The word “weakness” has no place for children with diverse strengths at The Barclay School.
Located in the Fairfield County town of Ridgeway, the school uses unconventional lessons – like the making of organic fertilizer called Bunnies’ Brew – as an alternative teaching method to learn life skills.
What’s happening at Barclay is as unique as the students.
There is reading, writing, and arithmetic, but the lessons go beyond the classrooms: there is riding, learning how to overcome fears – as a girl named Hope did when accomplishing her first ride on a horse.
And there’s roasting. About once a week, the students roast coffee beans.
Learning entrepreneurial business skills, they sell their product and the money goes for scholarships for the school. An emphasis is put on the quality and history of the beans. These are from Uganda and are free-trade coffee beans.
About 20 students attend the independent, private non-profit located at Ridgeway’s Magnolia Farm. The school was started by Dr. Gillian Barclay-Smith who as a child realized “cookie cutter” learning wasn’t for her.
“I am a special needs child myself. I have dyslexia. And I struggled in school and I knew I had to be taught differently but at that point, people did not know that,” Dr. Barclay-Smith says.
With a doctorate in education and years of teaching in traditional settings, she later designed The Barclay School for children with special learning needs to celebrate their strengths and strengthen their weaknesses.
“I wanted to have a place that felt warm and loving and homey because in that environment you lower anxiety. And where there is anxiety you cannot teach. Lower the anxiety and the most amazing things happen,” Barclay-Smith said.
Some of that anxiety is eased through time with the goats on the farm.
“It’s an opportunity for the kids to relate to another creature that doesn’t ask for anything from them, that doesn’t judge them,” Barclay-Smith said. “It’s just peaceful and quiet. And it reciprocates the love and affection they have.”
The goats also are used for teaching business skills that are soon to be sold to merchants in the Midlands – goat cheese and soap that the students will make in this barn.
“We’ll collect the milk and then make cheese – everything from Chev, Camembert, I have made Tomme, and cheddar and pepper jack and so I am just so excited to bring that life experience that I have to the kids and let them see how you go from an animal in the yard and it produces this wonderful product,” the instructor known as Goatman said.
The most popular product made and sold by these students comes from Toby, a rescued pet rabbit. The bunny’s poo for the now famed Bunnies’ Brew is collected and taken to a rain barrel in the shed.
The students make the stewed mixture of rabbit droppings and water to create a fertilizer for gardens. The Bunnies’ Brew is sold online and by local vendors for $10.
“We teach them money skills. They keep the books. They approach the public. They take the money so they’re learning social skills and how to interact with people,” Barclay-Smith said. “And then as a group, they decide what they want to do because this is their business and their money.”
Gardening also is taught at The Barclay School as another way to achieve skill sets as some of these students will be limited in being educated beyond high school.
Numerous learning experiences that will help these young minds stay active and help the children contribute to their communities.
To buy the Bunnies’ Brew, visit the Barclay School website at www.thebarclayschool.org. And to help the students, you can donate empty wine bottles, books, paper, crayons, bunny food, goat food, clothes, shoes, tuition money, gift cards to movie theaters and bowling alleys.
If you have the talent to share – like pottery, music or painting, you could donate your time showing the children what you do.
Some volunteers take their talents and share them on occasion with the school – like instructors of music, pottery or painting. You can reach The Barclay School at (803)-629-6318.
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