Once Upon a Time in Shoreham

There was a time in American Public Education when it was more common for community school boards to act upon their ideals as they educated local children.

In the 1970’s, the people of Shoreham Wading River, Long Island, envisioned a public school which would teach their children the academic basics while promoting the community’s core humanitarian values.

Within five years, that community’s Vision for its children had produced a school which established nationally recognized best practices for middle school education.

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By 1980, the young musicians of the Shoreham Wading River Middle School Band were performing at home and on the road.

Near the northern end of the William Floyd Parkway, there’s an abandoned farm in back of the Albert G. Prodell Middle School. The school farm is a relic of a former administration and a different age in American public education. Here was a public school where students once collected eggs from the chicken coops, now overgrown with weeds. The sorry condition of our school farm brings to mind those boarded up, bankrupt homesteads, icons of the Dust Bowl.

These ruins in Shoreham are emblematic of a new Dust Bowl, an Education Dust Bowl, blown into our nation’s classrooms by the mean, dry winds of No Child Left Behind. In once-fertile schools like this one, the fountains of creativity, passion and fun have all been shut off.

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In the 1980’s people from all over the world came to study our farm program.  More than anything else, The Farm symbolized the community’s WHOLE CHILD commitment. In 1982, the Shoreham Wading River Middle School was recognized for this, named one of the first Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence by the U.S. Department of Education. The farm program was extolled as a national model for educating the WHOLE CHILD.

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Suffolk Country Executive Peter Cohallan visits the SWR school farm circa 1980. Besides expressing a WHOLE CHILD pedagogy, the Farm was a model agricultural school program in a predominantly agricultural county.

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When I taught in Shoreham in 1975,  the community, the administrators and the teachers all believed that it was good educational practice for 12- to 14-year-olds to care for animals and take responsibility for farm chores.

During the ’70s and ’80s, that farm provided youngsters with hands-on, milk-the-goat-and-sell-the-surplus instruction in the food chain. The Farm was Social Studies. The Farm was Science. The Farm was Math. In English class, eighth graders applied character psychology to the goat, lambs, chickens, and, especially, to their favorite character, our notorious rooster. After much direct observation on the farm and extensive study of Aesop in the classroom, our writers authored and illustrated their own fables. The Farm was Literature and Art.

The District’s guiding WHOLE CHILD educational philosophy was confirmed by brain science.

The academic junior high school, as an instructional relic from 1903, had failed miserably. Kids at this particular age, no longer juveniles, but not yet full-bodied, reasoning adolescents, needed hands-on, off beat instruction. These were not the years to introduce and drill new concepts. Developmentally, children at this age need programs allowing them to digest and assimilate what they just learned during their last period of accelerated brain growth.

In other words, research showed us that emerging adolescents in grades 6-8, predominated by hormones raging, panic buttons lit, insecurity, arrogance, energetic brilliance— should NOT be kept in their seats and taught intellectually.

The mandate given by the Shoreham-Wading River community to its teachers at the time was at once practical and radical: Create an instructional program based on how our children’s minds actually work.

With this degree of parental vision and commitment (not without controversy at times), a golden period of public education was initiated in Shoreham. Academic subjects were integrated and coordinated. In English and Social Studies, I taught mythology with the historical development of agriculture, while my teaching partner taught the Science of plant growth. The outcomes of most instructional units were projects. The Arts were plentiful. At various times, our students took wood shop, metal shop, cooking, sewing, visual art, dance, pottery, music, filmmaking and theater arts.

Sixth graders learned about technology by studying 19th century whaling and Moby Dick.

Seventh graders participated in what would later be called Community Service Learning. They regularly visited Port Jefferson Nursing Home. The seniors taught the youngsters history, biography, and, incidentally, good manners— usually accomplished over board games.

Eighth graders learned Social Studies through simulation games and by creating three-screened multi- media slide shows.

Field Trips were frequent. The school band performed all over the East Coast and beyond. Young actors played in brilliant original productions based on Where the Wild Things Are, T.S. Eliot’s poetry, The Hobbit and, of course, they did Shakespeare. Pre-teen percussionists banged out music from junkyard objects turned into musical instruments, performed and recorded in the school’s music lab.

