By Tom Cesarini
The Convivio Now and Again Series comprises oral histories from Italian-community members. In these excerpts from interviews with various community members, they discuss cherished remembrances of their time spent at Washington Elementary School in Little Italy.
“It was a beautiful old school. I was very athletic. I played on the playgrounds and played on the rings and enjoyed all my little friends.” Fran Marline Stephenson remembers fondly her time at Washington Elementary in the heart of Little Italy. She makes a point to note her affection for the librarian at the school, Mrs. Krause, who would spark Fran’s interest in reading. More important, she would help Fran in learning how to pronounce words, as Fran had difficulty in this regard.
“I have her to thank for teaching me how to speak,” Fran states, continuing to discuss her education. “I took courses that would teach me something. I wanted to learn not just because I want[ed] to learn reading and writing and my arithmetic — I wanted to learn something else.” Fran would eventually dabble in art, sewing, “foolish acting on the stage,” and she also joined the glee club. And most importantly about her participation in school plays, Fran exclaims, “My parents came and saw me, and I was thrilled because my father, being a fisherman, he was never home … I was very proud of myself, to look out there and see my parents in the audience.”
Andy Asaro recalls that in Little Italy, “The neighborhood was composed of a lot of different kids … and we all went to Washington School. And in those days we all walked to school, and we’d walk home, and of course … nobody worried about things like they worry about today. Anyway … a lot of us Italians were in the Junior Traffic Patrol, so that would be manning the intersection of State and Elm streets … we’d be dressed in white pants, white shirt, and red sweaters, and a yellow garrison cap with a red stripe down it … and most of the people, or most of the kids that I knew, enjoyed going to Washington School. As a matter fact, I enjoyed school a lot — I really did. I always felt that I was learning something every day.”
Jim Bregante notes, “The place that probably had a lot to do with our development was Washington Elementary School, and Washington had a huge playground. The neighborhood children spent countless hours there. The school also had an underground gymnasium that was open in the evenings. Across the street from the school was Bayside Social Center, operated by the nuns — who would accompany the children on many varied outings — and they would offer cultural and educational programming, cooking classes, and the like.”
Today, Washington Elementary, its initial foundational structure long faded into memory, has been rebuilt and restructured for a new generation of school kids. Washington Elementary still serves as a pillar of the Little Italy community. See more historical images of Washington Elementary and the surrounding area at italianarchives.org.
Visit: conviviosociety.org to learn more.
—Tom Cesarini is the executive director of Convivio. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.