Christa McAuliffe School in Saratoga celebrated 50 years in the community last month, bringing in a crowd of about 800 former and current students, teachers and staff.
The small K-8 school, which opened its doors in 1971, focuses on the “whole child,” placing their emotional needs on the same level as their educational ones.
The celebration, which took place at Saratoga Springs on May 22, was years in the making. The official anniversary was May 2021, but due to the pandemic, they held off on celebrating in person until this year.
Alumni and former teachers mingled with current students and families, sharing memories from their days at McAuliffe.
Liliana Paz, who has worked in the school’s Parent Faculty Group for 11 years and helped plan the event, said the day was full of memorable moments.
“As they are singing the songs that we have used to build memories, I turn around and a group of alumni are all in a circle, hugging each other and singing to the songs,” Paz said. “It was such a heartwarming experience.”
The school hosted a scavenger hunt at the event, tasking participants with finding former teachers and alumni and learning about the history of the school.
“One of my favorite things, which I’m glad we get to keep and use again, was they had these sandwich boards that had, like, newspapers for each decade that highlighted different things–how the school has changed and grown–to read back that history as you wandered around the venue,” Anne Forbes-Cannon, Parent Faculty Group president, said. “I learned so much in that one day.”
Music is important to the school as well. Parent Faculty Group member Jeanette O’Brien said teachers will lead the students in song at school assemblies. Their repertoire includes “Country Roads,” “Walls” and “This Little Light of Mine.”
Former teacher Ben Maisel, who worked at the school for 27 years, led a sing-along for the crowd at the reunion. Maisel taught grades 4 and 5 at the school and said McAuliffe is a model for other schools in the area,
“I felt a lot of freedom as a teacher to kind of integrate my passions into my teaching,” he added, “freedom to just try new things and experiment.”
He started producing class plays after he was inspired by another teacher who had been staging them for a while. Every year, he let his class choose, direct and produce a play for the school.
“We got more and more experimental with it; it got to a point where I was letting the kids write the plays,” Maisel said. “I can’t imagine that happening in another place, having the green light to do that and the parents’ support.”
McAuliffe’s philosophy is to encourage students to develop their voice, independence and a sense of social justice, O’Brien said. The school was named after Christa McAuliffe, the schoolteacher killed in the Challenger shuttle disaster in 1986.
“What she did was emblematic of what the school’s all about, which is taking risks and taking chances and trying to grow and see what’s out there,” Maisel said.
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