About Blue Rock School

Located on a charming, five-acre wooded campus in West Nyack, Blue Rock School is the Lower Hudson Valley’s only progressive, independent, co-educational day school. Unique among private schools, Blue Rock is committed to fostering a non-elitist community of students from diverse ethnic, religious and economic backgrounds. Offering a discovery-based, test and grade free learning environment, Blue Rock nurtures children’s natural curiosity and innate love of learning. In small class settings, our interdisciplinary curriculum emphasizes the arts, nature and play and encourages creativity, collaboration, depth of learning, critical thinking and confident self-expression. A great alternative for grades kindergarten through eighth grade, Blue Rock is a truly dynamic and joyful learning community. Blue Rock School is chartered by the New York State Board of Regents and governed by a Board of Trustees and is an IRS designated 501(c)(3), non-profit organization.

 
 
 
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“The children bring so much learning to the classroom because they are allowed to.

—BLUE ROCK TEACHER

 
 

Blue Rock at a Glance

Grades: K-8

K age requirement: 5 years old by September 1st

Enrollment: 95

Average class size: 11

Student/teacher ratio: 8:1

Students of Color: 32%

Student body: Co-ed

Religious affiliation: None

Hours: 9am-3:15pm. Half-day kindergarten option: 9am-12noon

Financial aid: Nearly 50% of Blue Rock students receive financial assistance.

Demographics: Blue Rock students come from Rockland, Westchester and Orange counties. Also Bergen County, NJ and New York City (Upper Manhattan and the Bronx).

Transportation: Free busing is available through local NY state school districts for families living within a 15-mile radius of Blue Rock. Carpools exist from various areas outside this range as well.

 

Affiliations: NCACS (National Coalition of Alternative Community Schools), AERO (Alternative Education Resource Organization), Teaching Tolerance, Healthy Media Choices, Keep Rockland Beautiful, Edward Hopper House Museum & Study Center and the Nyack Chamber of Commerce

Year founded: 1982

Governance: Board of Trustees

Campus size: 5 acres

Language programs: Spanish

Summer program: 5 weeks during the month of July, ages 3 - 12

Matriculation list: In addition to many area public high schools, including Bronx High School of Science, High School of American Studies at Lehman College, High School for Environmental Studies, The Professional Performing Arts School and The Kaufman Special Music School, Blue Rock students have attended a number of private schools, including but not limited to:  Dwight Englewood, Green Meadow Waldorf School, The Harvey School, Rockland Country Day School, Hackley, The Masters School, Saddle River Day School, The Ethical Culture Fieldston School, The Dalton School in NYC and Putney School in Vermont.

Our Journey

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Blue Rock School was founded in 1982 in North Carolina, facing the Blue Rock Mountain.

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Margaret Flinsch began the school with a small group of interested parents and teachers seeking a meaningful approach to the education of children.  

Many years before, Mrs. Flinsch founded the Princeton Nursery School which is still thriving today. Her lifelong interest in the educational process, her insight, and her experience have led others to re-examine the role of the teacher what a school can be like and how it can better serve children. It is her inspiration that has given Blue Rock School its unique humanistic and creative approach evident in each classroom in the school.

 
 

Relocating to Palisades, New York in 1987, Blue Rock occupied the historic, one-room school house on Oak Tree Road in Palisades.  

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Having started off with just a handful of students of mixed ages, the school was growing strong and in 1990 our current property in West Nyack, NY was purchased.

 
 

In 1994 the aging barn was renovated to house our Multi-Purpose Room (where events, drama and indoor gym are held), as well as several large classrooms.

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In 2012, we purchased an adjacent property, expanding the grounds to five acres. The new building is the Art and Nature Studies Annex, where our students, kindergarten–eighth grade, enjoy Music, Art, and Science in addition to a library and classroom spaces. 

 
 

In the span of thirty years, we have grown from a small group of mixed aged students to over ninety, offering the Lower Hudson Valley a genuine and refreshing alternative for kindergarten, elementary and middle school.

