Students Collect Memories Of Park Street School
05/03/10 7:34AM By Susan Keese
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(Host) Springfield's Park Street School is closing at the end of the school year, after serving the town's children for 115 years.
A great many memories can accumulate in that amount of time. For much of this year students at the school have been collecting those recollections.
VPR's Susan Keese has more.
(Keese) The history of a place like Park Street School is made up of little moments. Like the time in the cafeteria when Mrs. Bruso told the kids that the red in the red Jello was made from squooshed bugs.
(Porche) "Okay ready, get set, go."
(Kids read in unison) "My eyes popped out of my sockets as I stare at the quivering red guts"
(Porche) "Okay, who has something that they want to say about my mouth? Okay, yes!"
(Keese) Poet-in-residence Verandah Porche is helping these fourth- and fifth-graders preserve their own memories, as the last students to attend Park Street.
(Porche) "And also to help them document the experience of other people from the community in a more creative way."
(Keese) The students have been interviewing Springfield residents about the school, which also served as the town's high school for many years.
Residents like Frank Poole, a first-grader in 1939.
(Poole) "And when I went to Park Street School, it was not in this building. It was in a building over there that burned down. ... They had an organ in the building, a pump organ, and I came to watch the fire, and they threw the organ out the fourth floor window and it smashed all to pieces."
(Keese) Fourth-graders Logan Whitcomb and Samantha Mirra traced back even further.
(Logan) "And I think it's fascinating that before this school was here there used to be a mansion that burned down."
(Samantha) "And they decided to rebuild it as a school."
(Keese) That was in the late 1800s. Alexis Rowe , who's ten, says that's part of why the school is so important to the town.
(Alexis) "It's been here for a long time and it's really special to people that have been here when they were kids. And their grandparents went here and their kids and then their kids."
(Keese) The decision to close the historic building was difficult. The school is in bad condition.
When officials learned it would cost millions to bring it up to specs, they decided to consolidate Springfield's three elementary schools into two.
Fourth-grade teacher Alyson Bull had the idea that an oral history project might heal some of the sadness and honor the school's history.
Her students put up posters and invited anyone to come and share their memories on videotape.
Bull says they've learned a lot.
(Bull) "One woman said, it wasn't a problem to do your homework. There was no TV. So to see them think about that, what would that be like."
(Keese) The students learned about traditions, such as fifth-grade sleepovers at the end of the school year. And that in the old days, students could walk home for lunch. Here's Caithness Cammarata.
(Caithness) "In gym
class, if you didn't have white socks,
they would take a paddle and smack you."
(Keese) They also gained a new appreciation for the school's wide marble corridors, its architectural flourishes, its cavernous auditorium with its big stage and graffiti-covered seats. Logan Whitcomb:
(Logan) "You won't find a lot of schools like that."
(Keese) The students hope to make a documentary of their interviews as a gift to the town.
For VPR News, I'm Susan Keese.