11/08/14 10:00am
11/08/2014 10:00 AM
Peconic Community School lower primary student Sawyer Harbin shows the Zimbabwe schoolchildren the doll he bought during a live video conference Friday morning as Tinashe Basa, a nonprofit director, watches on. (Credit: Paul Squire)

Peconic Community School lower primary student Sawyer Harbin shows the Zimbabwe schoolchildren the doll he bought during a live video conference Friday morning as Tinashe Basa, a nonprofit director, watches on. (Credit: Paul Squire)

“What do you do for fun?” the girl in Aquebogue asked.

“Do you have pets?” the boy in Zimbabwe asked.

“How big is your school?”

“Do you have a garden?”

These questions and more were answered Friday morning when a group of roughly 30 students at the Peconic Community School in Aquebogue met a group of Zimbabwe orphans through a live online video.

The meetup, coordinated by the nonprofit group ZimKids Orphan Trust, was the first time any of the students in Aquebogue had met kids from Africa, as well as the first time the Zimbabwe students had met someone outside their community. The school also hosted Dennis Gaboury, who founded the nonprofit, and its director — Tinashe Basa.

Mr. Gaboury said the video chat would help the young students here on the North Fork learn more about other cultures.

Mr. Basa, who joined the nonprofit group as a teenager, said he was excited to take part in the “culture [ex]change.”

Some of the students bought homemade dolls from Zimbabwe (those proceeds will go to the nonprofit) and played games with Mr. Basa, who told them about what life was like where he grew up.

ZimKids helps orphaned and abandoned children in Zimbabwe by providing schooling and vocational training. Mr. Basa himself was mistreated as a child, and nearly poisoned by some of his relatives who didn’t want to care for him.

“That whole time, it was a life lesson to know that there are kids out there going through the same thing,” he said. “I want to help them.”

psquire@timesreview.com

03/08/14 7:41am
03/08/2014 7:41 AM
Scott Chaskey reads to the Peconic Community School late last month. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Scott Chaskey reads to the Peconic Community School late last month. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Farmers aren’t always fixing their plows and attending out-of-state conferences over the winter.

Scott Chaskey, of Sag Harbor, paid a visit to the students of the Peconic Community School last month, reading to the students from his book, “Seedtime: On the History, Husbandry, Politics and Promise of Seeds.”

“Sharing arts and environmental programming is central to North Fork Education Initiative’s mission, and local poet and farmer Scott Chaskey’s body of work reflects this goal,” said Liz Casey, one of the school’s founders.

Mr. Chaskey was named farmer of the year in 2013 by the Northeast Organic Farming Association, according to a Sag Harbor Express article.

The school moved in July from downtown Riverhead to the classrooms that formerly held Our Redeemer Lutheran school on Main Road in Aquebogue.

10/12/13 10:00am
10/12/2013 10:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Early childhood education teacher Alison Aldredge leads her students as they act out growing from seeds to trees.

In a naturally lit area of the early childhood education classroom at Peconic Community School in Aquebogue last Friday, students learned about trees by becoming trees themselves.

“Follow me, seeds,” their teacher, Alison Aldredge, whispered as she tapped on a drum. “Come on seeds. Follow me around.”

Her students then tip-toed toward the class’s potted hibiscus tree.

“The seeds are beginning to find their spot in the ground,” Ms. Aldredge said as she motioned to the children to sit and crouch like little seeds. “Come, find a spot. Plant yourself low. It’s time to begin. Starting to grow. Get your roots so deep down.”

Ms. Aldredge then took out a rain stick instrument to dramatize another element of what makes plants rise from the ground.

“Send your roots really low,” she said with a smile as she shifted the rain stick back and forth. “Start to grow, grow and grow!”

The founders of the Peconic Community School are experiencing some growth of their own. The independent private school, in its second year, this fall enrolled 27 students, up from nine last year. The school, which started in a small space at the East End Arts property in downtown Riverhead, is now operating at the former elementary school at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Aquebogue.

The school was founded by three Southold parents who wanted their children and others to have the chance to learn in an environment that encourages cooperation and an understanding of the interconnectedness of art, science, nature and community. Tuition costs about $10,000 but the school offers a sliding-scale rate based on family income, she said. Fundraisers are held throughout the year to supplement tuition income.

The school’s co-executive directors, Liz Casey Searl and Kathryn Casey Quigley, sisters who founded the alternative school with fellow parent Patricia Eckardt, said they’re focused on creating themed curriculum that spans the school’s grades, from preschool to fifth.

And they get help from community partners such as Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, Group for the East End and Hallockville Museum Farm.

One example of how Peconic Community School teachers are collaborating this year comes in the form of lesson plans on trees.

