Since the 1950s, the Tarrytown Union Free School District has owned a very substantial property that they’ve never done much with, but that may soon change.
The original intent was to build a new school on the 37 acres between the Manors that stretches from Route 9 to the Hudson River, which never happened. Now there are plans underway to use this resource as an outdoor classroom.
Tracy Brown, Sleepy Hollow resident and employee of Riverkeeper, made an organized presentation to the School Board on what is being called the Peabody Preserve Outdoor Classroom or Project SHOES for “Sleepy Hollow Outdoor Education Sanctuary.”
Brown’s been working diligently with parents, organizations such as Teatown Lakes Reservation and Scenic Hudson, along with district teachers, to try to bring students outdoors to learn from this abundantly diverse stretch of land and wetlands.
The area boasts: freshwater wetlands, saltwater wetland, streams, retaining pond, receiving waters, deciduous forest, native and invasive plants, wildlife, foot trails and gravel road, manicured playing fields.
All many of us know from driving by on the roadway is that soccer field, which, joked Superintendent Dr. Howard Smith, Brown was "kind to call manicured.”
Board President Joseph Lillis said he knew the ins and outs of this land, stream, pond and marshes well, since he explored the area for many years with his son. “It’s a wonderful space…a great resource.”
There’s also a porta-potty, and, a rare gem: a parking lot, perfect for buses to park. The buses would be able to get there without any extra fees since it’s school property.
Though one citizen, Mario Bellanach, who speaks out at every village meeting, wondered where the chairs for the outdoor classroom would be, Brown and her collaborators said this is more of a loose space, where individuals and groups can collect leaves, maintain trails, write poetry, research, and learn in unlimited ways in every subject imaginable.
Board member Craig Laub joked, “so I guess Joe’s ideas of windmills and fracking is off the table?”
Some teachers were present at the presentation, eager for the opportunity to get their kids out. Brown was meeting with Sleepy Hollow High School science teachers last week. The program will likely start with the high school science classes and community service opportunities, but will grow from there.
High School Principal Carol Conklin-Spillane said some science teachers have been visiting the site and “matching possibilities with existing realities. We see enthusiasm from anyone who touches the project.”
Any teacher can go out right away, Brown said, adding “we have liability insurance" and she's happy to give tours to anyone interested.
To come soon: Scenic Hudson has offered to draft a site plan; the high school is beginning to integrate a curriculum with the outdoor classroom befitting the new standards going into effect soon with a hands-on learning focus; and Brown hopes to continue the promotion and outreach aspect to get everyone in the community onboard.
“No child left inside,” she said.