Scholastic SymphonyAnne Pyburn Craig | June 3, 2015 | Comment
Picture an infinite jam session. Orchestra, chamber, hot jazz, world beat, bluegrass, techno, all segueing seamlessly from movement to movement, a soundtrack adding shifting kaleidoscopic layers of harmony and rhythm to the dances of everyday life.
Got that? Then you begin to glimpse the richness and variety, the depth of our educational landscape. The story starts back in the early 1860s with characters like John and Margaret Bard and Matt Vassar. Their namesakes rock on, not only providing five-star educations but serving as cutting-edge cultural magnets—and those are but two of the 18 independent colleges the Valley has to offer.
Then there’s SUNY. From Purchase to Columbia-Greene, the Valley is home to campuses where you can get some of the best value for your educational buck that you’ll find on planet Earth, whether you’re looking for a master’s or a continuing ed class, whether you want to study fine arts, physics, sustainable building, or all of the above. SUNY’s got it going on: high tech facilities, inspired instruction, and offerings tailored to adults with lives. And like the privates, the SUNY campuses do a lot for the local culture: symposia and conferences, galleries and galas, performing arts and poetry.
When it comes to educating the young, we’ve got great school districts—and beyond that, a stellar array of private schools of every sort. Just about the only common factors are excellence and mad love for teaching the young; beyond that, it’s impossible to generalize. We’ve got the New York Military Academy neighboring with Storm King, venerable and rigorous and dramatically different. We’ve got the modern Catholic intellectualism of Canterbury, the Friendly persuasion of Oakwood, the freethinking splendors of Sudbury. We’ve got Waldorf schools and Montessori schools, sweet eclectic places like Woodstock Day, Poughkeepsie Day and High Meadow School, and programs like Wild Earth, Wayfinders, and the Paul Green Rock Academy. If you start checking it out, beware; you’ll wish you were a kid again.
But you don’t have to go back in time to find learning opportunities that will blow your mind in great big beautiful ways, whether you’re visiting, summering, or thinking of living here. Take one example: the Culinary Institute of America. You can enroll and start a whole new life in the world of food with a degree from a planetary center of excellence; many have. (And happily for us all, many have stuck around to open restaurants.) But there’s no need for a huge commitment. You can dabble at a wide variety of levels. The CIA offers Boot Camps in cooking, baking and wine. There are a dozen options, ranging from two to five day experiences—everything from Basics, Healthy Eating, and Grilling and BBQ on up to in-depth explorations of various world cuisines and fine wines. Then they’ve got Saturday Kitchens (cooking and baking of all sorts for all skill levels) and two-hour Sampling sessions. That’s just, so to speak, a taste.
Maybe you’re passionate about where the food comes from in the first place. In that case, check out the Hawthorne Valley Association, a multifaceted gem in Columbia County where agriculture, arts and education meet in a gorgeous profusion of internships, programs, celebrations and doings of all sorts. Their 400-acre biodynamic farm covers a lot of bases—dairy, veggies, lacto-fermentation—on a playing field they like to call Agriculture 3.0, and they would love nothing more than to share what they know with you.
Love teaching? The Sunbridge Institute has a slew of summer programs on Waldorf education topics like storytelling, puppetry, and rediscovering your playful side, taught Waldorf-style with heaping helpings of arts, fun and warmth. Want to immerse yourself in myth, magic and the Great Mystery? The Center for Symbolic Studies has in-depth Joseph Campbell seminars, explorations of traditional shamanic pathways, teachings on mask-making and how to swing from a flying trapeze. Ever wonder about enneagrams? The Enneagram Institute has its world headquarters in Stone Ridge. And you just never know what the folks at Unison Arts and Learning are going to do next; they’ll help you flow into tai chi, tack down your tango, or learn to photograph nudes, to name but three possibilities.
Then there are the venerable art academies of Woodstock, where you can take on jewelry-making, photography, or any fine or performing art that sparks you at a range of levels of engagement, from two-hour quickies to summer-long intensives. There are music lessons in everything from Celtic harp and mandolin to electric bass or studio production. There are writers’ workshops, herb walks, conflict resolution trainings, beekeeping lessons, martial arts academies, Latin dance nights where an hour of salsa instruction precedes an entire ecstatic evening of trying it out.
The Big Fat Hudson Valley Learning Jam: You’re invited. Sit down, pick up the beat, join on in.