A Brief History of Brown School
In 1893, 12 kindergarten students between the ages of eight and 11 nervously enter a brand new Brown School for their very first day of school. Dressed in their Lord Fauntelroy suits and ruffled dresses, they attend class in a white-washed home with a woodstove for heat and a wooden bucket for drinking water in the corner. Miss Helen “Nellie” Brown, the school’s founder and only teacher, greets them warmly at the front door.
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Nearly 120 years ago and with only 12 students, Brown School modestly began. The school was originally located in Helen Brown’s own home at 237 Liberty Street in the heart of downtown Schenectady, with two rooms serving as classrooms. Offered as an alternative to public schools, Brown School supported small class sizes and an individualized approach to learning that would foster self-confidence, intellectual curiosity, and a life-long love of learning. Brown School students would thus be well prepared for further studies, having received a solid foundation in fundamental subjects, as well as art, music, and foreign language.
Although Brown School’s mission has certainly remained consistent over the years, the school itself has evolved in size and scope, much like the city of Schenectady. Originally intended to serve the children of General Electric personnel, Brown School established strong ties with G.E. In 1904, as Brown School was quickly growing, a parcel of land, located in the G.E. Realty Plot, was donated to the school and a small building erected. As enrollment continued to increase, the home next door was also purchased to accommodate additional classes and an expanded faculty. It was here that Brown School truly began to lay the foundation for its program and its future.
Brown School thrived in the first quarter of the twentieth century and on into the 1930s, offering a co-ed lower school education and a high school program for young women. Student life bustled at 1184 Rugby Rd. Beyond the solid academics offered, students enjoyed a wide array of extracurricular activities including drama, glee club, bicycling, horseback riding, and in the winter, skiing and ice-skating. Students honed their writing skills in the pages of the school newspaper/literary journal, The Babbler.
In subsequent years, Brown School continued to evolve, growing and shrinking and then growing again. In the 1940s through the 1960s, the school’s program ended at the sixth grade. In the mid 1970s, Brown School became a primary school and low enrollment left the school’s future in question. The idea that turned the school around was offering before and after school care for children. At the time, this was a unique program and one that attracted families to the school helping to stabilize enrollment. In the early 1980s, parents began to urge the administration to expand to third grade. The school increased one grade per year up to fifth grade. Requiring additional space, the school moved to a former Niskayuna school, Van Antwerp Middle School, where it remained for eight years. In 1991, Niskayuna Schools reclaimed the property for its own use and Brown School returned to Rugby Road in Schenectady, where the school remained until 1996.
In the spring of 1996, members of the Board of Trustees found and purchased Brown School’s current campus at 150 Corlaer Avenue in Schenectady just in time for the start of the 1996-97 school year. Soon thereafter, at the urging of parents and after extensive market research, expansion to middle school began. Adding one grade per year, Brown School expanded to eighth grade in 1998 and graduated its first eighth-graders in 1999. The school hasn’t looked back since.
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More than a century after its founding, Brown School remains steadfast in its mission to inspire students in nursery through eighth grade to love learning while striving for academic excellence. Though laptops and LCD projectors may have replaced the woodstove and water bucket, Brown School’s commitment to children hasn’t changed much since 1893. Today, though our students come from over a dozen school districts, and from all walks of life, each continues to receive outstanding individualized instruction and guidance from qualified, caring teachers. For 120 years, Brown School has truly provided a unique independent school option for residents of the Capital Region.
We think that somewhere Nellie Brown must be smiling.