Singing songs that were popular on the radio when their grandparents were their age, the students at Midtown Community School (MCS) wished their school a happy 20th birthday on April 12, while at the same time ushering in the Week of the Young Child.
Not all the songs were old, of course, but the 600 students who filled the school auditoriums did not seem to distinguish between “Firework” by Katy Perry and “Birthday” by The Beatles, waving brightly colored glow sticks in the air as they sang.
Auditorium decorations included arches made up of balloons at the entrances, as kids marched in wearing costumes or paper hats, ready to perform in dance or song.
Some wore purple t-shirts bearing the school logo, while others dressed up in costumes from “The Wizard of Oz,” following not a yellow brick road, but a purple road signifying the color of their school as well as the pathway to success.
Accompanied by a piano, kids sang as they made their way on and off the stage, often with a teacher in a bear costume—the school mascot. Trophies won over two decades were mounted on either side of the stage.
Week of the Young Child
For more than 20 years, the Bayonne School District has gathered in April to celebrate the accomplishments of elementary-school children, said Schools Superintendent Dr. Patricia McGeehan. Each year, the district celebrates at a different school; this year, MCS hosted the event.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) initiated the Week of the Young Child in 1971, recognizing that the early childhood years (birth through age eight) lay the foundation for children's success in school and later life. The week is a time to plan how citizens of the community, state, and nation can better meet the needs of young children and their families.
In promoting the events surrounding the Week of the Young Child, the association said that more is known today than in the past about the importance of children's earliest years in shaping their learning and development. Yet, never before have the needs of young children and their families been more pressing. The Week of the Young Child is a time to recognize that children's opportunities are the community’s responsibility, and to recommit everyone to ensuring that every child experiences the type of early environment—at home, at childcare, at school, and in the community—that will promote early learning.
Statistics released by the association show that a huge percentage of mothers with young children are working, leaving schools to provide early-childhood programs to help these kids succeed later.
“Federal, state, and local government, communities, parents, and the private sector must share in the responsibility of ensuring the wellbeing of children and families,” the association said. “We can and must do more to create opportunities that help all children and families succeed. We can invest now in our children and families and enjoy long-term savings, with a more vibrant nation of healthy, achieving children and more stable families. The Week of the Young Child is an opportunity for NAEYC affiliates, related organizations, communities, and states to focus on the needs of young children and their families.”
MCS is a special place
MCS was the first Bayonne school to receive national recognition as a Blue Ribbon School and until recently was the district’s newest school, opening late in 1992 as a truly modern school equipped with what were then seen as the latest technologies for learning. These included cable TV and fiber optics for computer networks. The barrier-free building included elevators and ramps, as well as central air conditioning for year-round use. The building was also designed with 58 instructional rooms, a reading room art gallery, band and music rooms, and a number of recreational areas.
“The school was ready but the schoolyard was not,” recalled McGeehan, who served as the first principal at MCS. “There were mounds of dirt in the schoolyard when we moved in,” she said.
Being a founding principal at a school is a little like being the first captain of a ship, and for this reason, McGeehan said, MCS has a special place in her heart. She helped establish many things that would later become traditions at the school.
“Some things have changed,” she said. “But the spirit of this school is the same.”
When first opened, MCS brought together more than 1,200 students from Roberson and Roosevelt schools and more than 60 staff members, and this was a logistical challenge.
“We were wondering how to get all the kids here with their books,” McGeehan said. “Then I got the idea that each child should bring a pillowcase from home, and they did. They carried over their things to the school in pillowcases. We made the move during the teachers’ convention.”
Deirdre Sullivan, an officer with the Bayonne Police Department, served as DARE officer at MCS from when the school opened until the program lost funding in 2010.
“I have a grandson here,” she said.
In many ways, MCS became the mythical village that philosophers claimed it took to raise a child, serving as the extended family to many who came here, said Christina Mercun, the school’s current principal.
Indeed, it has become a kind of Oz where students walk the purple brick road toward graduation and success beyond. A film that featured students and faculty singing in the halls of the school, covered many of the theme songs the school has used over the years. Students in the auditorium sang along to those on the screen. The crescendo came when the students and film reached this year’s theme song, John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance,” signifying the district-wide campaign to do away with bullying. This was reinforced by paper peace signs posted on the stage and walls. Each song was a kind of musical history of the school, echoing the hopes and dreams of those who had passed through here before—from sports heroes to war heroes. Judging by the faces of the students and teachers, the words seem to have an impact.
“Many of the students who went to school here when it opened are still here,” said McGeehan. “Some work in the schools, some work for the city as police or firefighters, and I’ve seen some at Bayonne Hospital. I see them when I go around town. I remember them. They remember their time here.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.