As Ms. Aldredge’s students gave their best tree impersonations, she asked what kind of trees they were.

“I’m a big tree, what about you?” she asked as she stretched out her own arms. “Who feels like a silly walnut tree, dropping nuts all over the ground?”

A few students shouted “I do! I do!” as they transformed into walnuts and demonstrated how nuts plop to the ground.

Ms. Searl said the school’s new space is conducive to the holistic approach to learning, because each classroom has large windows, and natural vegetation surrounds the school.

As for the lesson plans, Ms. Aldredge’s students, ranging in age from 3 to 5 years, are focusing on how seeds become trees. Sharon Cook’s lower primary class of first- and second-graders is learning about different types of trees. Over in Colleen Hanley’s upper primary class, a combined class of grades three through five, students are learning how they can become environmental stewards by studying trees.

“It’s exciting because, developmentally, they’re each doing something on the appropriate level,” Ms. Searl said about the coordinated efforts. “As we do tree units in years to come, [the early childhood] group will move up and do the next part, and so on.”

Other collaborative lesson plans are in the works to enrich the basic curriculum.

The school is also enhancing its music program this year with the Dalcroze theory, which teaches students about music through body movements, and flute or and violin lessons are being offered as well. And all students are taking Spanish language classes.

Parents are encouraged to participate in the teaching process at the school.

Jamesport parent and jewelry maker Carolyn Mosciatti visited her 7-year-old son Matteo’s class Friday morning to lead students in a stamping project to make name necklaces.

Ms. Mosciatti said she had decided to enroll her son at Peconic Community School because she believes a smaller class size supports her son’s special education needs. She also likes how the school encourages parents and community members to participate with students in the classroom.

“When we toured the school, Matteo asked if he could start tomorrow,” Ms. Mosciatti said, threading a student’s necklace. “He feels at home here.”

Like Matteo, five of the eight students in Ms. Hanley’s class went to local public schools last year. Most of those students said they are enjoying school this year because they don’t feel the pressure of rushing through their class assignments and feel more comfortable to freely express opinions to their teachers.

“You had to learn a certain way,” 8-year-old Kate said about her old school. “Here it’s better because it’s more fun to learn here.”

Although Ms. Searl said she’s pleased with the school’s progress, she’s not looking to drastically expand the school anytime soon.

“We’re still young; we’re only two,” she said. “We need to catch our breath … We always had in mind to grow slowly.

“We just want to make sure we don’t bite off more than we can chew.”

jennifer@timesreview.com

07/03/13 5:00pm
07/03/2013 5:00 PM
COURTESY PHOTO | From left, Patricia Eckardt, Sharon Cook, Kathryn Casey Quigley, Colleen Hanley, Liz Casey Searl and Alison Aldredge.

COURTESY PHOTO | From left, Patricia Eckardt, Sharon Cook, Kathryn Casey Quigley, Colleen Hanley, Liz Casey Searl and Alison Aldredge.

Peconic Community School officials have announced the school is relocating from downtown Riverhead to a space at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Aquebogue.

The decision to move from its current location at the East End Arts Council property was made to accommodate more students and staff, said Liz Casey Searl, the school’s co-executive director

Student enrollment is expected to “double next year,” she said, and the school has hired three new teachers: Colleen Hanley, who most recently taught at a private school in Maryland, and Sharon Cook and Alison Aldredge, both veteran teachers from the Ross School in East Hampton.

Officials said the school will be leasing a portion of the church’s facilities, such as classrooms, a playground and space for a garden.

“While the two entities will of course be completely independent and distinct, the church board has been very receptive to the idea of a new school here,” Ms. Searl said.

The alternative school launched last year and now offers multi-age classes from kindergarten through fourth grade.

It uses a holistic approach toward education and partners with local organizations, including Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, Group for the East End and Hallockville Museum Farm.

In addition to opening its new location for the 2013-14 school year, officials said Peconic Community School is also launching an early childhood program for the fall.

For more information about Peconic Community School, visit peconiccommunityschool.org.

Pick up the July 11th issue of the News-Review for more on this story.

jennifer@timesreview.com

02/22/13 6:00am
02/22/2013 6:00 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The Arts on the Farm Summer Camp is coming to the Hallockville Museum Farm in Riverhead this summer.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The Arts on the Farm Summer Camp is coming to the Hallockville Museum Farm in Riverhead this summer.

A new summer camp is coming to Riverhead this year at the Hallockville Museum Farm.

