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Early Ed, Arts-Based School to Make Downtown Riverhead Its Classroom

Earlier this month, the North Fork Education Initiative signed a lease with the East Ends Arts Council School to open an early elementary program in downtown Riverhead.

With the lease signed just over a week ago with the in Riverhead, the North Fork Education Initiative’s dream of a holistic school based on arts education on the North Fork is a few months away from being a reality.

Elizabeth Casey Searl, co-executive director, said the Riverhead location is ideal because the Peconic Community School’s curriculum is arts-based and she is looking forward to a mutually beneficial agreement between the two groups. The school has offered them a large classroom, an arts room, a deck and the grounds to use. She said the proximity to the , and is crucial for the school's plan as well.

“We plan to make the whole area our classroom,” Searle said.

Enrollment has begun and the school has drawn interest from families in Jamesport, Southold, Peconic, Riverhead, and from towns further west. Part of the reason the group included “Peconic” in the name of the school was because they were drawing interest from families all over the East End.

The North Fork Education Initiative is the brainchild of 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 group last fall.

Area homeschool families have also expressed interest in the school. Searl said she believes at least one homeschooling family will enroll a child in the school. She said many of the families are looking for part-time hours for their students, but Searl said in the school’s first year, accommodating part-time students will be too difficult. In the future, Searle said she would be open to exploring part-time enrollment or other offerings for home schooling families.

At this point, four children are enrolled in the program. Maximum enrollment is 16.

“In order to open our doors, we have to have eight children enrolled,” she said.

The school's founders believe they will have the numbers to operate a multi-age classroom for grades K through 3. The school has found a teacher to run the program and will be hiring an assistant later this spring.

Searl said tuition is set at $10,000 but will be offered on a sliding scale. She said a family’s tuition should be an equitable proportion to its resources. As such, she estimates only 80 percent of the school’s operating budget will be covered by tuition and they will be aggressively fundraising to launch and sustain the school. Searl said they are looking for foundations and private funding to help pay for operating expenses

The group has a fundraiser planned for Saturday, May 12 at the Peconic Land Trust’s Charnews Farm in Southold. The event will be called "Grow" will feature live music, children's activities, and a picnic lunch.

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