updated 9/18/2006 11:49:17 AM ET 2006-09-18T15:49:17

The British are coming, the British are coming — to school in Manhattan.

About 50 grade-school students arrived this week for classes at the new British International School of New York, the city’s only school centered on Britain’s national curriculum.

Dressed in red and gray uniforms, some of the children clung to their parents while others fearlessly marched into the building on a dreary, rainy day reminiscent of the weather in England.

Nine-year-old Max Bloch, who hails from Brighton, England, seemed unfazed by the first day of school and said he was looking forward to “math, literacy, whatever we do.”

The curriculum at the school differs from traditional American approaches in several ways, said the school’s headmaster, David Morse.

Brtitish food and spellings
There will be far greater emphasis on world history and geography. English classes will tackle well-known British authors. Spelling will be in British style — “colour” instead of “color” — and sports will include a children’s version of cricket, among other popular British pastimes.

The food, meanwhile, will include some British favorites but also meals from other cultures.

A handful of major U.S. cities — including Boston, Chicago and Washington — already have British schools, making New York something of an anomaly for lacking one, school officials said. The tuition is $26,000 a year, fairly routine for New York private schools.

Morse said the school’s approach fits nicely among international private schools worldwide, making it easy for children to transfer if they leave the country. That was one reason Hans Wright, a credit analyst who recently moved to New York from London, enrolled his daughters, 4-year-old Mabel and 6-year-old Rosie.

“The fact that it’s a brand new school is quite attractive really because it doesn’t have any baggage,” said Wright, 36. “It makes my girls feel more included in what’s going on.”

When asked what his daughter was looking forward to, Mabel said Thursday morning: “Homework.”

‘Do your best’
During an opening session, Morse told the students about Grigory Perelman, the reclusive Russian mathematician who solved the Poincare Conjecture, and asked them what they thought he had won. (“A lollipop?” “A trophy?”)

Then, he described how Perelman has shunned the Fields Medal as well as prize money because he claimed it was enough reward to simply solve the puzzle. “All I want you to take out from today is, one, be a risk taker,” Morse said. “And two, do your best. And that’s all we can ask of you.”

The school has attracted many expatriate British families. However, about half of enrollees’ parents are New Yorkers, though many have some connection to England.

“Children are encouraged to be global citizens” by the curriculum, Morse said. “I think that’s one of the reasons it has appeal to a large number of New York parents, this idea of being citizens of the world.”

Elements of U.S. schools
America will not be completely shut-out of the school’s curriculum. Morse wants to emphasize the creative elements in U.S. schools — in the arts, for instance — and said there would a greater push for parental involvement than in regular British schools.

Located in a window-filled, airy building next to the East River, the private school has been nearly two years in the making. The privately owned, for-profit school now offers pre-kindergarten through the fourth grade (years “reception” through five in British parlance) but it may eventually offer up to eighth grade.

School officials declined to disclose a specific start-up cost but said it was more than $1 million.

The school, which also uses the prestigious International Baccalaureate curriculum, has a capacity of 200 students, but its leaders say they may try to expand in the future.

Amanda Uhry, who runs Manhattan Private School Advisors, gave the school credit just for opening, noting how hard it is to launch a private school in Manhattan because of the high cost of real estate.

“The buzz on the school has been excellent so far, but again it’s really difficult to judge a school until it’s been open for about five years,” Uhry said.

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