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Our Mission

The mission of Blue Rock School is to prepare our students to become responsible human beings through a balanced education of their minds, bodies and feelings. We foster children’s natural curiosity and provide opportunities for them to explore learning independently and in groups, through numerous modalities.  This approach develops students’ self-awareness, their empathy towards others, and the ability to take on challenges with confidence.  We wish to support each child’s ability to recognize and harness their strengths in order to meet life’s experiences as ongoing opportunities for growth. Blue Rock School is a vibrant learning community where children can discover for themselves the relationship between ideas, skills and expression.


Our Philosophy

The elementary years are the time when children establish the foundation upon which their future education, relationships, and well-being are built.

We all learn best when fully engaged in what we are doing. An essential ingredient in this engagement is an active attention: an enlivened state that combines an alert mind, deep interest, and a responsive body. Learning in this way affirms the whole child and brings a new quality to the student's work - a quality of being "one's own."

At Blue Rock School, teachers are involved in an ongoing exploration of ways to help the children learn in this manner. In order to call forth the children's full attention, the teachers also need to be fully attentive, to be available to the children, to listen to them, and to hear them. They need to share a vision of the whole child that includes precious intangibles that cannot be weighed, measured, tested, or graded. A kind of clear-sighted, flexible planning is required that allows room for education in the moment. Teachers and students engage in an emergent curriculum that, while based on developmental benchmarks, leaves room for individual and group explorations that vary from year to year.

The school's atmosphere provides both warmth and firm limits; the freedom to explore and the security of intentional direction. It is a place where thoughts, feelings, and aspirations are developed through relationships with teachers and peers. Classes are smaller at Blue Rock, and each staff member knows every child. Students sense that they are part of a community, and children of different ages often work and play together. The close communication and collaboration among staff members is a unique ingredient of the school.

At Blue Rock, the arts and sciences are woven into each school day. This approach provides opportunities for the students to learn through multi-disciplinary and hands-on activities that keep their learning experiential, meaningful, and alive.

 
 
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Our Teachers

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Blue Rock School has a talented and committed teaching staff. Our teachers come to the work at Blue Rock consciously choosing to teach in an environment where the relationship to the students is at the center and the bridge from which curriculum and academic/artistic achievement are reached. As human beings of great caring and idealism, they bring to their practice a wealth of life experiences and knowledge from prior teaching and professional positions in diverse settings.  Through years of working collaboratively with each other and with an emergent curriculum across grade levels, our teachers have gained insight into children’s developmental needs and the appropriate material and concepts to introduce at any given time.

The majority of our teachers have Masters Degrees in Education, and some hold additional degrees in Special Education and the Arts. All our teachers share an open and questioning attitude toward the art of education. Our staff have attended and gained advanced degrees from prestigious and alternative institutions of higher learning such as Sarah Lawrence College, Columbia University, George Washington University, Hampshire College, UMASS Amherst, UCLA, University of Dayton, Iona College, Manhattanville College, and Long Island University. Our staff embodies the conviction that learning is a lifetime journey and they continually participate in staff development workshops at institutions of higher learning or with master teachers in many fields.

Our staff is committed to continually deepening their familiarity and knowledge of progressive educational methodologies. The teachers engage in healthy evaluation and re-evaluation of their teaching tools and practice, continually shedding new light on individual and school-wide methods to ensure that we are serving the children in the most effective and child-centered ways.

When new teachers join the staff, they receive one year of close mentorship and are paired with a senior teacher who consistently provides them with practical insights into our philosophy. Through their collaborative efforts and their passion for the practice of teaching, the teachers maintain the educational tone of the school.

