A school modeled after one in Central America is expanding in Putnam County, and moving to an historic property.
The Plumbush House in Cold Spring, built in 1867 by Robert Parker Parrot, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Most recently, it was home to the Plumbush Restaurant & Inn at the Parrott House, catering to weddings and fine dining. Now, the property and building will cater to a much younger crowd – children in pre-kindergarten through fourth grade at The Manitou School. The private, bilingual program has been operating out of a cottage in neighboring Garrison as a pre-k to kindergarten bridge program only. Maria Stein-Marrison is the director of The Manitou School. She says she had envisioned a larger program even before her first program began, and was scouting locations five years ago.
“So it had to be a place that had a lot of outdoor space and that was physically beautiful and charming,” Stein-Marrison says. “We want our students to learn in gorgeous surroundings, and we spend a lot of time doing nature-based education and a lot of time outdoors. So when the Plumbush Inn came on the market last year, it seemed like the perfect fit for us. Even though it’s been used as a restaurant, the way that the rooms are laid out, the different spaces inside the building are very interesting for us. The grounds are gorgeous and the location is perfect.”
Renovations to the Plumbush House are underway this month.
“Because the building has been used as a restaurant and catering facility and it was already a public space, the renovations are not very expensive,” Stein-Marrison says. “And if you’ve been to the building, or for people who have been to the building, it’s already broken up into small rooms that can very easily be adapted into learning spaces. So the main changes that we’re doing are we are breaking the very large ballroom at the back of the building into several classrooms. We are putting in a sprinkler system throughout the whole building and we will be fencing in part of the grounds and putting a playground in the grounds. We also need to make the entrance to the building ADA accessible.”
That accessibility is meant to meet the Americans with Disabilities Act standards. Fire safety was a concern for town planning board members. There was a fire in the building in 2010. Local media last year reported that the planning board gave the green light once school officials agreed to install a sprinkler system.
The Manitou School currently enrolls 12 students, and that’s a full house, says Stein-Marrison. The school’s new home has room for many more.
“The school will be able to accommodate up to 75 students,” Stein-Marrison says. “Now we don’t expect to start with that many students. We will be accepting applications from pre-school through fourth grade and then we’re committed to growing by one grade per year until we reach sixth grade. So I expect next year we’ll have between 40 and 50 students.”
Stein-Marrison says she thinks it is important for children to learn at least two languages to become members of a global society, but the bilingual component of her program is just one aspect.
“We have a different philosophy of education,” says Stein-Marrison. “Our curriculum is incredibly hands-on. It’s very project focused. Students are really challenged to ask questions, to find out answers. It’s a lot of inquiry-based learning that happens across all disciplines and in the context of learning two languages.”
Stein-Marrison is also fluent in Spanish, the language taught in her school, and her mother’s school.
“I’m really going back to my roots in setting up a school,” Stein-Marrison says.
The Manitou School’s teaching methods have been developed in partnership with its Panamanian sister school.
“I went to The Academia Interamericana de Panama, in Panama City,” says Stein-Marrison. “And it’s a school that my mother set up when I was a little girl. So I grew up watching my mother set up a school and now it’s been going for 30 years. It’s pre-k through 12th grade. It’s got about 1,500 students and their graduates go to top colleges and universities in the United States, and have been since the first graduating class, which I was a part of.”
Stein-Marrison’s expanded, bilingual private-school program will open in its new, historic location in September.