Rippowam Cisqua celebrates 100 years of Community
This fall, students at Rippowam Cisqua will experience the school’s philosophy of community in a new way, beginning with a grand entrance hall designed to bring people together.
Photo courtesy of Rippowam Cisqua
Growing up can be a challenge, and as children enter their middle school years, it’s not just extra schoolwork and higher expectations that make life more difficult to navigate—it’s the emotions that come with it. Tweens and early teens begin puberty, experience peer pressure for the first time, become more concerned with their image, and start to desire independence from their parents.
At Bedford’s Rippowam Cisqua School, faculty and staff handle these challenges by focusing on one of the school’s core beliefs, something that has remained a part of the Rippowam culture since the beginning: community.
One hundred years ago, six Bedford moms recognized a need that was not being met—a proper school for their daughters. While young boys had several schools to choose from, these women believed that a local school for girls was a necessity. In September of 1917, 15 or 16 girls became the first students to attend Rippowam, a brand new school focusing on academics and instruction that utilized peer discipline instead of punishment by the staff—a practice that resulted in the student population growing to 35 students in just six years.
As Rippowam Cisqua, now co-ed and serving 450 students in grades pre-k through 9, celebrates its 100th anniversary and the completion of a new middle school campus, so much has changed, yet at its core, the school has remained the same. The early years created an atmosphere of community, as students did everything from working as groundskeepers to raising funds. Now the school focuses on both the internal and external community. Through this focus, they have created a space where middle school students can feel safe to learn and grow while facing the challenges of early adolescence.
Ridely Sperling, a ninth grade English teacher and former student, returned to teach at the school because of the community.
“As a student, the school was always a place that was safe and comfortable, and it was a constant in everyday life,” Sperling remembers. “It was very loving but with boundaries and expectations. The school has evolved and grown. But it’s still got the same spirit to it.”
What makes the school unique, according to Sperling, is that the small class size allows teachers to get to know each child and recognize when someone is struggling, whether it’s academically, socially, or personally.
“The kids are really known, and if you feel known, there’s a comfort that someone is looking out for you,” Sperling explains. “It’s an intimacy that you don’t get everywhere. It feels like family in a way. Family can drive you crazy, but they are the people that are your home. Here, it feels like coming home, even though it’s going to school.”
That sense of family is what motivates parents to send their children to Rippowam Cisqua, understanding that each child will receive the attention needed to navigate through any difficulty as they learn and grow.
“We have found that this focus manifests itself in faculty that truly understands and is sensitive to the challenges that middle school students face,” explains Sara Slocum, who has four daughters, one of which is in eighth grade. “Rippowam Cisqua actively instills and maintains a culture where students feel known and supported by teachers, and by each other. The school’s small size means that we have felt that our daughters won’t be able to fall through the cracks.”
The focus on community doesn’t just stay within the walls of the school. Over the past several years, it has grown and now extends into the larger Bedford community.
“We have a Service Learning Coordinator, and she organizes several events for each grade every year,” says Christy Smith, who has two daughters in the middle school. “My girls have helped at the Northern Westchester Community Center, The Food Bank of Northern Westchester, Endeavor Therapeutic Riding Program, and The Boys and Girls Club, to name a few. My girls have both been so inspired by all this that they’ve both started volunteering outside of school, and they initiated it! Rippowam Cisqua is really creating citizens, which is great to see.”
Rippowam Cisqua’s modernization of its middle school campus reflects both the school’s past as well as its plans for the future. Among many features, the school will be home to a 2,400 square-foot innovation center with folding glass doors that open to an outdoor courtyard and amphitheater. During the renovation, an old flag was unearthed featuring the motto: Dare To Be True. It is now displayed in the admission office, reminding students and staff of their commitment to each other and the community.
THIS OLD HOUSE
RCS renovated the historic Cushman house on the Cantitoe Street campus to house the school’s admissions and advancement departments.