The museum has partnered with the North Fork Education Initiative’s Peconic Community School to create the Arts on the Farm Summer Camp — a four-week program featuring woodworking, old-fashioned toymaking, crafts, music, organic gardening and other activities that are infused with the spirit of the North Fork’s farming heritage. Children will also learn about dramatic arts and different movement techniques.

Each week campers will show their parents what they’ve learned at camp through different presentations, such as hosting a traditional barn dance to show off their new music and dance skills.

Liz Casey Searl and Kathryn Casey Quigley, the co-executive directors of Peconic Community School in Riverhead, will oversee camp activities while the museum will provide barnyard activities, including introducing children to its sheep, cows and chickens.

“Because each week will be unique, the camp experience won’t become repetitive for children who attend multiple weeks and by attending all four weeks children will gain exposure to a variety of hands-on interactive arts experiences not found at other summer camps,” Ms. Searl said in a statement. “They will work with animals, tend a garden and have classic camp fun.”

Herb Strobel, executive director of Hallockville, said camp scholarships will also be available.

“So many local families are struggling these days and its ‘extras’ like camp that sometimes get cut first out of the family budget,” Mr. Strobel said in a statement. “We invite interested individuals and businesses to make tax-deductible contributions to support the scholarship program. It’s an investment in the community that creates lifelong memories for the campers.”

The camp is offered to children ages 6 to 11 and will run from July 8 to Aug. 2. Tuition cost is $275 for one week; $250 per week for two or more weeks; or $250 per week per child for two or more children in the same family. For more information, visit Hallockville.com/summer_camp.html or PeconicCommunitySchool.org. Donations to the camp scholarship can also be made at Hallockville.com/summer_camp.html or by calling 631-298-5292.

jennifer@timesreview.com

09/24/12 10:00am
09/24/2012 10:00 AM

BETH YOUNG PHOTO | Peconic Community School teacher Natalie Sisco reads to students at the end of the day on their first week of classes.

BY LIZ CASEY-SEARL |

What do our children really need as they head back to school?

I’ve been pondering this question over the past few weeks, as a mother, educator and now as a founder and co-executive director of Peconic Community School.

Just how has this back-to-school time we find ourselves in become a consumer experience? This is the part that has troubled me lately.

My son, nearly six years old, heads into first grade this year. At his back-to-school haircut, the barber asked him, “Are you all ready to go back to school?” He nodded earnestly and replied, “Yes.” Then the follow-up question: “Have you done all your back-to-school shopping?”
I gulp, thinking quickly, should I intercede? Should I say that we don’t really plan on doing any back-to-school shopping. Before I have the chance, my son states, “I pretty much have everything I need from kindergarten.”

Whew. I dodged it this time, but how long will he feel this way? How long will it be until the back-to-school consumer bug gets into his brain? How long until he feels he needs all new backpacks, lunch boxes, sneakers, clothes, binders, folders, pens and pencils — the works — before school starts? But more important, what does my son, and all our children, really need as they head back to school?

Of course they need some supplies. And yes, a strong pair of shoes that fit is a good idea. But it seems to me that outgrowing shoes should be the reason for buying new ones, not simply that a new school year is around the corner.

But here’s what we really need to provide our children with as the school year begins, without that trip to the mall.

1) A good night’s sleep

Endless summer days bleed into late summer nights, and our kids tend to get to bed later in the summer. So when the alarm rings on that first day of school, the lack of sleep can hit pretty hard. Therefore it’s a good idea to make sure your child gets enough sleep in the days leading up to the start of school. You might even want to consider doing a few trial runs on the new schedule. Sleep is so important for all of us it might be a good idea for mom and dad to get to bed a little earlier, too. In our family, an overtired child or parent usually translates into grumpiness. So as these summer days come to an end, we’ll do our best to make sure we all get a few extra winks.

2) A pause

In recent conversations with parents for the newly created Peconic Community School, we’ve been discussing how we dread the back-to-school morning rush.

There is little way to avoid it completely no matter how much you do the night before. There is still the breakfast preparation and eating, the getting dressed and the gathering of lunches, backpacks and more. It seems it is always a mad dash out the door, and sometimes lunches, or even “goodbyes” are forgotten. I recently read a tip that we will try in our home this year.

Take a pause. Every morning just before you head out the door, gather with your family, perhaps in a huddle. Come together for a moment and breathe together. For just a few seconds stop, breathe and then break. Pause so that you might go out into the day mindful of the love you have for each other despite the craziness. Taking this moment after the morning rush seems like a great antidote to the morning madness that harries even the most organized among us.

3) A tradition

When I was a child there was the requisite picture by the mailbox, and yes, I had on my brand-new back-to-school outfit and strong new shoes, plus a new lunch box, my hair in braids, and a crooked smile — all ready to go off to school. My stomach was in knots over the unknowns to come: How would I like my teacher? Would I have any friends? Would there be too much work?