 

Quotes from teachers and staff
on teaching at Blue Rock School

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We allow them time to ponder big themes. Their curiosity in science and social studies leads them to truly question our natural world, human societies and the way things work. Witnessing and supporting their passion to figure things out is priceless.
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Teaching here is real! Like entering into a huge ship every day… and you might end up somewhere new. You need to be willing to learn every day.
Our grounds are an extension of the classroom. Having the freedom to teach outdoors in all seasons, and use multiple aspects of our woods and gardens for instruction, provides a vibrancy to the lessons that virtual or traditional teaching tools cannot come close to.
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It is powerful to see how students become so solid and grow here. How even a child that has struggled, with time, support and effort, can come into themselves with strength.
BRS has a balance of structure and freedom. We have to have a clear respect for what we are doing to not indulge only in wondrous exploration, but also to be closely attentive to what the projects are teaching.
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The way the staff relates to one another and connects as human beings, is almost more important for the students to witness than the content we teach. A shared sense of respect and inquiry permeates all collaborations.
Working here is the alchemy of the children and ideas: Magic.
The close relationship with parents is beautiful. This is a community of caring.
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It is pretty amazing to work in a place where teachers and staff are dedicated to their ongoing professional and personal growth. No one is complacent.
It is so alive. I have the freedom to respond to the energy and drive of the children in front of me.
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Igniting the children’s capacity to ‘think’, by making connections across the different academic areas through discussion and projects, is one of the most exciting things for us as middle school teachers, teaching all subjects.
Children at Blue Rock truly inhabit their bodies. Whether running with abandon in a spirited game of chase at recess, holding hands and dancing the intricate steps of a folk dance, or flying like a bird in drama, throughout the day students are physically engaged. The sense of ‘I can’ that develops and the enjoyment of their growing strength and agility are so important for their self-esteem and self-awareness.
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Caty Laignel has been our school’s director and drama teacher since September 2000. She has brought to the school her experience in organizational and personal development and strives to nurture a harmonious and mission-driven environment for students, staff and parents.  Her multi-cultural background fuels her interest in BRS’s celebration of diversity and its practice of exploring the world with students as part of our yearly themes. Caty’s 30 years of teaching and directing theater supports her work with staff members as she shares with them an understanding of teaching methods and creative practice. Through the drama program, and her storytelling, she has an opportunity to establish a rapport with all the students and gets to know every child in the school, further facilitating her agency as school director. The granddaughter of Margaret Flinsch, the school's founder, Caty has a deep respect for the cornerstones of Blue Rock’s philosophy and a commitment to preserving their presence in the daily life of the school as it grows and evolves.

 


Blue Rock School is a not-for-profit organization governed by a Board of Trustees responsible for the school’s fiscal well-being and general welfare. The trustees are parents of alums, former teachers and individuals of the community interested in progressive, child-centered education.  They meet periodically throughout the year and establish the yearly budget. The trustees also evaluate staff salaries, insurance costs, materials and maintenance costs, and the allocation of scholarship and financial aid awards. Our trustees generously give of their time and wisdom to support the long-term viability of our school, and their dedicated oversight and collaboration with the school director ensures that Blue Rock continues to thrive from year to year.

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Our student body comes from over nine different school districts, traveling daily from Rockland, Orange, and Westchester County, and also from New York City and New Jersey.  We are fortunate to have had, and we continue to strive to ensure, an ethnically and socio-economically diverse student body.  Since the school opened in New York in 1987, our students have come from different backgrounds and represent many nationalities. Our school is non-elitist and we celebrate the focus on inclusion the school maintains. 

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A small and intimate classroom setting strengthens children’s close bonds with their classmates and teachers, and our focus on social health and wellbeing encourages students to express their genuine warmth when welcoming newcomers.  Given our hands-on learning approach, Blue Rock students tend to be active and engaged, with a heightened multicultural, global and environmental awareness. Community service-oriented projects and events occur every year, initiated by the students or their teachers, and provide students the rewarding experience of helping others.  These initiatives, in addition to regular fieldtrips, guest artists and speakers, grant our students opportunities to develop a sense of respectful comportment when traveling beyond our West Nyack campus. Museum staff, speakers and visiting educators have often shared their admiration of our students, remarking on their mature, polite demeanor and their thoughtful and astute contributions.

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Adults from all walks of life, with a common commitment to their children’s well-being and healthy development, comprise our dedicated parent body.  Parents are encouraged and invited to share their areas of expertise and many give of their time to support classroom inquiry, school projects, celebrations and administrative and campus needs. From marmalade, music and costume making, to student workshops on anatomy, community work-day participation, gardening and adult education, Blue Rock Parents share their time and talents. In fact, a group of parents interested in progressive education are responsible for its founding many years ago.

