It Feels Like Our School

On Saturday, September 17th, the Class of 1966 celebrated its 50th High School Reunion.  For me, this was the beginning of Homecoming week.  I met about 35 graduates from the Class of 1966 in front of the Main entrance and took them to the auditorium to give them a brief synopsis of what happened to the school and the District since they graduated.  The graduates of Clarkstown High School had many questions for me: class size, world languages that we teach, what happened to some of their teachers, the plans of seniors after they graduate, and programs that we offer.  After our meeting in the auditorium, I took these graduates on a tour of the Main gymnasium where they quickly recognized that the bleachers were the same ones they sat on five decades ago, cheering for the home team during basketball games.  They informed me that the classrooms in the Main Building were relatively unchanged except for the desks, chairs, and technology.  We looped through the cafeteria and X-Wing (which was not there in 1966), and made our way to the Annex.  The graduates of this class informed me that they were the first students to have attended 7th through 12th grades on this campus.  After taking some photos in front of the Mansion, we departed ways.

A few days later, I received a lovely letter from one of the graduates of this class.  In it, Dorothy Milianta writes: “It was so heartwarming for us to find that even though it has been more than 50 years after our high school graduation, and in spite of the changes to the school and to its name, the high school still feels like our school.”

Our Homecoming week this year had the same sentiment: the school “felt like our school.”  Hallways were decorated and windows were painted in school colors.  Students dressed according to various theme days.  The bonfire was brought back by the Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA).  It had been almost seven years since the last bonfire.  Parents and students worked together to organize this event, which was a celebration of North and its students.  After the bonfire was lit on a perfect early fall Thursday evening, seniors participated in various field day activities.  Students planned the activities, organized the order of events, and refereed the games.  Students, their siblings, teachers, administrators, parents, and community members attended the bonfire.  There was that feeling again; it “felt like our school.”


The following day on Friday, we had a pep rally for the entire North community.  The North Marching Band performed the National Anthem, followed by performances by the Dance Team, the Taiko Drum Club, the Hip Hop Culture Club, and the Cheerleading Team.  We recognized and celebrated our fall season sports and athletes.  Again, there was that feeling; it “felt like our own school.”


Although the Homecoming Dance was not well attended this year, the students that did attend wanted to be there and took ownership of their school.  Our 9th graders learned how to get to the Main Cafeteria from the rear of the Main Gymnasium that night.  They took photos with their classmates at the photo booth.  After the Homecoming Dance, North High School “felt” like their school for our 9th grade students, feeling the same sentiment as the Class of 1966 did when they entered North High School many years ago.


The Balloon Lady

In late July, I received a padded envelope addressed to the school.  In it were a deflated balloon, a letter, and two photos.  The letter was dated July 18, and the author began the letter as follows: “I hope I have found my way back home.  Purple is a great color and the ram is the perfect mascot for a balloon to have travelled so far away.”  The author went onto say that she is an elementary school music teacher and that she found the balloon on her lawn in Woodstock, Connecticut.  She even enclosed of photo of herself with the deflated Clarkstown North balloon as proof.  I determined that it took 19 days for the balloon to travel approximately 150 miles (an average of 7.8 miles per day).  She continued to write in the letter: “I gather the balloon is from graduation, but only you would know for sure….My greatest wish is to have the person who opened this package contact me to let me know if, in fact, the balloon arrived back to the correct high school.”  This teacher from Woodstock Elementary School included a pencil in the package that had the school’s mascot (a frog) imprinted on it. She signed the letter, “Sing-cerely, Patricia L…”

Patricia Langer


I wrote back to Patricia and included a purple t-shirt with a Ram on it (thanks to the PTSA) and a purple Clarkstown North lanyard.  I wrote her a note stating that the balloon was, indeed, from our graduation ceremony, which was held at Rockland Community College.  I thanked her for taking the time to communicate with me, sending a pencil, and doing something very important that often gets lost in today’s age of educational standardization, i.e. teaching music to elementary school students.  I expressed my gratitude that her school still offered arts to elementary school students and wished her a good start to the school year.

A few weeks later, I received another letter from Patricia in my mailbox.  Patricia thanked me for the t-shirt and matching lanyard, and she said that she would share this story with her students.  She continued in her letter to explain that her school had suffered some roof damage as a result of a storm and that there was a flood right in front of the music room.  But then she transitioned and began the next part of the letter as follows: “On the bright side, the kids will have 3 days of school followed by a 4 day weekend…”  Students had the Friday before Labor Day off.  Patricia thanked me for applauding the arts and told me that her Superintendent was once a music teacher and that his wife is currently a music teacher in another district.  She continued: “Thank you for bringing such amazing joy to my summer…If you ever have a terrible, horrible, no good day just take this letter out and think about how happy you made a teacher in Woodtsock, CT.  Sing-cerely, Patty (aka the balloon lady).”

In preparing for the opening of the school year, I was reflecting on the message and theme for the 2016-2017 school year.  One of Sir Ken Robinson’s video struck a chord with me:

Then, I was reading some excerpts from George Couros’ book, The Innovator’s Mindset.  Here is a video summarizing his perspective on transformative, digital education:

After reading articles and viewing articles, I came to the realization that all educators, Sir Ken Robinson, George Couros, and even Patty the “Balloon Lady” all have one thing in common: they are all purveyors of hope.  Education is one of the very few professions whose main driver is hope.  Teaching is a unique profession where hope is at the core of the job itself.  Teachers, teaching assistants, and administrators joined the profession with the express purpose of helping students and improving lives.  We, as educators, not only guide students in finding themselves, their attributes and strengths, but we also help pave a path for students to explore what they could become.  We partner with students on this gradual journey towards growth and self-actualization.  Sadly, not enough research has been done in studying what role “hope” plays in the role of students’ and educators’ lives.  During 9th Grade Orientation, I saw 9th graders and student mentors full of energy and enthusiasm.  A slide show from 9th Grade Orientation can be seen here.  I met with the faculty on September 1.  They too are full of energy and ready to begin the new school year.

Just like Patty ensured the well-travelled balloon found its way home from Woodstock to New City, educators help students find their way as they gradually become young adults.  Proudly, our profession is one where hope is front and center, where we can dream about bigger things, imagine a better tomorrow, and provide amazement in so many different ways.  Coincidentally, the following quote from Albert Einstein adorns our library:  “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.”

I leave you with these final words from the “Balloon Lady”: “Let’s hope our symphony of sound surrounds many…Keep a song in your heart and a beat in your feet as the new school year begins.”

I hope that students, parents, and teachers have an awesome and amazing 2016-2017 school year.