Along with reading, writin’ and ’rithmatic, 17 students have been learning the dharma, or “cosmic order” at the Middle Way School, which opened in West Saugerties in September.
The school, which mixes Buddhist philosophy with more common subjects, celebrated its first two months of operation with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Nov. 5, with parents and public officials in attendance. The elementary education program, which currently hosts students between kindergarten and third grade, is spearheaded by two full-time teachers, Talia Bosco and Simon Harrison. Specialty teachers rotate in each day of the week to instruct children on a wide variety of topics.
Wednesdays, for example, involve learning the techniques of Aikido, a form of Japanese martial arts that combines defensive techniques with fitness, spirituality and philosophy.
In reflecting on the past couple months that they have been open, Executive Director Noa Jones was pleased with the outcome. “I have to say, it’s been so much better than I even expected. We haven’t really had to make that many adjustments. We are really focused on making this a model school, rather than a model of education,” said Jones. “Our scope is quite narrow right now, as we focus on making this the best possible school we can.”
Middle Way’s mission has been, from the start, to research and develop a new model of learning, in which Buddhist principles are combined with a comprehensive academic curriculum and modern educational practices. Already, they are leaving behind traditional and, some would say outdated, concepts of the educational model — pressing their students to trade standardized-test preparation and piles of homework for enriching activities, emphasizing connection to friends and family and offering learning opportunities not found in more routine school programs.
In one example, students make extensive use of the school’s five-acre forest and surrounding grounds during long-form recess and “unfettered” learning periods. Although the school year is quickly approaching the colder months, the teachers remain optimistic that their program will continue to involve the great outdoors. “We’re waiting to see how the weather goes, we’re still going to be outside a lot. We might see if we can add an awning or some other protective structures so the students can go outside all winter.”
Having taken over the old grounds of a previously operating special needs school, the campus is currently poised to take the experiences of their opening months and build upon them. “We’re definitely looking at expanding. We’ve had families coming in, even this week, inquiring about enrollment. We can take on new students throughout the year, and we’ll extend our current group by about five students. I definitely see us extending beyond this building. We intend to be a K-12 school.”
As far as the decision to choose West Saugerties as the home base of the program, Jones was confident that they had found the perfect location. “It was a lot of factors, but really this community is so wonderful, it offers such a wide variety. The collection of Buddhists and spiritual communities in this area make it a rich environment for this type of school. We’ve seen an outpouring of support, the local community seems ready for us,” said Jones. “This area, its thinkers, are known for being independent. That’s a tenet of Buddhism as well, creating independent thinkers who find out what’s true for them.”
Parents interested in more information about the school, its mission and its academic program can visit www.middlewayschool.org.