SLEEPY HOLLOW, N.Y. – Sleepy Hollow parent Tracy Brown is leading efforts to turn 39 acres of unused school property into an outdoor classroom.
“When we bring kids out here, it's amazing,” she said. “They just naturally know how to play and explore and do stuff outside. It's so natural for them to just start exploring and learning things even without instruction.”
The school property is located off Route 9, behind the soccer fields, and continues west to the Hudson River. The area was once a natural bay for the river, Brown said, and includes tidal wetlands, a vernal pond, a rocky ridge and deciduous forest. There's also a village-built retaining pond that Brown says would make a great case study.
“For 39 acres, there's a huge variety of little micro-environments,” she said. “It's a great teaching opportunity.”
Brown has been working with Scenic Hudson and Teatown to come up with ideas and teacher training for the site. Plans include creating an entrance on the southern edge of the site so kids wouldn't have to walk through the soccer fields.
This whole idea stemmed from a neighborhood dispute. Brown, who works for Riverkeeper, was asked to try to stop the Sleepy Hollow Manor Association from taking down a chain link fence that some called an eyesore because neighbors said it was protecting wetlands.
Students would have the best ideas for the land, especially because it was school-owned, Brown said.
“The kids own it and if the kids are given the opportunity to get to know the site, they would make the right decision,” she said, adding kids wouldn't factor in property values or homeownership. “They'll look at it from a real environmental stewardship.”
School officials have signed off on the program, Brown said. Because there's liability insurance in place, students can be bused there at no cost and the school maintains bathroom facilities on-site. There's now a community-led effort to clear and prepare the site for future field trips.
One independent study student is already working at the site this year, Brown said. Parents hope to clear the trails over the summer so a pilot program of high school and middle school science teachers can conduct lessons next fall.
Ultimately, the goal is for all subjects and grades to use the site, Brown said.
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