It WAS Alive

Almost a year ago, I posted to this blog my account of the old abandoned Draper School building in Rotterdam, NY.  If you missed it, this current post might be more relevant if you read the original story here. It was called When it was still alive, a quote taken from my son at the time of our visit. In that post, I described the eery scene of a broken building and imagined the grandeur that must have once been the heart of its community. I was not wrong.

To my surprise, the post received thousands of views, and many thoughtful comments from previous students and teachers of the Draper School. The outpouring of personal stories were heartfelt. They confirmed what I said in my previous post, that neighborhood schools do indeed create lasting memories and relationships that extend far beyond the academic lessons on the chalkboard (or whiteboard or Smart Board). Schools are oftentimes the hearts of their community, and when they stop beating, the neighborhood feels a profound loss. Many comments were from distraught readers, learning of their school’s demise for the first time. Others were from nearby residents, disgusted with what now stands in their community. All comments contained precious memories of days gone by in the old Draper School.

Fran Pugliese, Class of 71 attended Draper from 1958 until he graduated in 1971, his wife also graduating from Draper in 1974. He later taught at the school from 1975-1982, and coached girls basketball until Draper closed as a high school in 1986. He describes his memories and a bit of the history of Draper School’s end:
Lots of Fond memories. We were a Family. You knew everyone. My wife grew up across the street. We all hoped that Draper would live forever. Unfortunately it couldn’t . My two youngest daughters were attending Draper & I knew, as all parents knew, Draper couldn’t keep up. So we fought for a merger in town & settled for being annexed by Mohonasen. They kept Draper open for a year as a K-5 building. Then renamed their middle school Draper MS. It was a smooth transition but… We all hoped that something good would come out of the building but knew it would take lots of money. Here we are 27 years later & your blog lets us know what we all feared. It’s been vandalized so badly that it will take even more money to make it useable. So very Sad. But we pray that someone will find a way. But we will all have memories of Walking to & from school…How you started on Stanton st. & moved around to Vischer as you got older…..The gyn rocking on Friday nights…the playground…….The little gym & climbing the ropes with Mr Fink………Football & baseball games at Memorial Park& all the teachers like Mr Goodwin…….Just Many Many Good memories…My blog would be longer then yours if I kept remembering…….Til then..Lets Shout for Dear Old Draper High to Prove that we are STILL True!!!!!

Jennifer Carusone attended Draper from kindergarten until third grade, when Draper merged with another district. Though she was young, she felt the loss of her school’s closing as she was forced to attend another.

Former Draper student, Jenn Carusone, on the first day of school.  Used with permission by Ms Carusone.

Former Draper student, Jenn Carusone, on the first day of school. Used with permission by Ms Carusone.

And in her thoughtful comment, she addressed my son’s statement about “when the school was still alive…” It brought tears to my eyes.

… I want to tell him that when the school was still alive, I learned to ride my bike in the parking lot you stood in. It was a pink Huffy bike and I fell so many times. But with my Father’s help, I was eventually riding circles around that parking lot.

The gym with the hole, where you rode the floor scooters, I once played in that gym and rode those scooters, they were my favorite gym activity. The man who taught us in that gym was known simply as “Coach” to me. He was the man who put me on his shoulders when I broke my ankle on the playground. He was an older man by then and I always wondered if he was really Santa Claus who was undercover as my gym teacher.

I bought my first Christmas gift with my own money in that gym. The gift was for my parents. I don’t remember what it was but I remember how proud I felt.

Used with permission of Jenn Carusone.

Used with permission of Jenn Carusone.

Halloween was a very big deal when I was young and at Draper. The parents would come to the school dressed up and we would have a parade around the neighborhood block, the people who lived in those homes would come out and watch us. I felt a little bit like a super star in those parades.

Oddly, the biggest lesson I learned was when Draper was on the verge of merging. It was around this time that my mother and her dearest friend made picket signs and walked around the block in protest. One night I went with them. I held a sign and walked by her side. It was one of the first times I remember admiring her. She was fighting for her cause and she didn’t care what others thought. It was and remained my biggest lesson in civic rights.

