The Downtown School, located at 106 Palmer Place, behind Ye Olde Tavern, welcomed their first group of students on Wednesday, Sept. 3. Alexa Manning, head of school, founded the new progressive school with Natalie and Jason Pergament, two local educators.
Manning said the first class of students will be in kindergarten, first and second grade, with 12 students enrolled. Next year, third grade will be offered and if there is enough interest in fourth, Manning said they would consider opening a class.
Starting a school is not an easy task and Manning said there were two types of challenges.
"Certainly, the thing we had to be the most intellectually focused on is making sure we had the best possible teachers and curriculum ... that we were offering something that is not currently in the community," she said.
Applying for permits, getting issued certificates of occupancy and other requirements, Manning said were just as challenging, but a part of opening the school.
The Downtown School has hired two teachers, both completely new to the area. Brittany Denny will teach kindergarten and first grade and Scott Howard will be teaching second and third grades.
Denny said coming to a school in its inaugural year was a big draw. She said she was attracted to the progressive model of education the school has, and said she looks forward to using the whole Manchester community as a classroom.
"We have such an amazing landscape to use as a tool .... [along with] the community around us," she said.
To use the community as an extension of the classroom, Manning said the students will go on in-depth investigations. Denny and Manning used the example of visiting a local bagel shop. On stead of just going on a field trip, the students will look at everything from where did the ingredients come from to who works in the shop. Denny said then the students will take what they learned in the community back to the classroom.
"They will reflect on what they learned ... their ideas will lead them to a culminating project ... it could be recreating their own version of a bagel shop," she said.
Along with in-depth investigations, Manning said the school will also have "special" classes - like language, art, music and others taught by outside teachers. Along with those classes, Manning said the school will welcome community members throughout the year to come in and teach students about their role in the community.
As the school grows, Manning said teachers will be added to teach specials at school, as well as more teachers per grade, to help keep the student-teacher ratio low.
The school's location has four buildings, but Manning said for now the main classrooms will be based in the Oliver Rice House, a historic building moved to the site in the 1970s. She said as they grow, the other buildings will become more apart of the day to day work of the school. The location also features a pond, as well as a large field.
While the school is based in Manchester, Manning said there geographic diversity to where students are from, coming all the way from Rupert, to Peru and Winhall up in the mountain towns. To help accommodate the diversity of families, there will be early drop off as well as after school care. This program is not only open to children at the Downtown school, Manning said, but any student in town. If a child were to attend Manchester Elementary Middle School, Manning said they could provide a walk over to The Downtown school.
Manning has expressed how she wants The Downtown School to be a part of the community since they announced the founding, and there will be a few open houses this fall about the school, she said.
"Anyone interested is welcome," she said.