by Sharon G. Jonas
When construction of the 10-room Merrick Avenue School was first completed in 1923, it welcomed 275 students from kindergarten-to-eighth grade. Th e cost of the school, including equipment, was $135,000. Th e first year’s budget was $9,000.
Fast forward nine decades and four additions later, the 474 students at the Roland A. Chatterton Elementary school are celebrating the 90th anniversary of their state-of-the-art school – all stemming from the original structure and modest beginnings. Proudly embracing and connecting to its past, Chatterton Elementary School, renamed in 1971 after beloved past principal Roland Chatterton, has thoughtfully planned special events and curriculum to tie into their anniversary celebration.
“We are looking forward to an exciting year,” said Dana Bermas, Chatterton’s assistant principal. “Instead of one event, we will be celebrating all year long. Th e students are very excited.” The anniversary began with a Welcome Back Picnic and ribbon-cutting ceremony on the updated library/multi-media room in September. Organized by Mary Anne Chin, the head of the 90th Anniversary Committee, the kick-off marked the first of many special events. (It was Chin who noticed and mentioned at a PTA meeting last year that 1923 was inscribed in Roman numerals on an overlooked plaque in the school’s lobby, and that the 90th anniversary was drawing near.)
A food drive organized by the student council called “90 Can Make a Difference” was undertaken for the Thanksgiving season. Each grade was assigned a specific type of item, such as canned foods, paper products and boxed pastas, to bring to school for distribution to local families in need. Th e 90th Anniversary Committee awarded the first class reaching 90 donations with an ice cream party. Planned for January is PARP (Parents as Reading Partners) week, when parents and authors join students in reading and discussing books. T-shirts with the school’s 90th anniversary emblem created by third grader Sofia Macias, winner of the school’s logo design contest, will be given to all participants.
Richard Nasto, Chatterton’s music teacher, in planning for the December 9th school concert, said, “The music will be our normal concert material, but I’m hoping to create a visual appeal, sort of like Radio City Music Hall, with velvet ropes and student ushers with flashlights.” He is well aware of how the musical past can be forgotten, as he said some students have questioned him about the record albums he has affixed to the walls of his classroom. One student asked about the “big black CDs,” he said. Art teacher Justine Dujardin said her students in the second, third, fourth and
fifth grades will be “working on projects based on art movements and artists around the time period when the school was built.” A roomful of second graders recently worked pastel chalks onto oversized flower petals in the style of Georgia O’Keefe. Without prompting one budding artist, Hannah Lewis, announced aloud, “Th is is our school’s 90th anniversary.”
Roland Chatterton would have been proud.
The current 90th anniversary theme confims that Chatterton’s ideas, which he wrote and had published in book, live on today. According to Jerry Medowar, a member of the Historical Society of the Merricks and a former Chatterton math teacher from 1954-1959, Chatteron “was way ahead of his time. He developed a teaching concept he called a core curriculum based on integrating
all the subjects and connecting them with a theme. The term he had for this was CHESGRAPHY, an acronym standing for Conduct and Character, History, English, Science, Geography, Reading, Arithmetic, Penmanship, Health and Yeomanship.” He also instituted small groups in classrooms, which required unbolting the rows of desks from the floor and rearranging them into circles of five students who would work together.
Medowar fondly recalls how Chatterton, a former science and algebra teacher, interacted with the children. Back in 1943, a house on the school grounds was provided
for the principal. Every day as Chatterton walked back and forth to have lunch at home he would talk to every child along the path. “He knew every student by name. He was an innovator, a marvelous teacher and a gentle man.” Chatterton retired in 1969 and died in 1989.
NOW AND THEN
Records indicate the first known school in Merrick was a log building on the Northeast corner of Merrick Road and Merrick Avenue. Around 1844, a one-room, yellow brick schoolhouse was constructed on the north side of Merrick Road near Kenny Avenue. In 1892 another school was built on Newbridge Road between Merrick Road and Sunrise Highway.
Overcrowding prompted use of the fire hall and Merrick Church for space until a new school was built around 1902 on Smith Street. Construction of this four-room schoolhouse was $6,000. Th e structure still stands as The First Baptist Church. As the population grew, 8.03 acres were purchased for $40,000 in 1922 and the original Merrick Avenue School was built. The proceeds of the Smith Street School were used to construct a house for the principal, who lived there and paid nominal rent. Learning from experience, the district built the school with expansion in
mind. By 1947, 900 students were enrolled. In 1954, seventh-and eighth-grade students were moved to the new junior high school, which relieved overcrowding and double sessions.
Today, the Chatterton school shines as an example of our current educational system. Recent updates include security cameras, which provide live coverage of entrances and areas throughout the building. While an apple was something students ate as a snack 90 years ago, Chatterton’s multi-media room stocks 25 Apples [computers] in the form of large screen computers and SMARTBoards that have largely replaced chalkboards as a teacher’s visual aid.
What the future brings, no one knows. But visitors to the Chatterton School can see in the eyes of the children, and dedication of the staff , an overall sense of pride – and that it is always promising.