The Peconic Community School, on the North Fork, started 12 years ago with nine students by two sisters passionate about hands-on education in collaboration with the community, has found its forever home in Cutchogue.
The school opened its doors Jan. 8 in the former Our Lady of Mercy School on the Main Road in downtown Cutchogue, with more than 90 students in the eight classrooms of the former Catholic school owned by Sacred Heart Parish.
“We’re so excited to be in the Village of Cutchogue, and we’ve received such a warm welcome,” said Kathryn Casey Quigley as workers prepared the school to open during winter break in early January. “It feels like we’re coming home. The library here was the first to call us and say ‘library cards for everyone!'”
“When we were founded, we had a vision about community programming. We never wanted to be isolated. The community is our lab,” she said. “That can happen here.”
The school was first established with nine students in a room at East End Arts in Riverhead back in 2012, and quickly grew at its temporary home at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Aquebogue, with enrollment peaking during Covid at more than 100 students. There are now 28 staff members, an individual class for each grade from Kindergarten through eighth grade and an early childhood program for three and four-year-olds.
“It’s been incredibly fulfilling,” said Ms. Casey Quigley. “We do work in a beautiful bubble. A lot in the world seems so discouraging and hard to solve, but we’re in here every day, trying to do something about it…
The community turned out in force for the Jan. 6 ribbon cutting for the new school, including members of the Cutchogue Civic Association, Southold Town Board and Marylin Banks-Winter, a descendent of the Corchaug people and her nephew, Jeff Pegram, who gave a blessing welcoming the school.
“We are on Corchaug land, and we have a call to commit to being reverent stewards of this land,” said Liz Casey Searl.
Mr. Pegram, an educator, asked the community to join in in honoring the ancestors and the land and natural environment surrounding them, but said that the mother earth is sick, and its call needs to be heard farther than it is now.
He said the opening of the school is one of the “little ways the creator lets us know there are people who do care, who know things need to change.”
“We have to get to people who do not understand why this is important,” he said.
“It’s important that we do acknowledge the land in which we stand, the inhabitants that were here before us, which were the Corchaug Indian Nation,” said Ms. Banks-Winter. “Its important to know the history of this land, to honor our ancestors, Mother Earth.”
“Today, we gather and see the cycles of life continue,” she added. “We have been given the duty of living in a balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now we bring our minds together as one, in greeting each other, as a people.”
Anne Smith, the former Superintendent of the Mattituck-Cutchogue School District, who was sworn in as a new member of the Southold Town Board the prior week, echoed new Town Supervisor Al Krupski’s call in his inaugural address for a new era of civility and respect.
“I know your roots are in the community,” she said to the sisters, who went to school in Mattituck. “You plant your seeds in partnership with the community, with positive thinking and being responsive to what the community needs.”
The school was founded on the principle of fostering kids who are resilient, reflective, creative and compassionate, and committed to making the world a better place.
Part of that mission is to become deeply ingrained in the community, fostering relationships with civic and environmental groups, and in fostering a love of the outdoors — the students have outdoor recess in most types of weather, and know to come prepared to weather the elements on learning excursions.
“We’re hoping the kids will have opportunities to play in the snow,” said Ms. Casey Quigley, and parent committees are already planning out trails and an Outward Bound-type outdoor education area. “We’ve always been a scrappy school.”
Ms. Casey Quigley said the school, which had been in contract to purchase the ten-acre Cutchogue property for more than a year, is now leasing the property from the Parish for two years with plans to purchase it at the end of that time. The Parish is maintaining offices in the rectory while it prepares to move its operations to its Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Mattituck.
The school, which was built in the 1950s, had been in use for programming up until the past year, and juste needed paint and flooring, a new fire alarm system and water fountains before PCS could move in, she said.
PCS ultimately plans to use the former Sacred Heart Church for community lectures and events, and to use a carriage house behind the church for a maker’s studio and pottery workshop.
PCS also has an after-school program that is open to the community, and hopes to expand its summer program to kids up to 12 years old this summer.
“Rarely in a business transaction is there such community spirit,” said Ms. Casey Quigley at the ribbon-cutting, adding that the school also plans to learn from the history of the church, which was built by immigrant farm families who made their homes in Cutchogue in the 19th Century.
The school’s mission has always been to have inclusive admissions, offering need-based scholarships and encouraging the parents of students who may never have considered private school to apply, and Ms. Casey Searl, who handles admissions, has been busy the past few weeks giving tours of the new school to prospective students and their families.
“Peconic Community School has found its forever home. We have five amazing buildings on 10 amazing acres,” said Cindy Armine-Klein, the Chair of the school’s Board of Trustees, at the ribbon cutting. “We’re going to renovate the beautiful church and have an art studio and maker studio.”
“We need your help,” she added. “This school is a vision of the way education should be.”
PCS students area already on the fundraising mission — they’re planning an upcoming community Bingo night to help support their school.
More information on the Peconic Community School is online here.