Like Jenn’s parents protesting for a cause back then, today parents like me are fighting for similar causes. Public schools are under attack due to lack of funding, the potential of school closings, state take-overs, replacement by a Charter school, controversial curriculum standards, and excessive testing–a compilation of factors that are turning fond memories of school and learning into nightmares of “rigor” and test prep that are severing the personal connection between school and community as education becomes sterilized and standardized. Readers of this blog are familiar with my foray into activism and the birth of my advocacy efforts against education reform, which started after witnessing my son’s experience in prekindergarten. It is through this blog that I began to understand the issues affecting public education and what they really mean for stakeholders like children, parents, and teachers. Watching my son attempt to navigate a standardized academic world was like watching a square peg forcefully beaten into a round hole with a heavy sledgehammer; or like forcing a flower to bloom in the middle of winter, only to watch it die in its unnatural environment and state of being. It is because education is inherently personal, and always should be, that I am interested in the longterm positive effects that one’s school experience has on them. It is why, during my experience in the Draper building, my mind drifted beyond the decaying exterior of Draper’s architecture to the stories, memories, and relationships I imagined to have occurred within its once lively walls–my school experience was that way. Although I am unfamiliar with Draper’s community, so far from my own, it was easy to understand what was lost because it felt so familiar to my own alma mater, a small one-building K-12 school, which was also doomed to close its doors.

 


Mostly, I write this blog for my own understanding, and my own need to articulate complex issues or jumbled thoughts. I don’t expect a huge readership, but every once in a while, my posts find their mark, connecting me with people whom I would otherwise never know. The physical experience of the Draper building has had a lasting impact. My children still talk about our trip there and their feelings and memories of that day. My daughter, now three, still mentions cutting her finger and bleeding. My son, now seven, still talks about the details of the abandoned building. But it is the confirmation of the personal stories I knew once existed that has had the greatest impact. I feel now, in some ways, like I am a part of the Draper community, like I was given a unique glimpse into its personal history.

After our visit last year, I wrote to the Schenectady County Historical Society to try to learn more about the school and the building. The first Draper School was built in the early 1900’s on Guilderland Ave. extension. It burned down on May 14, 1914. A new Draper School was built on Mill Lane (now Draper Avenue) and opened in 1921. During the 1986-87 school year, the Draper School was absorbed by the Mohonasen School District. Most recently, the Draper building was used as the location of a charter school, which closed in 2008. I was astonished to learn that the destruction we had witnessed was recent, a result of just a few years of vacancy, not the result of decades of abandonment as I had previously assumed!

Kathy Alden Dalrymple, Class of 87 recounts the merger, and how the new school could not take the place of Draper:
I was part of the first graduating class of the new merged school – I don’t even acknowledge that I ever attended the new merged school … I just have zero connection to it whatsoever. Draper was, and always will be my alma mater! I attended from 2nd grade till it closed in 86. Like the rest of the commenters remarked, Draper was the best. It was small, but one great big family … And in the summer of 2013 we had an “Across The Years Draper Reunion”… – that means – EVERYONE STILL ALIVE – from the year the school was built, until it closed its doors in 86 – EVERYONE was invited! How AMAZING was that! How’s THAT kind of example for FAMILY, huh!?? It was actually my 25th reunion year in 2013, and I CHOSE to attend the Across The Years party instead of the regular one for the merged school that they “tell” me I graduated from. I had more fun seeing our old Draper family that night!! And like they said earlier – I loved to see the classes 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 years older – or younger – because even the seniors still went back to connect with the 7th graders – or the elementary kids. Everybody knew everybody! THIS is the kind of beautiful family that lived at Draper.
Anyone interested in the Draper School or other New York history can search historical online newspapers at www.fultonhistory.com, which offers free, searchable digital access to a number of New York State newspapers, including the Schenectady Gazette from 1911 through 1974.
I love history–and because schools and education are so foundational for many, leaving such a profound impact on the lives of people, the cultural history of schools is never bland. I want to thank my readers for providing me the insight needed to truly appreciate the history of the Draper school. It has been my pleasure to read your stories and memories of your time at Draper.
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