Preparing students for higher ed and beyond includes real-world skills, experiences

Adam Jay, a woodworking teacher at Hope Hall School, teaches a student the safe and proper way to use a sliding power miter saw.
Adam Jay, a woodworking teacher at Hope Hall School, teaches a student the safe and proper way to use a sliding power miter saw. (Photo provided)

The greater Rochester region is home to 55 diverse private schools ranging from parochial to non-sectarian and independent. With the 2022-23 school year up and running, the Rochester Business Journal reached out to three of them to see how their schools work with the greater Rochester community to ensure their students gain the skills they need when they graduate.

The Aquinas Institute: College prep and multiple capstones

At the Aquinas Institute, the next chapter for graduates is typically college. In the first few weeks of this school year, admissions counselors from over forty colleges have visited Aquinas already.

The school, which was founded in 1902 and is affiliated with the Rochester Roman Catholic Diocese, typically has a graduating class size of around 125 and about 99% are college-bound (the vast majority to four-year schools). Those who do not attend college immediately are usually international students or students who enter the armed forces.

Ted Mancini

“College prep is our mission,” said Theodore N. Mancini, principal of the Aquinas Institute and a member of the Class of 1988. “We work really hard to make sure our students graduate with the skills they’ll need in college. College readiness is certainly about academics, but also about skills like networking, being responsible, and having good decision making.”

The school, which serves students in grades six to twelve, collaborates with Rochester’s local colleges and universities to ensure their curriculum and testing is in-line with what postsecondary institutions expect of incoming students.

For example, all final exams at Aquinas are vetted by college professors to make sure what they’re requiring from students aligns with what higher education is expecting. Mancini gave the example of last year’s final English exams going to the English department at Nazareth College of Rochester for feedback before being administered. Active or retired higher education professionals from the area also sit on Aquinas’ Academic Mission Committee.

The school also works with alumni from a variety of disciplines within Rochester’s business community to conduct mock interviews for sophomores and to serve as field experts for students’ comprehensive capstone projects, which are completed every year as part of the sixth through 12th grade curriculum.

“The capstone project is designed for students to create smart goals and to measure their progress,” Mancini said. “They do lots of creative, innovative, and diverse projects, like exploring the impact of concussions on athletes who continue to play, looking at what kinds of mechanisms exist in cars that were created because of motorsports, and examining the scoring in films and how it relates to the emotional response of the viewer.”

Hope Hall School: Woodworking and American Sign Language

A private, non-sectarian school for grades three through 12, Hope Hall School was founded in 1994 and specializes in the Dolce Method for Learning, which was written and copyrighted by Sister Diana Dolce, S.S.J., the school’s founder and executive director.

This method was designed for students who learn differently, often due to central auditory processing delays and/or mild anxiety disorders, and teaches academic, organizational, and social skills in a non-traditional way. The school also teaches college and career readiness in creative ways, like a required woodworking program for students in grades ten through twelve.

Samantha Standing

“Students learn woodworking, but they also learn a lot of other skills, like how to plan out a project, how to collaborate, how to use machinery safely, how to work with team members, and how to receive feedback constructively,” said Samantha Standing, the school’s director of advancement, who noted some Hope Hall graduates go on to careers in fine-woodworking with Rochester-based businesses.

The Gates-based school has a total student population of 140 with four full-time staff members teaching career development (including its two woodworking). Hope Hall typically graduates 15 to18 seniors a year, of whom about 40% go immediately on to college and about 60% enter the workforce, though those numbers can fluctuate from year to year.

Companies the school partners with and/or who regularly hire Hope Hall students include Bill Gray’s, Seabreeze, McDonalds, ISquare, Hammer Packaging and Wegmans. The school also offers students instruction on tangible matters like how to fill out a financial aid application if they are college-bound, how to check their credit scores, and how to utilize public transportation for school or work.

Additionally, Hope Hall School requires students in grades seven to nine to take American Sign Language.

“With the high population of people who are deaf in Rochester the skills students learn in ASL are not just skills they use in the classroom, but that they can utilize in the community,” Standing said. “They may have a co-worker or customer who is deaf and they will have the basic conversational skills to communicate with them.”

The Harley School: Hospice and advocacy

Founded in 1917, the Harley School is a student-centered, college preparatory, independent day school in Brighton for about 500 students in grades from nursery to 12. Part of the school’s mission is to show students how to care for the world and other people and that carries into the school’s civic-engagement approach to preparing students for life beyond the classroom.

