CAIRO — A new private elementary school is planning to open its doors this fall.
The Catskill Wheelhouse Community School, 665 Main St., Cairo, will begin teaching students as young as 2 years old up to fifth graders starting in September, Elementary School Director Alanna Navitski said Wednesday.
“We have been operating a preschool and child care program in Catskill since 2015,” Navitski said. “We are moving to Cairo and opening our new community school that will serve grades K-5. We are also going to continue offering early childhood programs.”
The initial plan was to open the school in the fall of 2022, but there was sufficient interest to move the opening date up a year, Navitski said.
“The reason we are opening the school right now is that we have a lot of demand from families, I think in response to COVID — everyone’s plans were thrown up in the air and I think that made people think about how they were spending their days and that has led many people to look for educational options that take a holistic child-centered approach,” Navitski said.
The school’s progressive educational model will be child-directed and seek to teach a love of learning and develop problem-solving skills, she said.
“An important piece of our program is that we are looking to develop curriculum based in real-life issues in our community,” Navitski said. “We are seeking to build a curriculum that is built around community engagement and cultivating children as real-life problem-solvers, inventors and creators.”
Early Childhood Director Christina Dietmann will oversee the youngest students ages 2-5.
“It is so important to learn to love learning,” Dietmann said. “Rather than it being ‘I am the teacher, I am the one who tells you what you need to know,’ it’s ‘Let’s discover the world together and learning is a joy, rather than something you have to do.’”
The school is chartered by New York state and meets all state-mandated curriculum requirements, she said. Outdoor learning experiences will be a big part of the curriculum.
In its inaugural year, the school will accept eight 2-year-olds; 12 preschoolers; eight students in kindergarten through second grade in a mixed-age group; and eight third through fifth graders, also in a mixed-age group.
Students in all grades will attend school six hours a day from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Public school bus transportation is provided by the Cairo-Durham school district to families within 15 miles of the school.
Tuition will vary depending on the family’s finances.
“We are running the program on a sliding scale,” Navitski said. “It starts at zero, free, and goes up to $18,000 a year. The sliding-scale tuition will be based on a financial assessment that parents will complete based on their individual financial situation.”
The school will also offer a satellite location, the Forest School, a fully outdoor half-day program at a farm in Germantown in Columbia County, 305 Wire Road, primarily for early childhood students ages 2-5.
Forest School prioritizes open exploration, Dietmann said.
“That is the research-based best way that kids learn,” she said. “Rote learning in the early childhood years is not effective. What is effective is building a broad vocabulary, having rich multi-sensory experiences that develop a strong neural network, fostering curiosity. That’s why we take that approach.”
Tuition for Forest School will also be on a sliding scale.
“It starts at free if your family really doesn’t have any financial resources to contribute and the max tuition is $11,880 — that is for the highest income bracket,” Navitski said.