PA Coalition for World Class Math

Garden Road school - run by parents - opts for Singapore Math

School does things differently

Dec. 31, 2011

CORTLANDT — Kids at the Garden Road School do things kids do everywhere: get themselves covered with paint, run into each other on the playground, make silly faces.

But they do plenty of things differently at Garden Road, which is marking its 10th anniversary of creating educational alternatives for parents who choose a different path.

Students at the independent school learn math and reading in a different way and from a variety of instructors. Kids have more of a say in their own educational pursuits. Perhaps most of all, parents are heavily involved in their children’s education.

“Parents really take a great role in the day-to-day running of the school,” executive director Donna Mikkelsen said. “And everyone cleans.”

One parent, Courtney McCarthy, a Peekskill resident, said she didn’t mind doing chores around the school, which she considers a minor trade-off for the school’s offerings.

“Here there’s more individual attention. With the smaller class size, you have to engage, and you can work at your own pace,” she said.

The school was founded 10 years ago in Croton-on-Hudson by a small group of parents who had strong ideas about child-rearing, not believing one size fits all when it comes to their kids’ education. The school moved from Croton to Cortlandt four years ago as part of an expansion plan, and it is planning to add a third-grade class next year.

The school is for youngsters age 2 and older.

Terese Giammarco was one of the founders and still teaches at the school. Her decision to help start a new school took place over a plate of spaghetti, she recalled, after long talks with Mikkelsen and other parents about the way they wanted to raise children.

“We use the Singapore method to teach math. We teach the concept, rather than rote learning. In our reading classes, we learn to read without phonetics. And there’s a lot of art integration,” Giammarco said. “But it’s not unstructured. Within the limits, there is freedom.”

Kids at the school spend more time outdoors, for instruction and recreation.

“They get very dirty here, lots ot mud,” Mikkelsen said with a chuckle.

A new community garden opening next year will offer new opportunities to get muddy and learn about subjects such as the orientation of the sun and the life cycle of plants.

The school uses a “lump learning” method in which subjects are explored from a variety of perspectives for two weeks or longer.

While the school does not draw on any specific tradition, it borrows concepts from Montessori and theorist Rudolf Steiner. It is state certified.

The school also has a wide range of instructors — parents themselves.

“We like to think of ourselves as a community,” Mikkelsen said. “Everyone has something to teach.”

Parents are required to put in time at the school, as in a cooperative, and the more time, the lower the tuition.

The annual cost ranges from $10,500, with a minimum of 10 required hours for a parent, down to $6,500.

It’s a decidedly small venture, and the entire school could easily fit on one of the yellow buses run by the Lakeland or Hendrick Hudson school districts. About 30 families make up the enrollment.

The school, at 99 Baron de Hirsch Road, is conducting an open house from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Jan. 12.