Birch School Opens for it’s 11th Year at 9 Vance Road

Greeting from The Birch School Community to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Rock Tavern.

We at The Birch School are immensely grateful to the UU Community for your generosity in sharing this wonderful building with us. Every Birch family appreciates the remarkable qualities of the building you share with us- the
natural light – all those windows! – the accessibility, the wonderful back lawn. It is an ideal environment for children to learn.

We are now starting the 2023-24 school year- our 11th Fall opening. I well remember meeting John Kinney for the first
time at the UUCRT building in the spring of 2012- it was apparent from the very outset that our school’s values dovetailed perfectly with Unitarian values: the dignity of every person- indeed every student – justice, personal growth, the search for truth- all values we teach our students at school that seemed to line right up with Unitarian

Kate Fox is Director of the school. She was the driving force in the school’s founding. In addition to her duties in
administration, Kate also teaches English Language Arts. Gaye Sable is our math and science teacher. She has been part of Birch from the very beginning, and designed our individualized math program, as well as the science curriculum. Ed Helbig teaches history and geography. He and Kate developed The Birch School, managed its incorporation as a 501(C)3 educational nonprofit and coordinate the Birch School Board of Trustees.

New to our staff this year are: Rita Epstein, our assistant principal and parent communications specialist. Rita founded the Windsor Academy in the 90’s to great success over many decades, and has joined us to offer her great experience and steady hand.

Shannon Schoenherr, our office administrator and teacher in our Farm & Forest program; Ella Goodwin, classroom assistant and student coach; and Ronnie Yastion, biology teacher. Jim Van Gelder returns this year to teach studio art and drawing. And Asa Nelson, a 2021 Birch Alumnus, is coaching our Dungeons and Dragons elective. Many of our electives focus on nature, ecology and activism: our students work with the Quassaick Creek Watershed Alliance on tree-planting projects, on food preparation for local free kitchens, as well as collecting donated winter gear for distribution via some of the local churches.

That first Fall opening was 2012, and over the course of 10 years we have grown to two dozen or more students (Birch has rolling admissions, and many times we pick up additional students over the course of the year). We persevered through the pandemic years, teaching online every day to make sure our students did not miss out on learning. Since fall of 2021 we have been back in person.

The Birch School is an alternative for children for whom Public School is not the right fit. There are many kids who have trouble with public school culture and its demands, and search for a friendly welcoming place where emotional
well being is a first priority. They find that at Birch. We teach all the core subjects: math, science, history and English, plus a great variety of electives.

We’ve always tried to do our fair share at 9 Vance – in 2014, our numbers grew large enough to require NYS and Orange County water quality supervision. The OC Health Department required a water purification system which we funded and installed, choosing a UV purification system, to avoid the use of chlorine in our drinking water. This system has been
cleaning all the water that the congregation, staff and students drink and use since then.

In addition, we are required to test the water annually to ensure it is safe. We have passed every year, incurring very
significant costs to the school.

Recently, Ed Helbig was asked to take responsibility for the building maintenance. Ed is at school most weekdays and can tend to the various day￾to-day issues as well as the regulatory and required regular maintenance to the many
systems in the building as required by the local health and municipality offices.

Birch teachers have taken responsibility to stock paper goods for the school and for the UUCRT community. Gaye has been maintaining the kitchen and restrooms supplies, and shops regularly to maintain supply.

So, we have more than 30 happy teachers and students who have a school home thanks to the UUCRT. We see our cooperation and sharing as a model for how people should be together in a healthy society. Our students see the Unitarian Universalist example of progressive, activist engagement, and are inspired in their own community work.
-Kate Fox, Director