“Our program is pretty explicitly college preparatory, but we’re trying to get our students ready not only for that world but the world,” said Larry Frye, the Harley School’s head of school. “A core part of our mission for generations has been not to be a bubble or an island onto ourselves.”

An example of this is the Harley School’s multifaceted and often transformative hospice program, where twelfth-grade students are intimately involved in providing end-of-life care for people in the community. Students take a class where they learn about the history of hospice and are taught the physical, mental, and emotional skills needed to work with patients, families, and staff in a hospice care home.

Then students also have the opportunity to volunteer in one of six local hospice homes in the Rochester region, where they build relationships, provide hands-on care, and also learn to take care of their emotional health while being part of a community where loss and death happen regularly.

Students at the Harley School can also complete a capstone project senior year that is a culmination of their time at the school. Often these projects include working with professionals in the community and have benefits for others.

Examples of capstone projects include multilingual instructional videos for the Rochester non-profit refugee outreach Mary’s Place to use to show refugees how to use common appliances and an interactive exhibit to teach community members how a solar chimney functions.

Other civic engagement initiatives at the Harley School include MLK Day On! – a day of community service and solidarity; Beyond Soup – a student group that cooks meals at St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality in Rochester; and events with the M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence.

“Part of our expectation is that pur kids will have an experience with advocacy and dissent while they’re here,” Frye said. “We want them to answer, ‘What do I care about in our community?’ ‘What do I want to make a stand about?’ ‘How do I advocate for change?’ We think this is a key part of being an educated person.”

Caurie Putnam is a Rochester-area freelance writer.

New state mandate for non-public schools provides clearer language, guidance

After years of conversation, public comments, and often contentious debate, the New York State Board of Regents unanimously voted on September 13, 2022, to update Education Law §3204(2) which addresses the state’s substantial equivalency rules for nonpublic K-12 schools.

The biggest change to the regulations is that there will now be multiple pathways nonpublic schools can take to demonstrate substantial equivalency of instruction. This was not the case when discussion on changes to the regulations – which date to 1865 – began in 2015.

In 2018 the Harley School, an independent public school in Brighton founded in 1917, joined ten other private schools across the state as signatories to legal action against the state when concern started surfacing about changes to the substantial equivalency rules that would have given much of the power of determining it to the public-school districts where the private schools are located and their elected board of education members.

“The rules that came out a few weeks ago look like a compromise to me,” said Larry Frye, The Harley School’s head of school. “They now offer multiple pathways for non-public schools to show substantial equivalency. Clear language about multiple pathways was not in the original proposal and would have functionally put the local private schools in the hands of the public schools, which could have been complicated and politicized in some places.”

These multiple pathways include a method (with details still to be defined), most likely through the State Department of Education, in which private schools can demonstrate substantial equivalency by providing recognition by a recognized accreditor, said Douglas Gerhardt, a partner with Harris Beach, who works out of the Capital Region office as a member of the K-12 Education Institutions and Labor and Employment team.

Other pathways include approval as an 853 school (a state-approved school of special education); schools offering International Baccalaureate or US Government-Approved Instruction; and demonstration of grade-level progress on approved assessments.

There is also a pathway by which a nonpublic school can choose a local school review option that would be overseen by the public school district where the private school is located. Specific details are still forthcoming on this pathway as well.


“We enjoy an exceptionally collaborative and collegial relationship with our local non-public school partners,” said Dr. Kevin McGowan, superintendent of the Brighton Central School District, which is home to ten non-public schools. “We respect their work and value our partnership with them a great deal. We are looking forward to learning more about the state’s new regulations and how we can work together to adhere to guidelines while continuing to support each other’s work.”

The new Regents rules also include an emphasis on the English language when it comes to reviewing programs for substantial equivalency, such as ensuring English is the language of instruction for core subjects and that students who have limited English proficiencies are afforded an instructional program that will allow them to make gains toward English language proficiency.

“In Rochester, we’re home to a lot of really strong nonpublic schools,” said Frye, noting that these new pathways and requirements for showing substantial equivalency should not be a problem for most local private schools who already are meeting them. “For us at the Harley School, whether we’ve been providing substantial equivalency has never been in question.”

Gerhardt, a graduate of the University of Rochester, believes this will be the case with the majority of public schools in the state.

