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At just 19 years old, inspired by his childhood boarding school experiences and a genuine devotion to animals, Samuel B. “Rollo” Ross, Jr. had a dream to create an environment where children and animals could live together in a farm setting. After a long search in Putnam County, New York, the Ross family purchased the 75-acre Dell-Howe Farm from the widow of New York State Senator Ward Tolbert. Green Chimneys was founded on October 27, 1947.
The Green Chimneys School for Little Folk opened in 1948 with eleven students 3 to 6 years old, with young Samuel Ross leading a small staff to provide academics, recreation, and a loving environment for the children, with the unique experience of interacting with and caring for animals. His father, Dr. Barney Ross, and Adele MacDonald, a nurse working for him, helped to establish a home-like setting at this unusual boarding school. Housemothers were employed to tend to the needs of each child, essentially becoming substitute parents. Night staff brushed the children’s teeth and put them to bed. Teachers, staff, and children ate meals and celebrated birthdays and holidays together. The school community was one large family.
By 1952 the school expanded to include children 2 to 9 years of age. It was just two years later that Ross married Myra Mattes, a teacher, on the grounds of Green Chimneys. Continued success led to a further expansion in 1957 to include children up to age 12 with Green Chimneys providing pre-school through 6th grade.
As the school grew, Ross realized that some of his students, even the brightest and most gifted, had social, behavioral, or emotional problems that prevented them from reaching their full potential. These students received extra attention, and many were able to overcome their difficulties. The focus of the school began to change; it was gaining a reputation for helping children with special needs.
By 1966, it became apparent that the children attending Green Chimneys were in need of a year-round program. Both a middle school and dormitories were added to the campus and the academic year expanded to 12 months.
Transition to Children’s Services
Ross later noticed that enrollment of children from New York State had dropped precipitously due to lack of tuition aid. By this time, the population of the school was largely comprised of children with specific and immediate needs who were referred by psychiatric institutions. To increase resources for—and public access to—these services, Green Chimneys became a child welfare and social services agency, allowing all children to attend tuition-free.
By 1976, a high proportion of Green Chimneys children were special needs students referred by the New York State school districts, and the curriculum was modified to reflect this change. A Residential Treatment Center (RTC) was also created to care for emotionally disturbed and learning disabled children referred from social services departments and public schools around New York State.
The Green Chimneys farm took on new importance as the student population evolved and animals increasingly took on the role of ‘therapist’. An innovative program of animal-assisted therapy became central to the Green Chimneys approach to early intervention for children with emotional and mental health issues. In the early 70s, the farm opened to the community-at-large and, 10 years later, added its renowned wildlife rescue and rehabilitation program.
Green Chimneys Today
Today Green Chimneys serves more than 200 students in renowned therapeutic day and residential school programs. The Farm & Wildlife Center is home to nearly 300 domesticated farm animals and wildlife species, including injured and imprinted birds of prey. Animal-assisted therapy continues to play a critical role in the education and therapeutic treatment of the children who not only benefit from the presence of animals but play a role in their care.
In 2008, Green Chimneys expanded with the addition of its 350-acre Clearpool Campus in Carmel, NY. Clearpool is a second campus of Green Chimneys School and also offers year-round environmental education and outdoor skills programs for local schools and community members, as well as accredited summer camp programs for kids and teens.
In spring of 2011, Green Chimneys opened The Donnelley Family Student Residences, housing 88 students in a state-of-the-art, sustainably-designed dorm complex. Green Chimneys also reached a significant milestone in its long history as a leader and innovator in education and residential therapeutic programs for children with special needs: the establishment of an agency-wide model for maintaining an optimally safe and healing environment through the creation of a trauma-informed community.
On October 27, 2012, Green Chimneys marked its 65th year with the launch of The Sam and Myra Ross Institute dedicated to education and research on the human connection to animals and the natural world. The Institute serves to deepen the legacy, vision and impact of Green Chimneys’ animal and nature-based programs by demonstrating how purposeful contact with animals and the outdoors can enhance formal therapies and traditional education, and sharing knowledge to bring continued growth and leadership to the field.
To learn about the complete journey to create Green Chimneys, read founder Dr. Ross' personal memoir, "The Extraordinary Spirit of Green Chimneys".
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