Students ran enterprises like a natural foods co-op where counting, weighing, measuring, estimating, ordering and accounting not only taught them math skills, but also served the community.

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Twenty years later and the exact opposite method of instruction has triumphed with a vengeance in Shoreham Wading River.

Kept inside all day, rows of today’s 12- to 14-year-olds sit still at their desks and in front of computer screens, mentally processing knowledge. They prepare this way for the paper-and-pencil tests their government now demands

The Shoreham Wading River community’s commitment to the WHOLE CHILD, the District’s child-centered philosophy, the best practices of experience-based learning and all the brain science in the world have been dumped out back with the chicken coops.

Back in the day, we were a pretty feisty, hands-on faculty.  We teachers discussed school issues and educational philosophy, heatedly. Now it is the Assessment Actuaries who control the discussion about what schooling is for— not the local school board, not the parents, and certainly not the teachers with their required Masters’ degrees.

With the advent of high stakes testing, and the rewarding and punishing of schools based on test results, the operating pedagogy of the American Educational system has become FEAR-based instruction. When we get afraid, we get very literal. We work to the letter of the requirement rather than from a spirit of good will.

A community which once asserted a bold Vision is now thinking small and narrow.

At a recent faculty meeting, the current principal declared to the staff, “We do not need passionate teachers. When you teach here, leave your passion at the door.” Presumably, dispassionate test scores were her priority.

I was teaching at an elementary school in the South Bronx in 2003, and my principal received funds earmarked for test preparation. So she paid teachers to come to school very early to drill children before breakfast. I would see a few teachers with a few kids going over test questions and answers at 7:15 AM.

It reminded me of my Shoreham Wading River days.

Only back then, when I  ran into kids in school so early, it was because they were  feeding the chickens and milking the goat.

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For several years, The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White and the character of the wizard as a mystical teacher were part of the instructional culture of my classroom. A group of students  painted a fantasy mural to celebrate this theme. I am told that the mural remained on the wall up until last year, when it was finally painted over.

First published April 11, 2008Copyright © 2008, Newsday Inc.

27 Responses to “Once Upon a Time in Shoreham”

  1. Evie Aronson says:

    Howard: Thank you so much for sharing your article and the photos

    It made me very nostalgic……It is sad to see the old farm in such
    condition. Although I wasn’t very active in the farm program – I remember how cool it was to have the farm on our school grounds.

    We lived in a fairly rural area……it wasn’t like everyone lived on an
    actual farm – but the farm at the school gave us a chance to experience something very real – and since my Mom had grown up on a farm – it let me relate to her a little more when she told her tales of life on a farm- since I could visit the MS farm and experience it.

    Besides the farm – I know that my generation (attending the SWRMS from 1977 to 1980) was truly Blessed to have the programs and the faculty we had – We didn’t realize it at the time, but we were very lucky – We had abundant arts programs and so many opportunities to be creative.

    The teachers made learning fun for us – and we formed friendships that have lasted a lifetime- In a safe and supportive environment.

    There are certain periods of your life where your memories are very clear – For example I will never forget Mr. Katzoff playing “Monday, Monday” on the record player – every Monday morning! :)

    It was a very special time, and I consider myself lucky to
    have experienced it – and also a little sad to think that students at
    the school now might not be experiencing the same magical moments….

    Thanks again for sharing this.

  2. Amy Valens says:

    I hope many people saw this when it was published in Newsday, and I think you should send it now to the Obama Administration. But why did Shoreham Wading River and many successful schools like it die, while others remained?

    Standford emeritus professor Larry Cuban views what happened as “yet another skirmish in the ideological wars that have split educators and the public since the first tax-supported schools opened their doors in the early 1800s.” I think there is a lot of truth to that. School Boards reflecting political agendas probably closed down many of the progressive experiments. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn they did it in concert with the huge educational publishing business, which would not have been making nearly as much money if schools had stopped buying all those tedious textbooks. Perhaps the testing mania started as a new income source? One that would “prove” that we needed to go back to textbooks?? I hate to be so cynical, yet there can be no doubt that corporations have benefited from this particular skirmish!