Douglas Gerhardt

“The substantial equivalency standard is not new, it’s something that’s been out there for a really long time,” Gerhardt said. “What the Regents has tried to do here is to make sure there’s a process in place to show that equivalency has been met. I suspect for a lot of schools this will be no big deal because they have demonstrated substantial equivalency for years.”

It appears the new regulations will go into effect during the 2024-2025 school year. By September 1, 2023, public school districts must identify the nonpublic schools within their boundaries.

“The impact on most local public schools may be modest and manageable,” Gerhardt said. “For some, where a large number of students attend nonpublic schools, implementation may be more challenging, even though the regulation is not supposed to impose new burdens on public schools. Local school districts still play a role and may possibly see an uptick in the work related to implementing the regulation.”

The New York State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS) has been watching and responding to the substantial equivalency proposals and changes for years. The organization represents 200 independent nursery, elementary, and secondary member schools in the state, including fourteen in western and central New York. Rochester area member schools are the Harley School, Allendale Columbia School, McQuaid Jesuit High School, and the Norman Howard School.

Vince Watchorn

Vince Watchorn, Executive Director of the New York State Association of Independent Schools, provided this statement to the Rochester Business Journal about the New York State Board of Regents’ new regulations on substantial equivalency:

“NYSAIS member schools appreciate that the new regulations respect different instructional models and accept comprehensive, rigorous and well-documented accreditation processes to demonstrate compliance. Each of the 200 NYSAIS member schools regularly subjects its programs and operations to a professional, impartial accreditation process that includes evaluations of schools’ compliance with all NYS education laws, including the substantial equivalence standard. We look to continue working with NYSED and the Commissioner’s Advisory Council of Nonpublic Schools to help develop guidance and implementation processes to ensure all students throughout the state receive the instruction they are entitled to under education laws.”

Caurie Putnam is a Rochester-area freelance writer.


Merger of The Harley School and Allendale Columbia School will take time

The historic merger of two private and independent preparatory schools is taking place to expand opportunities for the 900 students who attend them, the heads of  The Harley School and the Allendale Columbia School said this week.

But many details, including the name of the future school, are yet to be decided. 

Announcements were made Tuesday of the intended merger of the more-than-century-old schools. Mick Gee, Head of School at Allendale Columbia, said the schools’ respective boards of trustees voted on April 25 and Monday to sign a letter of intent to merge, and announcements to their communities were made at the same time on Tuesday. The heads met with members of the media Wednesday morning to talk about the decision. 

Harley Head of School Larry Frye said students will notice little change for the rest of this school year and next year. Students now in 11th and 12th grades will graduate from their individual schools, but there will be more collaboration starting with the coming school year.

Harley Head of School Larry Frye, left, and Allendale Columbia Head of School Mick Gee answer questions about the two school's impending merger. RBJ Photo by Diana Louise Carter
Harley Head of School Larry Frye, left, and Allendale Columbia Head of School Mick Gee answer questions about the two schools’ impending merger. RBJ Photo by Diana Louise Carter

The merger will take place over the course of at least two years, with Harley taking the lead because it’s a larger school—500 students—with more assets. In addition, according to Harley’s announcement, that school will take “operational responsibility” of the merger process starting June 30. Allendale Columbia has 386 students, a number that represents a 30 percent increase over recent years when the school age population dipped, Gee said.

“What we haven’t figured out yet… is what’s going to go where and how,” Frye said.  The joint school will operate at least for some time with two campuses.   Neither campus is set up to take an increase of more than about 50 additional students right now, the heads said. 

Frye said task forces would be set up, with plenty of input from faculty, students, parents, and alumni to consider how to merge special aspects of the schools, such as their unique cultures and traditions, their math programs and others.

Both heads expressed excitement about the prospects of creating what Frye described as a “naturally exemplary school” as a result of the merger. Harley has created programs allowing students to study and work in sustainability and hospices, while Allendale has three special interest centers focusing on entrepreneurship, global engagement and STEM, design and innovation.

Despite those differences the schools’ approaches to education math, science, foreign languages, and the arts are quite similar, the heads agreed. harley-logo

“Harley and Allendale Columbia are already intertwined communities, and we enter into this opportunity with a deep mutual respect and appreciation for the extraordinary history, traditions, and programs of each school,” Frye said. “Combining the distinctive strengths of our storied institutions will create a truly extraordinary school.”

