A Hidden Jewel, This Grammar School

Hidden in plain sight on Schuyler Avenue in Stamford, Connecticut, is a most remarkable, traditional school. I make that assessment from experience since I have had the opportunity to teach in, and do observations in, more schools than I could ever count: as an itinerant teacher for the hearing impaired in Iowa and Colorado, sometimes driving 400 miles a week to work with students in numerous schools, in many districts; as a student at Manchester University, England, where we spent every Thursday visiting schools around England; and as a teacher who has taught in four states.

Furthermore, real grammar schools with traditional grammar school expectations have mostly disappeared; replaced by blah-gray training centers of progressive, meltdown education. I was therefore so pleased to discover that a gem such as Sacred Heart School still exists; but I was disappointed to note that parents in the Stamford area seem unaware of this treasure that their city holds. Were David that age, I would consider relocating in order to enroll him at that school. Had I not recently relocated my family to Alabama, and just purchased a house, I would be very tempted to move to Connecticut in order to teach at that school.

Sacred Heart might be described as an inner city school, but I found nothing about it, other than its mid-town location (which should make it so convenient for working parents), to fit that label. I teach in a defacto-segregated school in rural Alabama that too often fits the mental images, as well as the expectations, of how a poor, unsafe school in a poor, unsafe neighborhood would look; how its children would behave and perform. At the rural school we are advised not to work alone late or on weekends. At Sacred Heart, I not only felt totally safe, I felt my spirits, discouraged after long years of fighting the unraveling of public schooling, lift — with hope, with encouragement, with a sense of, “Yes! This is how schools should look and feel and function!”

The entire building is immaculately maintained, and the children and staff are just wonderful. I don’t think that I have ever been so impressed. Manners have been gently but firmly instilled so the boys wait, letting the girls enter rooms first; guests are greeted warmly. The children wear uniforms — handsome scholarly uniforms on the non-gym days; then the cutest blue jogging suits, with short-sleeved polo shirts under the long-sleeved tops, for gym days. The halls are quiet and respect is shown to all, at all times. Oh, that such behavior were taught and enforced in the too-often chaotic public schools. It has been many years since I have been able to teach with my door open.

The spotless surroundings are immediately noticeable. To the left of the entry stairway is the beautiful library. The library looks and smells just like school libraries should look and smell. I love a library that is a library with computers assigned to separate quarters. Although I use the computer many hours a day, books are my greatest passion and they should be quartered in rooms like the one at Sacred Heart School. The library suited me — to a T, and I longed to spend hours in there, rereading my favorite books of childhood. I did draw a small chair to the shelves holding the picture books. I wanted to see which books were there, and borrow a couple to use as examples when I spoke to the staff.

The classrooms are huge, light and airy. What a change from the dark, depressing place where I presently spend so many hours a day. The sun streams in and heightens the sense of hope and expectation. I was energized by each room I entered. In addition to the classrooms being so inviting, the teachers were always busy teaching. I like to see teachers teach instead of expecting children to poorly manage cooperative learning groups. Never did I want my young son, with his youthful and limited experiences, attempting to educate peers while a teacher roamed the room observing instead of providing instruction.

Not only were the teachers always teaching, they were enjoying their days as much as the children were. I heard no voices raised in criticism or sternness; no children talking out-of-turn. Instruction was a pleasant exchange between individuals, young and old, eager to participate in the learning process. Huge smiles awaited me as I entered the classrooms then a chorus of children’s voices greeted me with genuine pleasure, “Welcome Mrs. Taylor! God bless you, Mrs. Taylor!” I wanted to stop the merry-go-round that Life too often becomes, so that I might stay there and be part of that staff. I ache to teach in that school! I asked if ever there were discipline problems for the principal, Mr. Steve Terenzio, to handle. He said that occasionally…a child would fail to turn in homework assignments.

The school has so many things that would encourage parents to enroll their children there…if they realized the wealth behind those red brick walls. Sacred Heart has a real gymnasium, which few elementary schools seem to have these days. It has an after-school enrichment program for children who must wait until parents can pick them up after work. The school has a staff composed of individuals representing various faiths and denominations. It has computers and computer classrooms. It has Latin classes. It has…

I applaud all of the above, but must say that what I found most impressive about this school is the fact that it offers excellent role models and expects high academic achievement. I expected that the staff would set the expectations and be role models. What I did not expect were the lessons that the immigrant children taught me. Those wonderful, happy children have an aura of hope — hope that is missing in too many schools in America. The children speak beautiful Standard English that will be an asset for life, and will support their scholarship, as well as their climb from poverty to productivity. They will grow up to be economically successful Americans! Too many public school children will grow up skill-less, goal-less and clue-less.

I was enthralled by those children and wished that my son could share their classes and experience their hope and their motivation. THAT would be an education in and of itself. I spoke with children whose parents speak broken English, at best. It soon became obvious to me that the parents value education and stress it in their homes. The parents work hard to pay the tuition in order to give their children the chances that true education offers — preparation towards becoming anything they choose to be in life. Those parents are investing their lives so that their children might thrive — while most American parents won’t even invest an evening to attend an open house, parent-teacher meeting, or sports events in which their children play. I observed the dynamics of such home values working side-by-side with an educational system that highly values scholarship and excellence. This confirmed my belief that without parents who seek out such schools in which to enroll their children; without parents who then support the efforts being put forth by the children, staff and leadership, school reform will never get off the ground in this nation.

We have much to learn from motivated, hardworking parents who focus so completely on providing their children with futures. Our children should be there beside those children to experience that kind of dedication to scholarship and preparation for life; to have such strong and fine role models to show them the way. To keep our children from such new Americans is to cheat our children. Our children need to attend schools such as Sacred Heart in order to appreciate the challenges that our own ancestors faced upon their arrival in America and to appreciate the opportunity to be honestly and thoroughly schooled.

With sadness I left Stamford to return to my school which is so lacking in hope; so lacking in goals; filled with children who barely speak English and who cannot even answer the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Their families live in the immediate present, failing to help children think ahead and set goals for breaking out of poverty. Every time that I hear an elementary child express that their goal is to be a pimp or a drug dealer, my heart bleeds for the potential that will be lost; the ultimate cost to America. I want to gather them up and send them to Sacred Heart School where Mr. Terenzio and his fine staff can provide them with role models of all ages; with good educations; with the goal of stepping up from poverty and no-hope, into a world of choices, chances and security.

Tradition is back, at least in this school. I see this as such a positive step in education. The concept of the grammar school is back. Scholarship is back. In this day and age, one must search to find this winning combination, but parents who live in or near Stamford, CT, do not have to look far. If people discount this wonderful school simply because it is located near the city center, or because it welcomes immigrant children, then such people are very shortsighted. Such parents will cheat their own children out of the opportunity of a lifetime.

There is room for many more children at this wonderful school. I was so saddened to see rooms and furniture that were designed to welcome children with open arms, going unused.

May the wisdom of the ages be with any parents who might consider this rare opportunity for their children — a fantastic voyage back to the future — a journey that will offer experiences and rewards that cannot even be imagined in public schools, nor in many private and parochial schools, for that matter. To well-educate our children we need to either do it ourselves, or enroll them in schools committed the using the best practices of the past to prepare children for bright, successful futures. Children deserve every chance to develop their minds, receive an excellent education, and be encouraged to reach for the sky.

Contact information: Mr. Steve Terenzio, Principal, Sacred Heart School, 1 Schuyler St., Stamford, CT, 06902, 1-203-323-4844. DO tell him that I sent you!