    In my internet perambulations I have located more than 60 public schools whose websites describe programs that sound like the school that I taught in. That school, the Open Classroom of the Lagunitas School District in northern California started in the early 70’s and still exists, and you can see a snippet from a film that documents one class there in 2005-6 at http://www.tomvalens.com. I have developed a bit of communication with about a dozen of these public schools going against the current. A great majority started in the 70’s, although there is a mini resurgence, usually calling themselves ‘constructivist’.

    In our case I think there are some clear reasons why we still exist. First of all, we are located in a very liberal area, and our school board continues to support us. From the beginning there was a decision to create school programs that reflected what parents wanted. So there was not just an open classroom, there was also a back to basics program. Traditional self- contained classrooms were also offered. As time went by, the back to basics model melded with the self contained classrooms, and calling itself Academics and Enrichment. Then along came a group of parents who wanted Montessori. They drummed up support, paid for the first year of training a teacher, and convinced the board they had many parents who wanted that.

    Eventually A&E dwindled, but the open program continued to draw about half of the new enrollees, with the rest ending up in the Montessori program. A few years after A& E disappeared, at a moment when total school enrollment was down and there were empty classrooms, along came a group of parents who wanted a Waldorf inspired approach. They also raised money, and lobbied hard…and now this tiny community with a total school population of a bit more than 300, has 3 elementary school programs, all of which are non traditional, plus a middle school that all three programs feed into.

    Second of all, our staff had longevity, and continued to put in the energy needed to support this approach. The founding teachers stayed a very long time, did not all retire at once, and even after retirement have stayed involved in the school, mentoring and volunteering–even attending school board meetings.

    Third of all, the community model, including an emphasis on parent participation, worked in our favor. I notice that is a part of several of the schools that have survived. The teachers did not get isolated once the founding parents moved on. The use of consensus for decision making may not always be pretty, but it keeps people invested.

    It may also help that we are an elementary school. I notice it is harder to build community in middle school. There are too few years, the parents tend not to be as involved. The schools I’ve found that go further than 6th grade usually go all the way through high school, and that may be why the middle school has survived: the threat that somehow you have to toughen kids up with lots of tests in middle school to prepare them for high school is not there.

    Interestingly, in the private school sector some version of progressive education has always had wide acceptance. Several versions are experiencing rapid growth right now, probably pushed by how regimented public schools have become. Alfie Kohn contends that there never was much of a progressive movement in the public schools. It was so small, given such a limited time to prove itself, that it never got off the ground. but I would add that many of the good ideas did drift into more conventional classrooms, and are only now being stamped out by the testing machine.

    How do we turn the tide? Maybe the severity of what has happened via NCLB will do it for us. We’ll have to get more people speaking up if that is to be so!

  3. evie aronson says:

    WHAT!? THEY PAINTED OVER THE MURAL???!!! that’s sad…. :(
    Also wanted to say Thanks Mr. Katzoff for all your continued educational endeavors!

  4. Monday mornings with Monday Monday, probably the most embedded memory of my grammar schools years.

    Mr. Katzoff encouraged in us the art of imagination at the same time as the reading/writing/communicating skills that are so important.

    ‘Howie’ had some us reading “The Once and Future King” as we studied medieval history, costume and culture. A year before we had studied “Beowulf” with George Dorsty and whaling with “Mr. C.” and Mrs. Cohen.

    We got experiential education before that was even cool and we got it from some of the most dedicated and passionate teachers I’ve ever known. Some were hippies who were actually putting to practical use the best ideas of that generation. Others were gifted teachers allowed to express themselves in ways that challenged and enhanced us all.