The schools lie a little more than a half a mile apart, with Harley on Clover Street in Brighton and Allendale Columbia on Allen’s Creek Road in Pittsford. Both schools serve students in nursery school through 12th grades, drawn from a wide area, including at least 14 countries and 50 zip codes. 

Currently, as they have for nearly 50 years, the schools field athletic teams together, which Frye said has led some outsiders to think the schools already have merged. They also have a combined middle school competitive math team, a shared homecoming and proms, and additional social events in common. A shuttle runs between them for sports. 

allendale-columbia-logo“Given the promise of combining the strengths of Allendale Columbia with those of The Harley School, we expect more families will seize the opportunity for an independent education,” Gee said. “We are currently focused on this affiliation—beyond that comes growth and continued strength, all harnessed for our students’ success.”

Employment numbers going forward will be dictated by enrollment, the schools’ joint announcement said. Harley now employs 120 staff and Allendale Columbia employs 98. 

The schools’ history began in 1890 when the precursor to the all-girls Columbia School was formed. Harley followed in 1917, and the all-boys Allendale was created in 1926. The Great Depression led Columbia and Allendale to merge for three years in the 1930s, but they separated for several decades after that. A fire that consumed the Allendale campus in 1966 eventually led to another merger and Columbia joined the Allendale students on the Pittsford campus in 1972. That fall, Harley and Allendale Columbia began fielding sports teams together.

Scott Frame, president of the Harley board of trustees, said conversations about merging the two schools have gone on for decades. Frye and Gee agreed that conversations have come up for many years, but said the decision to merge was driven by the boards of trustees without the typical community-wide discussion. Frye said in a video shared with alumni and other members of the Harley community, that a merger didn’t come up two years ago when he was a candidate for the job he holds now. Reaction to the announcement has been mostly positive, school leaders said, included a faculty member who dropped by Frye’s office Tuesday with a one-word exclamation: “gobsmacked.” 

[email protected]/(585) 363-7275

‘Binging with Babish’ creator films at his alma mater: Harley

It’s not every school that has a New York City YouTube sensation as part of its field day.

But unlike every school, the Harley School is the alma mater of Andrew Rea, the creator of the hit YouTube series, “Binging with Babish.” The series, which began as a test of his new documentary filming equipment, now has 2.5 million viewers who follow Rea as he recreates foods from television shows and other pop-culture media.

“I never intended to do more than one episode,” Rea said, after filming his version of a cook-off from “Parks & Rec” that pit a beef hamburger against a super-deluxe turkey burger with aioli. The beef burger won on the show, and Rea won a loyal following when he posted his experiment.

Tuesday morning in the Maker Space in Harley’s Commons Building, Rea explained that he usually creates a faithful reproduction of the food he found on TV and then goes on to make a more tasteful version.

The plan was to make “cheesy blasters” from the former situation comedy “30 Rock,” which character Liz Lemon (played by Tina Fey) described as a hot dog stuffed with jack cheese and rolled in a pizza. Then Rea planned to make a calzone along the same lines, but with ricotta cheese, sausage and capicola.

As sometimes happens in his episodes, the featured ingredients came from Wegmans. The hot dogs were Zweigle’s.

Andrew Rea, right, and Sawyer Jacobs, prepare to shoot an episode of Binging with Babish at the Harley School
Andrew Rea, right, and Sawyer Jacobs prepare to shoot an episode of Binging with Babish at the Harley School

About 20 students gathered to watch Rea organize his materials and equipment as he prepared to film his show. Not long after, news would be shared that the school was declaring Tuesday as May Day, Harley’s version of a field day in which classes are suspended and a variety of fun activities are held instead.

Harley teacher Michael Frank, who teaches digital media, said Rea’s filming would be one of the May Day activities.

“He’s making a lot of smart decisions,” Frank said. “His framing keeps it very simple, but interesting. He uses pop culture as a (vehicle) for communicating about food.”

Viewers never see Rea’s face on the episodes, as the camera captures the food and mostly his forearms and torso. There were “aaahs” of recognition among the students when he pulled out his signature black apron and donned it.

Rea’s appearance at Harley, from which he graduated in 2005, was orchestrated after several current students discovered that he had attended their school. It was Harrison Davis, a sophomore, who heard that Rea was from the Rochester area, and then tracked down his Harley connection online, confirming it with a photo of Rea in a Harley yearbook. Then Noah Lee and Talon Mossbrook, who are both sophomores, too, contacted Rea through Reddit, a web-based forum.

