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.

[email protected]

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.

[email protected]

03/26/12 9:30am
03/26/2012 9:30 AM

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Front from left: Liz Casey Searl of Jamesport holding son Connor and Kathryn Casey Quigley holding baby Hannah. Rear from left: JP Meehan, his mom Patricia Eckardt holding son Jack Meehan.

The North Fork moms who are organizing the alternative Peconic Community School have signed a one-year lease with East End Arts in downtown Riverhead to hold their first year’s classes in EEA’s Community School of the Arts.

The school plans to offer a multi-age class this fall for kindergarten through third-grade students and eventually will instruct students through eighth grade. The official deadline to enroll for the first year’s class is March 31, but it will likely be extended.

Liz Casey Searl and Kathryn Casey Quigley, who are sisters, and fellow parent Patricia Eckardt began brainstorming to create the school last summer.

Liz Searl is a drama teacher at the Community School of the Arts, which offers most of its classes and private music and art instruction during school vacations and after-school hours. East End Arts executive director Pat Snyder approached her about the space there when she heard the school was looking to lease in downtown Riverhead.

“I know what kind of teacher she is. I was aware of their philosophy on education and their interest in Riverhead,” Ms. Snyder said last week. “I have a background in education. I believe in what they believe. It seemed like a really good fit.”

Ms. Snyder said she supports the school’s founders’ belief in “multiple intelligences” and tying learning activities to the disparate learning styles of students.

“Their guiding principles are very much in line with East End Arts’ philosophy of creation and discovery,” she said. “I think it’ll be a great addition to downtown Riverhead. Their whole philosophy of utilizing the community for learning is important and it’s so relevant now.”

Ms. Searl said the school’s board was looking to locate in downtown Riverhead to provide access to the Long Island Science Center, the Long Island Aquarium, the Peconic River, the River & Roots Community Garden and other aspects of the Riverhead revitalization effort.

“East End Arts has always been our best option,” she said. “We’re both concerned about the arts and the community.

We thought it would benefit both of us.

“Downtown Riverhead will be our classroom,” she added. “We hope to be a part of that renaissance and help that along.”

Ms. Searl said Peconic Community School will use one of the main first-floor rooms in the Community School of the Arts, which is currently empty during the day, as its primary classroom and will also have access to the art classroom there. Ms. Snyder said the school will also have access to instruments in the building.

According to Ms. Searl, the school has definite commitments for four students to attend next year. They need at least eight to get the school off the ground and their maximum capacity for year one will be 15 students. Eventually, they expect to outgrow the East End Arts space.

Tuition is set officially at $10,000 per student, but Ms. Searl said the school is partnering with an outside aid company to offer a sliding scale that any family can afford.

“We want it to be in equitable proportion to the family’s financial picture,” she said.

The school planned to hire a teacher this weekend, and will release that teacher’s name this week.

They’re planning several informational sessions this spring, including a fundraiser picnic on Saturday, May 12, at Peconic Land Trust’s Charnews Farm in Southold. Called “Grow,” that event will include a seedling planting, art projects and a plant sale.

More information on Peconic Community School can be found at northforked.org.

[email protected]