    I had moved to SWR at the age of 11 from a traditional public school and it’s no exaggeration to say so much of what is good in my critical thinking and intellectual development came from:

    * doing scrimshaw while studying whaling
    * exploring musical theory with Tony Messina
    * learning exposition while reading “streetcar named desire” out loud in Ms. Allison’s class
    * investigating apartheid over a week of simulation with Mann/Miner
    * reading Shogun at the age of 12
    * giving blood as a group after reading Hamlet line by line with Mike Stegman
    * making, from scratch, the right footwear for a medieval gild member in Howie Katzoff’s class

    We were very lucky and I think most of us (all of us?) didn’t know it at the time. But the bookends of my education in grades 1-5 and then in college have convinced me that I was taught by some of the brightest and the best during a time of great change in American education.

    No Child Left Behind…what a joke. The real mantra at SWR in those days seemed to be Every Child Moving Forward.

    Thanks to all of you. You actually succeeded in turning out some very grateful adults.

  5. Mary K. Judge nee: Fields says:

    Hi Mr. Katzoff, I had you in the seventh grade back in 1977.

    I am now a special education teacher working with Learning Disabled and Emotionally Disturbed children in the Brentwood School District on Long Island. The current State testing format does not accommodate special needs students (even with testing mods) but they are forced to be tested anyway. Nor does the State test give any credence to the real successes of regular and special education teachers.

    I have had students who read at a K.2 level in the beginning of 5th grade and I can easily bring them up to 3rd grade by the end of the year, but that progress is not measured on the current ELA’s.

    My students score a 2 on the mandated test and that is defined as a failure on paper for the building at large. Fortunately, my realistic administrators emphasize that there was nothing else anyone could do. The whole process is depressing because everyone knows we all tried our best.

    I think our educational leaders really need to rethink the testing process, especially for my students, because if kids gain self-affirmation through academic experience, that is not a failure for them, me or society at large.

    I find that saturating students in grade appropriate vocabulary, providing interesting stories, using the Writing Workshop philosophy and, especially, finding out things that each child is already interested in helps the child in all subject areas and makes him or her want to come back the next day for more.

    I am fortunate that my principal encourages us to teach the basics by incorporating the arts, putting on plays, having author parties, celebrating “mad science” days, etc.

    I hope you are doing well and it was fun seeing you with the little guys :)…Mary

  6. Kelli Cummins says:

    I happened upon your website and just wanted to say thank you for all that you do for education. I am a product of SWR (class of 92) and have many fond memories of the farm program. When I tell people I learned to milk goats and work in a green house during school, they laugh. When I tell people I didn’t have a cafeteria, but ate with my teacher with a small group of students (advisory) they scratch their heads. When I tell people I took dance, technology and music, and jewelry making they decide I am making up my entire school experience! I am so thankful for the experiences and the amazing teachers of SWR. I am sure they attributed to my love of education. I know that had I not been a product of the SWR school system, that I would have never went on to obtain a degree in Dance and a Masters in Interdisciplinary Arts. When I visit schools as an arts consultant and train teachers to teach “through the arts,” I’m always brought back to my days as a student of SWR.

  7. Kathie Seekircher says:

    Shoreham’s program is the reason and the way I now homeschool my four daughters (18, 16, 12 & 5). The older two are in college. It was amazing what SWR middle school did for those of us who were so fortunate enough to attend an “institution” (I am hesitant to use that word in this regard) like SWR, under the auspices of many wonderful educators… The names are endless. The experiences were amazing, and all of it still makes a difference in the way we as individuals think. It’s not been lost for those of us who got to experience SWR Middle school.

  8. George Dorsty says:

    Howie how great to see and read these articles of yours! How well I remember those magical,stimulating, inspired and inspiring days teaching at SWR with you my colleague in English and sometimes actor in the plays I directed with the No Name Players… I still can hear you saying “my daughter Hermia…”in our Middle Scool production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream ( yes,as you say in your article) we did Shakespeare with middle school students!

  9. Howie your use of the derelict farm as a metaphor for public education is so right on. After my thirty-eight years at SWR it was disheartening to see so much of what we had accomplished not only devalued by the plethora of testing but looked upon as a threat to the new tools of “measurement”.

