Hilltop schools hurt by death at Dalton


By Kate Pastor

A Dalton student jumped to his death from the school’s Manhattan building last week, raising concern at schools throughout the city.

There was no panic over the prospect of copycat attempts at local private schools, no heightened security when the news broke that 17-year-old Theodore Graubard committed suicide on Feb. 18. But all three hilltop schools — Horace Mann, Riverdale Country School and the Ethical Culture Fieldston School — were filled with sadness and confusion.

Many of Riverdale's prep students come from Manhattan and their lives tend to be intertwined with those of their counterparts in schools there. Students often go to camp together in the summer, worship at the same religious institutions or have siblings in each other's schools.

“There were a dozen Riverdale families who felt some close connection,” said Kent Kildahl, Riverdale Country School Upper School’s headmaster.

Teacher Mike Sclafani taught at Dalton for a about a decade before moving to Riverdale Country School and he, along with a handful of students, attended the funeral services on Feb. 20.

On Feb. 18, Riverdale Country School sent a letter to families explaining what happened, expressing sympathy and asking families to be mindful of the fact that their children may need to talk. The next day, the middle school held a special assembly where school administrators talked about the inexplicable nature of teen suicide and urged students not to ruminate about it alone. They reiterated the availability not only of guidance counselors but also of any adult on campus with whom students might feel comfortable talking.

The upper school then held an assembly on Feb. 20, an opportunity for students and teachers to express sadness and a sense of solidarity with the Manhattan school.

Fieldston School was closed to students on Wednesday because of a professional development day. Administrators there also sent an e-mail message both to faculty and families that provided the bare-bone facts they had and asked the adults to be available for students who needed to talk.

Horace Mann decided not hold a special assembly or memorial service.

“We made a conscious decision to not interrupt their normal routine,” said Headmaster Dr. Thomas Kelly.

Still, he said his school, too, was smarting from the loss.

“Anytime there’s a tragedy at one [Ivy League] school it’s felt by all other schools in the league,” he said, adding, “It’s a very unique culture of shared experience.”