Like most parents, Mimosa Jones Tunney and John Tunney, who own and operate popular Huntington restaurants Besito and The Shed, are passionate about their children’s education. When they couldn’t find a school they thought would best prepare their young boys, they decided to build their own.
The School House, located at 106 Vernon Valley Road in East Northport, is the result of the entrepreneurial couple’s dream to bring a new way of teaching to Long Island. Enrollment is currently under way for pre-K through fifth grade. The building, the former home of a local preschool, has been undergoing a renovation in recent months. Walls were knocked down, new windows added, and the result is a bright, open, sun-filled space where children can thrive.
“We’re creating a new curriculum as an alternative for the Common Core implementation called the American Emergent Curriculum,” Jones Tunney, an education writer, said. This method combines a number of ways of learning, including the Montessori method, project-based learning, critical thinking and group dialogue, and art and design, along with many elements of traditional American schools such as sports programs, performing arts, and more.
“We are the only school of our kind in New York and probably the country,” Jones Tunney added. “It’s a model we hope to roll out across the United States. Long Island is the perfect place to launch a new curriculum and a new school because we’re halfway between the naturalists and scientists on the East End and the city, and a phenomenal community here in East Northport.”
The two primary classes will be mixed ages (an element of Montessori) and students ages 3 and 4 and 5 and 6 (pre-K and kindergarten) will play and learn together. “The genius part about that is the kindergartner gets to practice their skills with the little ones and reinforce what they learn, and the little ones are looking up to the older ones,” Jones Tunney said. The large rooms are filled with many different tactile stations that incorporate everything from practical, everyday life skills to practicing fine motor skills and exploring math and science.
There are also two first- through third-grade classrooms and one fourth- and fifth-grade classroom; plans are to add another classroom in that age group. While there are no technology screens in the school, there are plenty of examples of tactile technology, where students can touch and feel as they learn. For example, all classrooms will have a vertical grow wall, where students learn about gardening all year round, and there is a cool augmented-reality sandbox that teaches students topography and geography.
“Our fourth-and fifth-graders will build one of these [augmented-reality sandboxes] as part of their project-based learning,” Jones Tunney said. “So, they will do the carpentry, which is the best way to learn math, and they will do the technology, and they will loan the second one to the Northport school district. Then, our kiddos will go and present it to the kids there as part of their public speaking portion.” (This is one example of how The School House hopes to work with the local school district.)
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Art programs at The School House feature a host of natural materials beyond just paint and crayons.
The school’s art program follows the Reggio-Emilia method, which expands on the Montessori method, and encourages students to work with art materials that go beyond paint and crayons.
In addition to their educational backgrounds, educators at The School House have real-world skills, including architecture and molecular biology. “I’ve created a balance between bringing on educators who have a Montessori background and also have a traditional background, so we’re able to meld the two,” Jones Tunney said.
Other planned daily activities in the school’s curriculum include performing arts, sports, and civics. There’s an outdoor classroom, a school nurse, library, and a dining hall. Oh, and a two-acre farm on the school’s grounds will include chickens and other animals that children will have a hand in caring for and feeding; as well as a garden they will help tend. In fact, the school’s Basil Project will incorporate learning about, planting, and harvesting basil; developing packaging; building a farm stand; selling their product; analyzing the sales; and ultimately, deciding what to do with the money they make.
“After years of writing about education, I finally got to the point where I had to build it,” Jones Tunney said. “We had to really show that this can work and hopefully then it inspires traditional schools and others to start adopting what we’re doing here.”
Enrollment is currently under way. Visit the school’s website for more information, including admissions and tuition.
Photos courtesy of the school