    What we accomplished in 70’s and the 80’s was much more enhancing and engaging. We enhanced the total child by designing curriculum that was developmentally appropriate. We recognized that one size does not fit all. Ideally, we created an interactive learning environment where as educators our interests and proclivities were nurtured. And above all else much of our pedagogy was developed from listening to our students.

    SWR was an educational laboratory. The meetings we had as teammates led to engaging conversations about learning. We grew with one another. I can remember coming to school everyday with a smile. And this went on for more than two decades. As educators we valued what we were doing. It was a mission. It felt noble.
    Fortuitously, we had educational leadership that valued what was happening in our school. Administration at all levels empowered us to create and to implement curriculum.

    The final years at SWR were still rewarding for me in the classroom. But I felt like a criminal outside the classroom. New administrators had a new mantra when the veterans from the 70’s and the 80’s spoke about the values of an interactive age appropriate learning environment. We were told “that was then this is now”
    Simply put they tried to quiet our voices by disenfranchising us and even writing us up as being out of line.
    Administration changed. The new direction demanded compliance. The educators who were in SWR during the pre dustbowl years had been encouraged to speak and to interact. The shift implemented new paradigm: one that held meetings where information and direction was presented top down. Administrators stood before us and told us. Teachers sat in rows to listen. The message was obvious. You will comply not reply.
    The new teachers had no mentors. The veterans were to be steered clear from. We were like educational mind fields. Associating with us could lead to being on the wrong side of the fence. Administration created lead teachers and picked teachers with five years or less of experience to fill these positions.

    Yes, Howie the dustbowl years is an appropriate metaphor.

    The testing and data based research all fed by the corporate world of publishing houses ironically has had an antithetical impact upon education today. We learned that the prefabbed models and the paint by number approach does not work. It’s a sham and a scam.

    It is time for voices from the garden to be heard. Educators must garden organically. The visceral designs are the ones that resonate.

    Children need validation to feel self-worth. If educators are not empowered to teach the message becomes myopic. The message we send to educators becomes the message we expect them to deliver to our children.

    If we are to teach our children well we must adhere to a code that is morally and ethically conducive to a setting that fosters respect and dignity. This can only come about in an authentic setting.

    Thank you Howie for rekindling the spirit that was so pervasive at SWR.

  10. Susan Lent Matura says:

    Hi Mr. Katzoff,
    I am thrilled to see you are still so actively involved with education. My years at the middle school gave me the opportunity to find out what my gifts were, what my purpose was. We were such lucky students to have such wonderful , innovative, inspiring teachers. My experience at the middle school was my guide, my inspiration for my future. As a result, I too became passionate about educating the whole child which became increasingly difficult after the education system drastically changed and learning became centered around desks, tests and computers. At that time when education was heading in a different direction, I was raising my own family and not teaching anymore , at least not in a classroom. I am happy to see that you continue to inspire the whole child! I am 51 now, but I will never forget how you inspired the creative teacher in me.

  11. John MacElroy says:

    When I became a member of the FFA (Future Farmers of America) through the SWR Middle School farm program it was under the direct supervision of Dave Sweidenback and Debbie Prach and Mr. Green was the program administrator. To say that I would have been a “at risk” kid without a program such as the farm is an understatement. I’ve used many of the life lessons and some of the animal husbandry ones throughout learned at the “farm” my 25 career in the military. Among other things it taught a pain in the neck kid, that I was part of something bigger.
    I can’t say that I’ve ever been surprised that the program was cut. During the years that I was in SWR, LILCO was contributing over $17 Million to the school district. The farm was right there with the computer labs, and Marine Maintenance Industrial Arts, programs that were made possible by having a massive utility contributing resources to the district that the neighboring districts didn’t get. We were extremely lucky to have passionate teachers and genuinely competent administrators at SWR, but we also had a tax base, that just didn’t exist in many other places. Money is certainly not the answer to every question facing the American education system, but the role that it played in SWR’s ability to offer such amazing programs can’t be overstated.
    I consider myself extremely fortunate to have passed through SWR at a time when these opportunities existed, and am saddened at seeing the condition of the farm. I wish I knew the answers to so many of the difficult problems facing education in America today.

