The Downtown School, a new, independent, progressive elementary school in Manchester, is opening in the Oliver Rice House, built in 1768. The house was
The Downtown School, a new, independent, progressive elementary school in Manchester, is opening in the Oliver Rice House, built in 1768. The house was moved piece by piece to its present location by Peter Palmer in 1976, and restored. Palmer sold the property to the school. (Derek Carson)

MANCHESTER -- The Downtown School, a new, independent, progressive elementary school in Manchester, hosted two open houses, on Sunday and Monday, and allowed prospective students and their parents to tour the school and meet some of the staff.

According to founder Alexa Manning, the Downtown School will focus on "teaching kids how to learn, versus what to learn." Located just off Main Street in downtown Manchester, the school is housed in the Oliver Rice House, built in 1768. The house was moved piece by piece to its present location by Peter Palmer in 1976, and has been painstakingly restored. According to Mike Manning, Palmer sold the property to the Downtown School, despite receiving better offers from developers, because "he wanted the community to be involved with it."

The school will eventually serve students from kindergarten through eighth grade, but in its first year will only have students in grades K-3, with one new grade being added each year as the initial students advance. To educate these students, the school has hired two experienced teachers in Brittany Denny, who will teach kindergarten and first grade, and Scott Howard, who will teach second and third grade. The school expects the student-teacher ratio in the first year to be about 6:1, and never any higher than 12:1.

"We couldn't be more excited about the addition of these creative, experienced, passionate educators to our staff," said Alexa Manning, "As we open out doors this fall, nothing is more important than the quality of our faculty.


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Brittany and Scott are two of the most inspired and inspiring teachers you will ever meet." Manning said that the school only accepted applications from teachers with master's degrees.

Denny received her master of science in education degree from Bank Street College of Education in New York City, where she majored in childhood education and literacy.

"Bank Street is probably the top school for progressive educators in the country," said Denny, who received her B.A. from Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. Denny has 12 years of teaching experience, from working as a first grade teacher at the Bank Street School for Children, to a kindergarten teacher at the Children's Development Center in Bozeman, Montana, to, most recently, the Youth Program's director and teaching artist at Hui No'eau Visual Arts Center in Makawao, Hawaii.

"I am thrilled to be joining the energetic and inspired founding members of the Downtown School in its inaugural year," said Denny, "In this progressive school, I have found the reflection of my own educational values and a philosophy that honors project and inquiry based approaches to curriculum, while supporting the growth of the whole child. I greatly look forward to being part of the Downtown School as it grows to become a thriving and cherished addition to the Manchester landscape."

Denny said that the Bank Street School is based around "the idea that kids can take responsibility for their own education, if given the tools." She said that the Downtown School embodies that approach. "Wherever [the students] want to go with the curriculum is where it goes. They learn how to learn, and how to love learning."

Howard, who was unable to attend the open house, as he is finishing the year as a teacher at P.S. 261 in Brooklyn, New York, where he has taught for 12 years. Howard received a master of arts in teaching degree from Teachers College at Columbia University, with a major in early education and elementary education. He received his bachelors degree from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. During his time at P.S. 261, Howard taught students of every grade from Pre-K through five.

"I'm honored to be part of the Downtown School," said Howard in a written statement, "Our progressive model of educating children will allow them every opportunity to embark upon a daily journey of self-discovery, while creating a sense of self-awareness that prepares them for the future and life outside of school. This unique approach to education enables children to flourish as students and develop a love of learning that lasts a lifetime. I look forward to becoming a member of this new and amazing school community."

"There are a lot of reasons that we really believe in this type of education," said Manning, including instilling the joy of learning. "That's what we're going for, an environment where students feel joy in learning every day, and are sad when school is canceled, and beg their parents at the end of the day to let them stay."

Manning said the school aims to move award from memorization, and test based education, but will still hold its students to high standards. Manning, Denny, and Howard have begun working together to create a curriculum that, in Manning's words, "prepares students for the future."

"In the future," said Manning, "success will mean people who can solve complicated problems by breaking them down. People who are willing to challenge the way things are done. Creating a cog who knows how to memorize lots of stuff is not ideal."

Those interested in more information about the school can visit www.thedowntownschool.org, or contact Manning at info@thedowntownschool.org or by phone at 802-379-8810.

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at dcarson@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB.