Community responds to Barclay School

School’s Funding Has Been Cut, Not Delayed

RIDGEWAY – While the Barclay School is not out of the woods financially, the head of the school, Gillian Barclay-Smith, said it seems like everyone associated with the school as well as complete strangers, are trying to move mountains to keep the school open after she learned two weeks ago that an IRS rule change had impacted a major non-profit funding source for the school.

“It seems everyone has read about our plight and they want to help,” Barclay-Smith said. “It’s been overwhelming. We’ve received a lot of small donations, our landlord, MEKRA-Lang, has given us free rent for 2020, and others have done other things to help us in other ways. One of our parents cleaned up our website and revamped our online presence, literally overnight, which has actually helped our fundraising effort tremendously. So far, we have raised about $20,000 of the $50,000 we need to stay open until Christmas.”

But that’s not all the school needs. It must have $150,000 to stay open until the end of the school year. But the $50,000 will give us time to put together a new funding plan for the future, according to Barclay-Smith.

“One of our students’ parents who actually has a background and expertise in fundraising, is giving us invaluable help and advice,” Barclay-Smith said. “It’s literally round-the-clock work for all of us right now just to raise the $50,000. But we just have to stay open.”

Barclay-Smith said some local media outlets have erroneously reported that the school’s funding is merely delayed.

“That is not correct,” she said. “We will no longer get that funding. It’s that simple.”

Begun more than a decade ago in a house on the campus of Columbia College, the Barclay School moved five years ago to Ridgeway. She said the town has welcomed the children with open arms.

“We work with all children who learn differently. So, some of our children are on the autism spectrum, we have children with Down [Syndrome], we have children who struggle with reading and writing, we have children who struggle with anxiety. We are a hodgepodge of diversity and glad to be so,” Barclay-Smith said.

She describes the school as a community where the children celebrate each other’s victories, where there’s no homework or “drill and grill” instruction, where chores and social graces are taught along with academics. There’s a farm-like collection of class pets, and the calendar is broken up with frequent field trips and downtown shopping excursions.

Another important aspect of their learning is community service. The children participate by helping with Meals on Wheels, making cards, decorating downtown, and anything else that they can do to learn how to give back.

“We’re a very different kind of school. We focus very much on what’s called strength-based learning, which basically flips the paradigm upside-down. Instead of focusing on everything we can’t do,” Barclay-Smith said, “we’re way more interested in what you can do. Where’s your passion? Where’s your love? For a lot of our children it’s music, it’s the arts, it’s drama. We try to find the children’s strengths, and it’s truly metamorphosing when they come here.

“There is a great need for schools like ours,” Barclay-Smith said. “These children are special. They learn here and they love it here. When they left school this week for Christmas break, they all said to us, ‘we’ll see you after Christmas!’

“And I truly hope they do,” Barclay-Smith said.

Debra McCown Thomas contributed to this story.

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