide lessons or give support to students in the musical.
We learned that boarding students are required to eat meals in the cafeteria on Wednesdays. Other days, they can eat elsewhere in the neighbourhood, though many still choose to eat their meals in the cafeteria on those days too.
During a free period, students prepped for the following day's news broadcasting program. The program is posted to a YouTube channel daily and all classes show the program at the same time.
During a free period, students can use their time as they choose. Some come to do extra schoolwork in the library.
The administrators at Léman are liberal with restrictions, intending to develop mature and responsible students.
Atypical to most schools, starting in the second grade, students join parent-teacher conferences so they feel a sense of accountability in their education.
Instead, when teachers indicated it was time to switch classrooms, students left the room in an orderly manner. It felt much more civilized a process than our memories from high school, and Léman students' voices never raised above a low din.
We met the school's 6th through 12th grade principal Robert Stefano, who comes from a long career in international education, working at schools in Europe as well as at International Baccalaureate schools in the US.
Most students didn't seem to use combination locks on their lockers. Murphy attributed this to the strong sense of community and trust between Léman students.
Pava is in the 11th grade and it's his second year at the school. He knew he wanted to experience schooling outside of Colombia, and settled on Léman after considering schools in Miami and on the West Coast.
For Pava, the decision was easy.
'It's New York. It's the center of the contemporary world,' he said. 'I have so many things to do here; I go out to museums, Broadway shows, operas, the philharmonic, and the ballet.'
Pava and his classmates were working quietly on their research projects. Pava's is on the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. When he finishes up with class he offers to show us his dorm room.
We walk by Federal Hall, passing Bobby Van's Steakhouse on the way. Curious as to where students like to dine when they don't want to eat at the cafeteria, I asked Pava his favourite restaurant in the area. 'Oh, you'll see it,' he said.
But Pava's favourite place to eat wasn't inside its walls. Instead, he pointed right next to it: Neapolitan Pizza. 'I can wake up anytime, cross the street, and eat pizza,' he said. Spoken like a true New Yorker.
The Léman dorms are adjacent to a Tiffany's, and other high-end stores, like Hermès, are also close in proximity.
We entered the luxury residential building where Léman boarding students live. These students live side-by-side with other New Yorkers. Murphy said this decision was intentional so that students learn life skills, like understanding how to be a good neighbour.
We took the elevator up, but before we could see Pava's room, he checked in with the residential life team, something he must do every day after school.
Living as a boarding student in Manhattan offers many advantages, but there are also unique challenges to 14- to 18-year-olds living in the city without parental supervision. The school says it takes very seriously the safety of its students, but still endeavours to give them a wide enough berth that they can discover the city on their own.
Students check in with a member of the residential life team everyday, who logs information about whether they are in dorms or off campus into an online system. Parents can remotely access this information so that they know where their children are at all times.
We learned that perks of boarding at Léman include laundry and cleaning services that take care of those chores for students. In addition, the concierge service helps set up appointments, flights, and travel from airports for students.
There are no singles, so students live in rooms of two, three, or four.
Pava said that in the beginning, it was hard getting used to sharing the relatively small space with roommates.
Even though these are luxury apartment buildings, it's still New York real estate, which means space is usually limited.
But Pava said this year he is much more used to the setup and likes living with his roommates, who are from Russia and Nigeria. 'It's pretty cool,' he said.
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