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Our parent workshops, film and speakers series provides a forum for parents, staff and community members to gather and discuss ideas and practices that relate to childhood and parenting in an ever-changing world.   The school brings professional speakers several times each year which, in addition to compelling films and staff led workshops, creates opportunities for meaningful learning and discussion. We explore together the topics of parenting, brain development, technology and nature deficit, the commercialization of childhood, math and poetry, sex education, gender studies, and social justice, as well as other current issues.

Blue Rock families come from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, with a range of family structures. We celebrate family, in all of the beautiful forms it exists and the diversity of our ancestries, religious backgrounds and traditions. Community gatherings such as a Heritage Dinner, Barn Dance, and an All-School Picnic are supported by the parent body and strengthen our sense of community and inclusion.

Each grade has a volunteer class parent who serves as a liaison between the classroom teacher and the other parents, helping to coordinate field trips, all-school events and communication. The class parent also helps new parents get to know the other families and feel welcome.

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At Blue Rock School we value and practice civil discourse and awareness. We actively teach tolerance and peaceful conflict resolution in the classroom, among our staff and within the local community, as well as take action to assist those in need. Whether in Rockland County or across the world − our students are engaged in meaningful volunteer work − reaching out to neighbors and strangers alike − to make a tangible difference.

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A Foundation of Caring Begins in the Classroom

At Blue Rock, becoming an active, aware and empathic member of the community begins in kindergarten, where listening, responding and sharing are the core tools for problem-solving. Every child is encouraged to think from another’s point of view and to appreciate our differences.

As students move through the higher grades, they learn about and celebrate the diversity of cultures worldwide. This often begins with exploring their own family heritage, culminating in an annual Heritage Day event on campus where grandparents and other beloved elders are invited to share their stories and cultural traditions.

 
 Kindergartners and elders from Thorpe Senior Center enjoy making pottery together as part of our Intergenerational Ceramics Program.

Kindergartners and elders from Thorpe Senior Center enjoy making pottery together as part of our Intergenerational Ceramics Program.

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Throughout the grades, and with increasing, age-appropriate complexity, Blue Rock exposes students to topics of social justice, both historical and current. These include a closer look at the history of gender discrimination, and racial injustice in our country and around the globe. Classroom discussion and study focus on: inclusion, prejudice and bias; representation within (and the workings of) local, state and federal government; outstanding examples of effective civil activism; and democratic principles imperiled or upheld across international contexts.

Our faculty, staff and Board of Trustees are committed to Blue Rock School sustaining and expanding its inclusive and diverse enrollment. With that commitment comes ongoing initiatives (in the form of staff development, a teacher task force, lecturers and parent events) to explore issues of white privilege, undoing racism work and to secure and be alert to literature and classroom materials that are consciously representative of the multicultural nature of our larger community. We celebrate the fact that all the children, irrespective of race, class, gender, or religious affiliation, come together at Blue Rock School to learn in harmony and are enriched by each other’s presence.  

Then Outreach Begins to take Root in the Local Community and Across the Globe

Blue Rock Students are rolling up their sleeves to improve our world and make a tangible difference right here in Rockland County and in ways that reach across the globe. Examples of our many initiatives include:

 
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  Students sorting trash and recyclables after participating in a Keep Rockland Beautiful community clean-up .

Students sorting trash and recyclables after participating in a Keep Rockland Beautiful community clean-up.

Earth Day Every Day – Blue Rock actively promotes environmental literacy and fosters a love of nature with a goal of inspiring future environmental stewards. Students regularly engage in campus-wide “green” initiatives including recycling and our waste-free lunch program, and participate in annual Earth Day cleanups with Keep Rockland Beautiful. They also participate as citizen scientists conducting environmental inquiry and testing along the Hudson River each year with Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

  BRS hosts acclaimed storyteller Onawumi Jean Moss at the Nyack Center where she performed a piece about her experiences growing up during the Jim Crow era and the Civil Rights Movement.