  12. Andy McIlwraith says:

    Thank you for writing this. I feel so privileged to have attended SWR public schools in the 80s. The administration was forward-thinking and the teachers were wonderful.

  13. Sean Murray says:

    I Think that is me sitting in the chair next to the wizard. I miss the days of having to put our heads on the desk. Great times

  14. John Leddy says:

    Yes, Shoreham Wading River schools offered amazing and wonderful programs in the 70’s and 80’s. But let’s not forget that the community bathed in a tidal wave of funding from LILCO which was building a nuclear power plant in the district. When the plant went belly up so did LILCO and so did the funding. When taxpayers were forced to carry the entire burden of funding the schools cutbacks were inevitable.

    I’m not criticizing the results of those cutbacks, rather I’d like to point out that great things happen when educational funding is a priority.

  15. Athena says:

    This brings back so many memories of my days at SWR…thank you!

    Hi mr Dorsty & Andy ;)

  16. Erik Olsen says:

    Wow. That was really great to read. My middle school years were quite difficult, but I do remember more than a few teachers that took an interest in me and I appreciate it to this day. Many of my experiences had helped me gain the confidence to try and live the life I always wanted. So I’ve been living in Europe for 6 years and it’s been the best of my life. But it’s still nice to come home every now and then.

  17. Pat Durcan says:

    Oh the memories. Both of our kids went to SWR MIDDLE SCHOOL, KENNETH Durcan & Suzanne Durcan DeLuxe. I worked in the office and life was never dull. It was a wonderful adventure working there; interacting with students & teachers. I feel we all are better human beings for the interaction during those years. Thank you one & all who have touched my life.

  18. Seamus Deegan says:

    Howie:

    You say it courageously and well, and sadly, accurately.Yes, I was here then and that was the system my

    children had the good fortune to begin in.

    Just take some reward in that the students who grew in that atmosphere and philosophy will enjoy the

    fruits of your efforts and of those who made it work.

    As a parent, I had the chance to taste it vicariously and of course, thank you and all who gave their all for

    our children.

  19. What a touching article. I am a 1981 graduate of SWR and have only the fondest memories of my education. It’s true… we learned by doing!!!. I remember the farm, the Shakespeare plays, shop class, the nursing home & trips to DC, Fire Island & MA. It was amazing!!! I teach at a performing Arts HS in NYC and I am always sharing stories of SWR. I tell my students everyday….We learn by doing. Thank you for bringing me back to my youth and inspiring me to continue with the same ideas for learning.
    Babette Connor Pisco

  20. Jedd de Lucia says:

    Wow, this article brought back many great memories of my time at SWR. The experiences that I was exposed to in middle school was matched only by the freedom to explore my own education and the guidance and support is was given in high school. I recently went back to SWRHS and was sad to see how it looked…run down, devoid of art on the walls, homogenized and defeated. It was equally sad for me to see the state of the farm in the articles photographs. The farm program was very important to me and my life, I have been a vegetarian since 10th grade (the majority of my life now).

    I went through SWRMS from ’89-’91, at a time when our town had definitely shifted from rural to suburban. It was great to be exposed to such an environment as the farm. Even though i knew tbat our farm program was special, i had always somehow assumed that other schools had equally good programs and I’ve been surprised to learn throughout life that our schools were amazing, not just status-quo. Every student should get an education this good!

    I agree with what others have written above. Funding education is vitally important. Such a small cost overall relative to the rest of our public budgets. I live in California now, a state with very troubled schools. I was surprised to find myself seeking a community like SWR for my children. I never thought that I’d move back to the suburbs. Now that I have I can feel that this community is knitted together by its excellent schools. Good funding and community involvement are what it takes to attract and retain good educators. Of only we could do it in every community…

  21. John Finter says:

    Mr. Katzoff, I remember the morning scream in your class during the 1983-84 school year! Ha Ha. Good memories. Hope you are well.

