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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Board approves acreage increase for Nashua private school

A unique private school whose Southwest Nashua campus is a working farm that allows students to experience hands-on learning as easily as they access their classrooms got unanimous Board of Aldermen approval Tuesday night to expand its acreage, a deal that also gives the city another 10½ acres of conservation land.

Denis and Deb Gleeson, who run The Nature of Things off Groton Road and its associated Second Nature Academy, called the agreement a win-win situation for them and their students, as well as the city and area residents who use the miles of trails in Nashua’s heavily forested and largely protected southwest quadrant. ...

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A unique private school whose Southwest Nashua campus is a working farm that allows students to experience hands-on learning as easily as they access their classrooms got unanimous Board of Aldermen approval Tuesday night to expand its acreage, a deal that also gives the city another 10½ acres of conservation land.

Denis and Deb Gleeson, who run The Nature of Things off Groton Road and its associated Second Nature Academy, called the agreement a win-win situation for them and their students, as well as the city and area residents who use the miles of trails in Nashua’s heavily forested and largely protected southwest quadrant.

The proposal in April received the blessing of the Conservation Commission, which voted 4-0, with one abstention, to transfer $337,500 to the general city fund to purchase the 10½ acres.

The Planning Board later recommended the measure and sent it to aldermen.

The school teaches preschool through Grade 6.

In other business Tuesday night, aldermen unanimously passed a request to spend $1.2 million to purchase a new aerial tower truck for Nashua Fire Rescue.

The board began the meeting by recognizing former colleague Fred Teeboom for his years of work bringing the city’s recently dedicated Holocaust Memorial to fruition.

Teeboom, who briefly recounted his recollections of the horrors of the Holocaust as a child in his native Netherlands, received a standing ovation from the board and about a dozen members of the public.

“I thank you so much for all you have done,” he said to the board, listing names of city officials and other individuals without whom, he said, “there would be no memorial.”

As for the conservation easement, the Gleesons’ plan is to farm most of the roughly 6 acres they will acquire in the agreement. They are currently awaiting a closing date for the $675,000 purchase, which is tentatively scheduled for July, according to the city’s legal department.

The Gleesons founded the school in 1997, first operating out of their home until purchasing a building at the Maplewood Plaza at Buck Meadow and Main Dunstable roads in 2000.

“We grew out of that in three years,” Deb Gleeson said. The couple began exploring an agreement with Cay Gregg, the widow of former Gov. Hugh Gregg, who had donated land to the Dunstable Rural Land Trust shortly after her husband’s death.

In 2006, the Gleesons purchased 22 acres from Gregg, 7 of which are in Dunstable, Mass., and 15 in Nashua. The school campus straddles the state line, and even runs through the middle of a large barn near the main entrance.

Denis Gleeson said they agreed at the time to develop only a fraction of the land for their school buildings; about 19 acres remain undeveloped.

While its educational mission is strong on environmental science, conservation and all things nature, Deb Gleeson said the school also emphasizes traditional subjects for a well-rounded education.

The curriculum is also unique in that it introduces foreign languages, such as Spanish and Mandarin, as early as first grade.

“Children’s prime learning time is when they’re very young,” she said, adding that studies show that kids lose the majority of their natural absorption abilities by the time they reach middle school age.

“It’s the same with science – you need to reach them as young children. If you don’t, what often happens is they start taking nature, the environment, for granted,” Gleeson said.

Kids from all walks of life and backgrounds jump at the chance for hands-on learning, which is in no short supply at the roughly 200-student school.

“We teach them about (raising) animals for food, how to shear sheep, how to grow food,” Gleeson said. “It’s important that they learn that their food and clothing doesn’t just materialize on the store shelves.

“Science should be taught hands-on, not out of a book.”

Looking forward, the additional space will allow the Gleesons to expand certain programs, such as technology and art, they said, as well as give them more room for their plans to add Grades 7 and 8 next school year.

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-6443 or dshalhoup@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Shalhoup on Twitter (@Telegraph_DeanS).