BRS hosts acclaimed storyteller Onawumi Jean Moss at the Nyack Center where she performed a piece about her experiences growing up during the Jim Crow era and the Civil Rights Movement.

Inclusion and Undoing Racism - Blue Rock is committed to a learning environment that promotes equality and diversity. To this end our staff actively engages in staff development opportunities that further our understanding of racism and the ways we can contribute to a more just society as educators and as human beings. We schedule lectures and workshops for our teachers and parents that increase our understanding of the history and underlying causes of social injustice, with an emphasis on personal action and growth. Staff attendance at Undoing Racism trainings, visiting speakers and related performances, which are open to our whole community and student body, are some of the ways in which we continue to address and deepen our collective understanding.

 Sixth graders lovingly assembled care packages for youth victims of Hurricane Sandy.

Sixth graders lovingly assembled care packages for youth victims of Hurricane Sandy.

Disaster Relief/Humanitarian Aid – Blue Rock frequently participates in school-wide drives for medical and school supplies for AFYA and other relief organizations which support refugee needs, especially in conflict zones such as Syria. Students have also sent aid to the victims of hurricanes Maria, Sandy and Katrina, the tsunami of Southeast Asia, and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti by initiating fundraisers. Food and clothing drives have been organized over the years to benefit the needy and homeless in our area. Clothing has also been sent to a Tibetan orphanage, and donations have been sent to support education for girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as for the work to provide clean drinking water in areas of Africa.

Voter Awareness – Middle school students, motivated by class discussions on democracy and the history of voting rights in the U.S., have traveled to downtown Nyack with handmade signs on election days in a non-partisan effort to encourage community members to get out and vote!

 

Being Active Becomes a Life-Long Commitment

As Blue Rock students grow as compassionate human beings from their direct involvement in community service, they contribute to building a stronger and more vibrant community.

Blue Rock School acknowledges that learning and community service are life-long endeavors. Every year we offer the adults in our community – parents, teachers, staff members, and the general public – multiple events including documentary screenings, professional lectures, performances and workshops that focus on social issues. Topics include progressive education and parenting, historical prejudice and undoing cultural bias, as well as the effect of the media and technology on children. We try to address some of the most pressing social issues of our day to help our parents and the community-at-large navigate the ever-changing landscape of the world we live in. 

 
 
To: Class
Dear Class I love you as much as my family.
Love: Annika.
— First Grader
 
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Media Statement & Philosophy

 

At Blue Rock School we value the importance of self-directed learning – the learning that happens when children are granted the time to ponder their own questions and engage in authentic experiences. We believe that this kind of learning leads to an ongoing interest in life and confidence in oneself as a curious human being, able to draw on personal resources to solve problems and respond creatively to new experiences.  We find that children who are exposed to media and screens from an early age inevitably absorb the messages and images presented. They are often more passive and disinterested as learners, particularly in the absence of external stimulus or direction. The fast-paced, commercial and/or violent nature of many programs and video games can also negatively influence students’ play, imagination, beliefs and values.

 
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Current research has shown that the environment one grows up in has a clear effect on the developing brain; what children are exposed to repeatedly, forms them.  As educators we want the nourishment that children receive intellectually, emotionally and physically to be of the highest quality.   Receiving impressions of quality as they grow helps children develop the discernment to continue to nourish themselves well, and to seek out activities and interests that further a positive experience of being alive. By focusing on habits that extend wellbeing and vibrant connections to life, our students stay curious and engaged in learning.

We have observed that children who have been given the gift of a media-free childhood are easily able to access their own personal thoughts and feelings. They are generally interested, even in the small things, and are able to slow down and enjoy exploring with self-motivation. They tend to spend more time in nature, reading books and participating in family activities.  They are also freer to use their own imaginations in their writing and play, compared to their more media-saturated peers. For these reasons we recommend no screen time during the school week and limited or no screen use on weekends.

