- Randy Harris
In 1978, Peter and Marsha Comstock founded the Homestead School in the Sullivan County hamlet of Glen Spey. The goal: to create a place of wonder for the young human soul to flourish. “We practice child-centered, experiential learning,” Peter Comstock says. “Teachers see themselves as guides. Observe the child, see what their interests and abilities are, and offer them the path. Every child is a seed with vast potential: If you water it and give it sunlight, it will grow.”
That first year, Peter and Marsha Comstock taught 14 students. In the over 40 years since, thousands of independent, mature learners and some future high school valedictorians have graduated from the Montessori-based Homestead School, bringing its ethos of education in action to the wider world. The Pre-K through Grade 8 school currently has an enrollment of 180 students.
The Homestead School is a three-dimensional learning environment, combining traditional and rigorous academics with hands-on learning both on and off campus. On its 85-acre campus, students interact with the natural world in a variety of ways from caring for the school’s sheep and learning fiber arts (weaving and knitting begins in Grade 1); to making maple syrup (from tapping to bottling); to conducting monitoring projects in the stream running through the campus.
Field trips are an integral part of the school’s applied academics. While learning about ecological conservation, students traveled to West Virginia to see what mountaintop removal looks like up close. Studying the history of the D&H Canal led to a clean-up project at the Mongaup Lock which removed truckloads of trash and debris. Other trips include visits to Cape May, NJ, to study the biology of estuaries and marshes; instruction on the Gilded Age included a trip to Newport, RI, to see its stately mansions; a trip to Lowell, MA, focused on technology and the emergence of the workers’ rights movement in the textile industry. These trips connect school subjects to real-world situations, creating the vibrancy and immediacy of an integrated curriculum, rather than teaching social studies or science in an academic vacuum. “We want the kids to be engaged in their education with a wider perspective,” says Nisha Gupta, head of curriculum and a middle school teacher at Homestead School. “Everything is interconnected through the school experience.”
- Randy Harris
Students work independently at the Homestead School. “What strikes people when they visit us—they don’t see many whole class lessons going on,” says Comstock. “Throughout most of the day, children work individually or in small groups. The kids are in charge of their own education.” In such a setting, students develop into mature learners not needing the constant intervention of the teaching teams. Middle school students recently designed and planted a tropical biodome garden where they are growing (and harvesting) bananas, papayas, limes, oranges, and kumquats, in addition to lettuces and herbs.
Most importantly, children are also taught to be independent, empathetic thinkers. “We try to give students the experience of being the change they want to see in the world,” says Gupta. “If they see something that they would like to change, they have the skills and the knowledge that they don’t have to wait for permission to do it.”
The Homestead School is now accepting applications for the 2020-201 school year, for Pre-K through Grade 8.