Ask any parent and they’ll tell you that it can be a difficult task to get your children up to go to school on any day of the week. But even on Saturday morning — despite it being a weekend along with the looming threat of a snowstorm — that wasn’t an issue for parents and students from Peconic Community School.
Over 100 community members joined founders and co-executive directors, Liz Casey Searl and Kathryn Casey Quigley for the ribbon-cutting of the school’s “forever home” in Cutchogue, at the former Our Lady of Mercy School building on the hamlet’s Sacred Heart campus.
The ceremony started with a statement from Cindy Armine–Klein, chair of the school’s Board of Trustees. She thanked everyone who made the move possible and discussed the school’s plans for the property.
“It takes a village, you’ve been our village, the strongest village imaginable,” Ms. Armine–Klein said. “We need your continuous help, your support, your money, all that good stuff. This school is a vision of education, and the way education should be and so with that, I want to thank the PCS team for making this a reality. Dreams do come true.”
Peconic Community School announced a plan to purchase the 10.2-acre Sacred Heart campus in September 2022. Ms. Casey Searl and Ms. Casey Quigley first presented their plans for the property to the community that December.
In addition to the former school facilities, the sale of the property includes the Sacred Heart Church building; the church rectory, a garage or “carriage house” behind the rectory and woodlands that stretch north of the campus. Potential plans for the property include creating walking trails in the wooded area, turning the former church sanctuary into a performance space and creating an art studio with a community kiln in the carriage house. There are also plans for a playground.
The move will allow the school to expand its curriculum and offer a comprehensive summer program. For more information visit peconiccommunityschool.org.
A notable moment in Saturday morning’s proceedings came with a heartfelt gesture of land acknowledgment by the school’s co-founders.
“We stand upon Corchaug land, and we recognize this history with deep reverence and respect,” Ms. Casey Searl said. “And we recognize that we have a call to commit to continuing to learn how to be better stewards of the land that we inhabit.”
Marylin Banks-Winter and her nephew Jeff Pegram who consider themselves First Nations People or Indigenous were invited to lead that part of the celebration. Ms. Banks-Winter has lineage to Corchaug, Cherokee, Unkechaug, Salish, Naragansett, Pequot and Powhatan-Pamunkey. She is founding president and co-chair of African American Educational and Cultural Festival Inc., a nonprofit that promotes diversity and provides youth mentoring and college planning, workshops, enrichment, cultural and historical trips and other programs at local schools and libraries. Ms. Banks-Winter gave greetings in native Algonquin language.
“Today we gather, and we see the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty of living in a balance and harmony with each other, and all living things,” she said. “So now, we bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks.”
Mr. Pegram, an educator and guidance counselor, led in singing prayers upon the land and school.
Southold Town Board members Anne Smith, Greg Doroski and Brian Mealy were also in attendance and gave their congratulations to the school faculty and staff.
“I know it didn’t take a small group of people to get here today and knowing some of your founding families, I know where you started and I appreciate what you have put in to make this happen,” Ms. Smith said. “The town would like to recognize your commitment to teaching about civility and respect, as our supervisor stated at his inauguration. This is something Southold Town commits to, and we appreciate that it is so evident in everything you do in your school.”
The ribbon cutting was led by the school’s students who excitedly cut the ribbon with enormous cardboard scissors. Afterward, the community was invited to tour the facility, which has nine classrooms, a library, a faculty room, cafeteria and other offices.
Brenna Leveille teaches middle school at PCS, which includes sixth, seventh and eighth grades, and said the relocation has provided stability.
“I feel like having a home in Cutchogue and being within Southold Town really completes the vision of a place-based, community-centered school,” she said. “And getting the positive reaction from the community has just been really uplifting.”
Ms. Leveille is also the mother of a 7-year-old PCS student and said she expects the move to be very beneficial for him and all students as well.
“Having the indoor beautiful space that’s big and can fit our kids and their needs and then also the outside space just feels really ,really good,” she said.
Ms. Casey Searl said in a November interview with The Suffolk Times that the school remains in contract to purchase the property and is currently leasing to buy. She added that they are in phase one of a capital fundraising campaign with a goal of $5 million to $8 million. Their goal for this year, which ends in June, is to raise $500,000 toward the goal. She added that other plans for the property are contingent on their ongoing fundraising.
Peconic Community School was founded in 2012 by Liz Casey Searl and her sister and co-executive director, Kathryn Casey Quigley. It started with just nine students but quickly outgrew its rented space at East End Arts in downtown Riverhead and moved to its previous home at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Aquebogue. Today, roughly 100 students are enrolled there in pre-K through eighth grades.
“[To] all fellow dreamers, let this be a lesson that manifesting a vision can take time,” Ms. Casey Quigley said just before the ribbon was cut. “There has been more than one moment, and maybe more than 100 over the last 12 years, when we questioned whether we could get this little school to this crucial stage. But patience, perseverance, collaboration and community [made it possible.] Dreams can become a reality.”
Photos by Melissa Azofeifa