Because our curriculum includes many individual research projects and group discussions on a great variety of topics, the material and interests that students bring to school are woven into the fabric of an emergent curriculum. If a student does not engage in hands-on activities outside of school, or have the time to reflect on his or her experiences during the week (due to constant engagement with screens) they will have little to bring to this important aspect of our school and will not reap the maximum benefit of the opportunities to further their own inquiry that the school allows.  Because of the often socially exclusive and fad-like nature of many screen activities, we discourage classroom discussions on current games, movies, social media, etc. during the school day.  

Some individual Middle School research projects will entail using the internet, as well as other primary sources of information, and parents are given guidelines for student online research as well as a list of recommended sites at these times. In Middle School, aspects of media literacy are introduced and discussed within the context of our social health curriculum.

In order to support parents in implementing a commercial and screen-free home life, we host speakers and discussions throughout the year that allow us to examine current issues related to technology,  and its impact on children’s  and  teen’s healthy development.

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Environmental Stewardship

 
 

Where Earth Day is Every Day

At Blue Rock School, we are deeply committed to preserving the health, wellbeing and beauty of our planet and all of its creatures, and feel that this positive connection to nature is not only a gift, but a duty to our children and generations to come.  As a school, we were early adopters of sustainable practices and have always strived to do our part to minimize our carbon footprint. We have made green living a priority by instituting many eco-friendly standards and practices over the years. We have also enlisted the help of parents to join our student Vine Brigade which helps remove invasive species on campus during bi-annual community work days.

As I sit in my backyard
The sun shines down
A shadow swoops overhead
Good thing the chickens are in.
— Poem by Kaya, Blue Rock Student

As an institution of learning, we are of course equally dedicated to modeling and teaching our students the importance of respecting the earth and all living things. Environmental education happens organically throughout the day, as it is woven into the culture of daily life at the school. Just a few examples are our waste-free lunch program, recycling, composting, use of LED lightbulbs, the conservation of energy and materials, (all paper goods are made from recycled materials) and the use of eco-friendly cleaning products on campus. Large, disposable, plastic water coolers were replaced long ago when water filters were installed campus wide on our drinking fountains and sinks. To avoid using individual, single-use, plastic bottles, utensils and paper cups, students are encouraged to bring their own reusable water bottles, ceramic mugs for tea, and stainless steel flatware. The school also owns flatware that it uses for all school events. Students are also encouraged to make greener choices in the classrooms. For example, if they use their entire pencil down to the eraser, turn off the light when leaving the room, or use both sides of their paper, their efforts will be acknowledged.  Each and every day we aim to gently create the awareness of our impact on the environment and the need to conserve our finite resources, to instill a genuine sense of caring and positive action that students will hopefully carry with them throughout their lives.

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Green initiatives have also been woven more formally into the curriculum and dovetail perfectly into our hands-on approach, a hallmark of our learning style here at Blue Rock. Our gardening program is just one example which has really flourished in recent years, having grown from flowers only to include vegetables, berries and herbs. Specialty tea, dye and jewelry gardens have also recently been added. Gardening truly brings learning to life and has vastly enriched our science curriculum. The growing cycle and opportunities to learn continue all year and into the next with composting, the study of soil composition, beneficial insects, pollinators, and biodynamic agriculture. Students make the seed to table experience happen with their own hands.

Environmentalism is not limited to our own campus. For decades, Blue Rock students have participated in the “Day in the Life of the Hudson River” program each fall in conjunction with Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory− a division of Columbia University’s Earth Institute− where the health of the river and its inhabitants are examined through seining and water testing. Each spring, students partner with local environmental group Keep Rockland Beautiful to participate in the Great American Cleanup and remove trash from area streets and waterways. Students also take field trips to recycling facilities and landfills to study how waste is managed. Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills is among one of the favorite field trip destinations where middle schoolers team up with kindergarteners to picnic and learn about local, organic farming and agriculture.

Blue Rock is a member of the Green School Alliance, and as part of the school's goal to become a New York State green-certified school, we are currently researching the feasibility of solar power on campus and look forward to integrating that process into the curriculum as well.  Blue Rock is also quickly becoming a single-use, plastic bag-free campus and advocating for the ban of plastic bags throughout the community and beyond.

To make a donation toward our environmental fund, please click
the button below.

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