“He responded back pretty quickly,” Lee said. Mossbrook said Rea told them he’d be glad to stop by when he was in the area—he timed it to coincide with a visit to see his new nephew. After students made that initial contact, Upper School Head Larry Frye reached out by email to invite Rea formally.

Rea brought along his friend and lawyer, Sawyer Jacobs, who also graduated from Harley in 2005.

“We’ve always held the school in a special place,” Rea said. Both alums were impressed by the school’s Commons, a barn-like building with greenhouse, cooking facilities and workshop. “They’ve invested in their interests in such a creative way,” Rea said.

“It’s a quantum leap past what we experienced,” Jacobs added.

Similarly, “Binging with Babish” is going new places too. Rea said he began working full time on creating “Binging with Babish” episodes in June 2017, but he and Jacobs are now planning to inspire other YouTube creators to do the same. They’ve moved an office into Rea’s new apartment in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City, and are embarking on a venture to create a network of like-minded YouTube creators who are invested in positive hobbies.

“Empowering stuff,” Jacobs said.  And, perhaps, also delicious.

The cheesy blaster episode, by the way, is scheduled to be posted May 15.

[email protected]/(585) 363-7275

Sands family gives historic gift to Harley

The Sands Family Foundation has given The Harley School a $3 million donation, representing the largest gift in the school’s 100-year history, and paving the way for more competitive teachers’ salaries.

harley100logoThe Sands family, which owns and operates Constellation Brands, has a three-generation connection with the school, with Constellation’s chairman and CEO, Richard and Robert Sands, having both attended the school.

“We are proud to have such successful and dedicated alumni, and thank the Sands family for their historic support of The Harley School,” said Ward Ghory, Harley’s head of school.

Ghory announced the gift to faculty Monday afternoon. The gift will go into an endowment that will allow Harley to pay for increasing faculty compensation by 10 percent over routine annual increases in the next four years.

“Historically, private, independent schools have not been unionized, so they have not had the same levels of pay,” Ghory said. “Faculty are the lifeblood to the school. We want to be a destination where faculty can come because they can do their best work here. We want them to stay.”

The school, at 1981 Clover St. in Brighton, has 518 students in grades nursery through grade 12, and approximately 75 faculty members.

“These educators provide students with the necessary academic foundation to face the challenges of a rapidly evolving world,” said Robert Sands in a statement announcing the donation. “This gift will support them in continuing to inspire and prepare students to become the next generation of leaders.”

Added Courtney Sands Winslow, “… the work of educating children is deeply personal, requiring both commitment and strength of character to honor and inspire each of student in their own, meaningful way. The Harley School does this important work so well; today the Sands family would like to recognize the School’s faculty.”

Ghory said the gift is part of a multi-prong approach to invest in faculty. “We need teachers who are not only subject-matter experts but have high social-emotional intelligence and are able to connect with kids.”

[email protected]/(585) 363-7275

Climate solutions considered at summit

A former Sierra Club president, an international environmental advocate from the Onondaga Nation and an author and ecologist are all featured speakers at the NY Climate Solutions Summit Saturday, Oct. 28.

The event is being held at the Harley School, 1981 Clover St., in Brighton from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Participants can register online.

Keynote speakers are Aaron Main, former Sierra Club president; Oren Lyons, faithkeeper of the Onondaga Nation; and Sandra Steingraber, author and ecologist.

“Implementing meaningful climate solutions requires two Herculean actions. We need to slam the door shut on further fossil fuel build-out—including gas-fired power plants and the pipelines, compressor stations, and storage depots that feed them—while, at the same time, throwing the door open to renewable energy technologies,” said Steingraber.

“Central and Western New York has a real opportunity for economic growth from the jobs that are being created by the renewable energy industry, said Anne Reynolds, executive director of the Alliance for Clean Energy New York and a panelist at the summit. “Wind and solar are critical to  achieve the state’s goal of generating 50% of our electricity using renewable resources by 2030.”

The event is hosted by a coalition of groups concerned about climate change, including The Harley School, Rochester People’s Climate Coalition, Alliance for Clean Energy NY, New Yorkers for Clean Power, Mothers Out Front, NY Geothermal Energy Organization, Frack Action and the Alliance for a Green Economy.