But after that first stressful day, upon my return home I would be greeted by my mom and her homemade chocolate chip cookies. It sounds idyllic, and it was. But it’s the ritual of it that matters most. It happened every year, and it was a reliable routine. Lunch boxes came and went, shoes wore out, but the tradition remained.

Those cookies helped mark the momentous occasion, the start of it all. It was a little gift for making it through that first tenuous day.

It can be a simple tradition — pancakes for breakfast or a note in the lunchbox. With all the newness that the beginning of the school year brings, a reliable, albeit low-key, tradition offers much comfort, which, I promise, will not be forgotten.

4) A shopping trip to your local small business

We live in a small town on the North Fork and are fortunate to still have a mom-and-pop pharmacy replete with back-to-school supplies.

When we get the list from my son’s teacher we’ll be heading there to see what we can get from a small local business. And what we can’t get there he may just have to do without.

5) Nothing

This might sound contradictory to number 3 — I stand by the simple tradition idea — but it may be best to consider doing little in the way of preparation for heading back to school. Maybe making a big deal about the transition just increases stress, nervousness and anxiety.

Perhaps if we take a low-key approach to going back to school we honor it as a normal passage of time that needs little pomp and circumstance. And maybe by doing nothing, we can bypass the co-opting of this time by big-box stores and rampant consumerism.

What else do our children really need as they head back to school? And more important, how can we take back this childhood rite of passage and realize that perhaps we already have everything we need from kindergarten?

Liz Casey-Searl is a Southold resident and co-founder of the independent Peconic Community School, which is operating for the first time this school year. The school is located on the grounds of East End Arts in downtown Riverhead.

09/22/12 8:00am
09/22/2012 8:00 AM

BETH YOUNG PHOTO | Peconic Community School teacher Natalie Sisco reads to students at the end of the day on their first week of classes.

Last Friday afternoon, just before 3 p.m., the sounds of happy children filled the first floor of East End Arts’ headquarters on East Main Street in Riverhead.

It was the end of the first week of classes at the new Peconic Community School, an independent elementary school founded by three parents from Southold Town who wanted to give their kids, and other kids in the community, a chance to learn in an environment that encourages cooperation and an understanding of the interconnectedness of art, science, nature and community.

Their first school year began Sept. 10, with eight students from all over the North Fork, ranging in age from 6 to 9.

The school was founded by sisters Liz Casey-Searl and Kathryn Casey Quigley and their friend and fellow parent Patricia Eckardt, who is working on a doctorate in education.

Ms. Eckardt helped find the school’s first teacher, Natalie Sisco, with whom she had worked at the Ross School in the Hamptons.

“I’m really into the idea and mission of this school, with free learning and working with the environment,” Ms. Sisco said as she and the students cleaned up the classroom at the end of Friday’s classes.

The multi-age classroom offers both challenges and rewards that are rarely seen in a traditional educational setting, she said.

“I love to see peers working together. They’ve become a really supportive team,” she said. “When working together, the important thing is to make sure everyone is challenged at the same time.”

Ms. Sisco said the students spent the first week decorating the classroom with art projects and a map of the world, which they filled with pushpins and pictures of places the kids had visited. They also visited the Peconic River and spent several afternoons graphing the types of vegetables growing in the nearby River & Roots Community Garden.

“The week went fast,” said Ms. Casey-Searl, whose sons Owen and Conner are attending the school. “I think the kids are exhausted.”

She said she’d initially expected the students to range in age from kindergarten to third grade, but the final student mix ended up being slightly older, with most kids in grades 1 through 4.

“I think it’s really a confidence booster for the older children to mentor the younger ones,” Ms. Casey-Searl said. “The younger ones feel they have allies who are older kids. I think it benefits them both, probably in ways we don’t know yet.”

The school’s administrators began working to make the space ready for the school year about three weeks ago and were lucky enough to find a Montessori School in Smithtown that was having a yard sale at which they sold many school supplies.

“It’s so exciting. The children are wonderful and the families are wonderful,” said Ms. Eckardt.

“I heard about it from another parent at the skate park,” said Ameila Hegeman of Riverhead, whose three children, Emma, Ronan and Riley, attend the new school.

“They were great. They believed in everything I believed in,” she said. “My kids love it.”

Parent Sharon Harbin, also of Southold, whose 6-year-old daughter Lilianna attends the school, also found out about it from another parent at tumbling class.

She said she’s happy with her daughter’s first week at school.

“We thought we’d try something different,” Ms. Harbin said.

byoung@timesreview.com