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Group Plans New School for North Fork; Jamesport Location Considered

A group of North Fork parents is planning to launch a small, community-based independent school in 2012.

As children across the North Fork head off to their first days of school, a group of education entrepreneurs are planning a September 2012 launch of a new community-based school on the North Fork.

The North Fork Education Initiative is the brainchild of Elizabeth Searl, who has worked in drama education for 15 years; Kathryn Quigley, who has experience in non-profit management and dance education; Stephen Searl, a land conservation manager with the; and Patricia Eckardt, a former Ross School teacher who is working on her doctorate in Language, Literacy, and Learning at Fordham University.

The emphasis of the program will be based on Howard Gardener’s theory of multiple intelligences, which explains seven different ways people prefer to learn. Elizabeth Searl said the seed for the idea of a small, independent school on the North Fork has been there for a long-time but the group did not start officially planning until November of last year. The vision of the group is to offer an arts based, community-focused education that offers children many opportunities for hands-on learning.

“Our goal for our students is for them to think critically, act compassionately, and live holistically,” said Eckardt, the group’s curriculum coordinator.

Part of the broad philosophy of the program is play-based learning and hands on activities in the community in a multi-age classroom setting.

“Experiential learning really taps into the child’s innate curiosity,” Searl said.

As such, the school will not rely on standardized testing to measure a student’s growth. Eckardt says the school will use authentic assessments, while the student is learning –not just after a lesson. The students will work on portfolios, role-playing, presentations, music, and plays to show off what they’ve learned, she said.

Eckardt and Searl described the school as student directed versus student centered. Searl described it as a democratic model where students will share ideas and discuss how they want to learn.

“We want our children to be reflective learners. They should be able to assess their own work, critique the work of others, and accept critiques from the teachers,” Eckardt said.

Eckardt said the difference between the community school and the area’s public schools will be: small class sizes, an emphasis on the arts, and students will have different avenues to show lesson mastery.

The group is looking for space to rent on the North Fork, preferably in the Jamesport/Aquebogue area and Searl said their goal is to find a permanent space to offer a campus feeling to its students.

Searl said to get off the ground next year they plan to offer classes in grades kindergarten to third grade. Their long-term goal is to offer kindergarten through eighth grade curriculum. She said the positive feedback they received is encouraging.

Eckardt said they are in the process of developing the application and tuition, which will be offered on a sliding scale.

The group will have an information session on Sept. 22 at the Jamesport Meeting House and a fundraiser Harvest Ed, on Oct. 2 at the Naugles Barn at Hallockville Farm Museum.

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