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.