Saturday, October 18, 2008

In good company

My mind has been racing about my school lately. I'm not sure I can really describe the feeling, but it is a deep love for everything about it: the children, the families, the staff, even the building itself. With this in mind, you can imagine my elation when I read the New York Times today and discovered the article, "A Builder of Dreams, In Brick and Mortar," by Jim Dwyer and saw photographs of school buildings so eerily similar to mine that I was compelled to read the article right away. The article tells the story of Charles B. J. Snyder, an architect and superintendent of school buildings from the late 1800s well into the 1900s. Snyder believed that schools should be impressive and humane places for children to grow and learn. He designed his buildings specifically for immigrant and poor children throughout the city. These buildings dominated neighborhoods with their elaborate facades and beautiful design. His designs were not only aesthetically pleasing but also safe and innovative for their time. He envisioned safe play spaces for children, large windows that would let in ample light, and his trademark "H" design that shelters many classrooms from street noise. He built them with fireproof materials and interlocking staircases to facilitate swift evacuation. He was one of the first architects to design schools as public spaces. He built auditoriums with separate entrances so that school events and workshops for parents could be held after hours without having to open the whole building. He built spaces for displaying art and for public gatherings. Jacob Riis even wrote that Snyder had built "palaces" for the people.

After reading the article, I quickly looked up my school to confirm that he had designed it, and indeed he had. I feel honored to teach in one of his buildings. In fact, I always knew there was something special about the physical structure of the school. My classroom gets fresh air, is flooded with light from giant windows, and gets little street noise. My classroom is also huge with unbelievably high ceilings. It really is a palace for my children. When they draw the building in their stories, it always looks like a castle.

THIS is the kind of vision that we need! Our schools are for the children, their families, and the community. They should be the pride of the neighborhood. Safe, clean, and intellectually stimulating for all who enter. Thinking about Snyder and Riis and the vision they had for empowering the poor and disadvantaged, I am thoroughly inspired. My school serves the same population it was built for, just in another time and with immigrants from different parts of the world. We need to do all we can as teachers to make our classrooms those magical places for our children.


Ms. M said...

About a year ago I took a walking tour through the Municipal Arts Society led by the author, Jane Arrington, to see some of the schools that he built. The tour was really interesting. I'm not sure if they are still offering it but if they are you should definitely check it out.

Anonymous said...

The sad thing is that we have abandoned our commitment to public education and the poor condition of the buildings is a symptom. If we valued public ed, schools would be well taken care of-no thermostat work needed. But nothing's been built in a long time and renovations are badly done, and when done, few and far between. The "where" does matter.

peace in the classroom said...

I totally agree with your comment. While the outside of my school and the original structure are amazing, the actual building is in extremely poor condition. The palace I call my classroom has chipping paint, splintered closets, and general disrepair all around. Renovations are always a waste of time and money. In fact, workers just painted an entire floor in our building with the wrong color and had to redo it. Last year an early childhood bathroom with several stalls was accidentally replaced by a single adult bathroom. The contractors blamed the error (it was an error) on ADA regulations saying that we were required to have a wheelchair accessible bathroom. Our schools is NOT wheelchair accessible on any floor (including the first floor) and this bathroom was built on the 4th floor.