    John Finter (Formally of Overhill Road, Wading River, NY)
    Senior Project Engineer
    General Motors
    Rochester, NY

  22. Chris Vander Rhodes (nee Vander Putten) says:

    I was also a “farm kid”, and these pictures make me so sad. I was up at the crack of dawn cracking ice off frozen water bowls. I mucked out animal crap from the coops and barn. I milked goats, made goat’s milk ice cream and sold it at lunchtime. I slept over with other FFA members when one of the goats was about to give birth. I learned so much more about life on the farm than I ever did in the building. I learned that hard work is, well… HARD, but also rewarding in its own way. I learned to stick with tasks until they were done (a skill I am definitely struggling to teach my kids today!)

    I learned the importance of a connection to your food supply that’s stayed with me today, as I’ve worked in my community north of Boston to bring a fruit/vegetable CSA and then a meat CSA to our suburban town. I learned a respect for animals and the land and the people in our world who take responsibility for their stewardship.

    SWR in the early 80s was really a fantastic place to be, and we’ve just made a move to a new town (with better funded schools) because I’m seeking out that experience for my children– the chance to be taught by educators who are excited and challenged and given the freedom to make unconventional choices to reach children of all learning abilities. I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in this sort of learning environment. Knowing that it has existed, and has made such a difference in the lives of so many, gives me hope that some of these techniques can be embraced by educators today. I now live in a town with a community farm… hmm, I wonder if there’s interest in creating a partnership with the middle school…. food for thought, indeed.

  23. Neil Vigliotta says:

    My brother posted this article on his Facebook page and I felt I had to respond. Like others on this page, it was my class which actually built the farm behind SWR Middle School. Having graduated in 1979, mine was the first class to proceed through the SWR “clusters” in Miller Avenue Elementary School, through the SWR Middle School (with Denis Littky at the helm) and the SWR High School (the first class through the actual buildings and structures created to house this new style of education). And I think educational philosophy is like so many things in western culture. Progressives see opportunity for improvement, while conservatives see waste, and mismanagement. And bringing these two sides together proves daunting. If progressives could show the value of the improvements, perhaps conservatives might get behind these improvements and help to create real change.

    Anecdotal evidence suggests that the education we received had a huge impact on us as individuals. And I have to believe that if one were to look at my class, and those which followed, the successes that we have achieved as individuals and as a group, are reflective of our time in SWR schools. In fact, while I am aware of people who fall through the cracks of other school programs, I don’t believe many kids fell through the cracks at SWR. And my thinking is that as adults, we’ve been a successful lot. What I would really like to see, follow up study with the students who attended SWR during the 70s and 80s, and how have we done? Overall, are we more or less likely to be a burden on society? Overall, how do our successes compare to those of other schools with similar and different educational formats? I think its time to try to measure our success and show that this style of education really does work, and in ways that might change our understanding of education.

  24. Lydia Basso Terry says:

    I am proud to say I went to SWR Middle School, even though it was only one year. What I learned and how I learned has stayed with me until this very day. I have told many stories to my niece and nephew of those days. It is a shame that the schools today can not be like that. Computers are nice but hands on learning is far more rewarding I believe. Schools today do not even care about penmanship, boy do I remember learning that. I think this is wonderful what you do and sharing. I thank you.

  25. Dennis Littky says:

    Hey SWRMS Grads!

    This is Doc writing. I’m still creating schools (50 in the US and 50 in Europe and I started a college 5 years ago)!

    Hope everyone is doing well. I miss everyone. SWRMS was my first school!

    My email is email hidden; JavaScript is required. Hope to connect with some of you.

    Doc

  26. Erik Olsen says:

    Dear Mr. Katzoff,

    Thank you so much for sharing this.

    Best regards,
    Erik Olsen

  27. Donna Mackenzie Amato says:

    Thank you for this article! My children were on the tail end of this era. Thank Goodness! Projects, teamwork, integrity all utilized throughout the day. While SWR had its downside as well, as a parent, I still saw more positives than negatives. Too bad this kind of education has gone by the wayside and now test scores, test taking and paperwork have taken its place. As a retired educator I pity this generation of teachers who will never have this kind of teaching experience. I retired because the child is no longer the priority in the classroom.