Red Fox School opens doors to inaugural class

MANCHESTER — Manchester will gain another area school this year, with the progressive Red Fox Community School ushering in its inaugural academic year on Wednesday.

Though the formation of the independent K-4 school only began over the summer under the leadership of educators Alley Mazzulo and Sami Krasny, it was the dedication of the student's families that drove the project forward.

"When the families we had known from previous schools came to us asking for a more progressive option, we realized there was a need," said Krasny. "We started as a community, from the community."

At the new school, Krasny and Mazzulo hope to bring the progressive education standards found in Bennington's Southshire Community School and Highland Hall School to the northshire.

"In the Manchester area there really isn't another multi-age school. Highland Hall is the closest one, and we hope to work with them to spread an understanding of progressive education throughout our area," said Mazzulo. "They really cover the more southern portion of the region though, and we go further north. We're all the way up to Danby currently."

Both teachers are trained specifically in progressive education, and plan to bring its focus on child development to the Red Fox Community School.

"Progressive education is much more developmentally focused than traditional education," said Krasny. "Child development is at its core."

"The idea is that children are not empty vessels to be filled, but rather they come with their own unique selves and experiences," said Mazzulo. "Our job as teachers is to lead them and facilitate their learning, which is different from a more traditional approach."

That progressive curriculum will manifest in a classroom of 12 students taught full time by Mazzulo, with the help of assistant teacher Kristin Beavor.

"Our ratio is 12 to 1, though it's really six to one because Kristin's here all of the time too," said Mazzulo, noting that Krasny will work in a largely administrative capacity. "We didn't want more than that with a multi-age classroom."

In the Red Fox's progressive setting, students will also find more time for play and outdoor education. While students will come to the classroom Monday through Thursday, every Friday will feature a half-day field trip.

"This year our focus is going to be on agriculture," said Mazzulo, who plans to utilize the school's connections with Danby's Smokey House Center and Manchester's Earth Sky Time Farm. "It's a big part of this community, and Vermont has so much to offer by way of connecting kids to their food and the natural world."

These field trips are just one way in which The Red Fox Community School hopes to emphasize outdoor education in their curriculum.

"The idea is that if you don't fall in love with the world, you have no reason to save it," said Mazzulo. "The world is kind of in an environmental crisis, so for us we see this serving beyond just their immediate needs but also a larger societal need."

Though the school is currently operating out of what is essentially a one-room schoolhouse, the educators plan to continue growing.

"This is just a one year space, so we will outgrow it really soon," said Mazzulo. "We hope that next year we can hire another teacher and have maybe 24 kids."

"A lot of the families that we currently have are families that we were already connected with, but we've had interest from the community as well," said Krasny, who anticipated no more than eight students in the first year. "We've even had to tell people that we're full. Twelve [students] was our goal, but it was our dream."

With such strong community support in the school's founding, Mazzulo and Krasny are committed to allowing parents to play a larger role in their children's education. Many parents have already signed up to drive for weekly field trips, and Mazzulo has also organized an inquiry group to educate families on progressive education theories.

"They'll be involved in being in the classroom during the school day as well," said Krasny, noting that parents have volunteered to teach music and gardening already. "They come and bring their passion and skills to the classroom, so it's another level of community involvement."

The classroom itself was even put together by these "founding families," who helped to paint and organize the room days before the beginning of the academic year.

"The most important thing about our school is that it's being founded through passion, love, and community mindedness," said Krasny. "That's who we are, and we hope to be that forever."

Reach Cherise Madigan at 802-490-6471.


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