Guess where these young people are this weekend? At the farm they grew up on. They were classmates from Pre-K through eighth grade at a school that had a working farm upstate. Starting in second grade, three times a year, they spent a week at the farm with their class, rotating through barn chores and kitchen duty and planting fields and tapping maple syrup and pressing apple cider and all the other tasks that come with running a fully functioning farm.
My daughter happened to land in a rather special class, even for that very special school, but I do think those farm trips have a lot to do with why these kids who met at age four are as connected as family today. And now that they've all graduated from college and are back in the city, they planned a weekend farm trip to celebrate. The Snapchat stories from my daughter tell of hay jumping and tree swinging and bonfires and remaking the acquaintance of cows and chickens and pigs they once cared for. I'm pretty sure there was a manhunt game played barefoot in the pitch black night as well.
Some of the parents of the kids in the class are also very bonded. How well we remember gathering in the school's courtyard to wave that yellow school bus off on its way to the Catskills three times a year. And for those of us whose kids did farm camp in the summer, we packed them off with sleeping bags and rubber boots then, too. When they got home, those cruddy boots did not even enter the house. They were scrubbed with industrial grade soap in the utility room and set out to dry.
In the courtyard of the school was a red fire escape with mesh walls on the higher floors. In fifth grade, during the infamous girl wars, their homeroom teacher Aimee used to send the girls out of the classroom to sit on the fire escape and talk through their issues. This lesson in conflict resolution probably stood them in better stead than anything they missed in class.
The school was housed in a charming five story townhouse on the East 96th Street near Central Park. Founded by Augustus and Marty Trowbridge, the school took as its mission the creation of "a beloved community" of equals that MLK preached. "Differences are to be celebrated, not feared," Gus Trowbridge often said. The idea behind that farm was, no matter what their social, cultural or economic circumstances were in the city, all the kids were equally out of their element in the country at first, and they had no choice but to pull together to become a community.
Another highlight of that school: Every year on MLK day, the school's students, staff and families march for justice in a peace rally led by the eighth graders, who each deliver a speech they've written about the civil rights issue their class has chosen for that year. There are several stops along the route of the march, again, mapped out by the eighth graders. In my daughter's eighth grade year, the topic of choice was marriage equality, and my daughter delivered her speech standing in front of the Stonewall Inn in the Village, Ground Zero for the gay rights movement. She's personally proud this week that Obama chose to designate Stonewall a national monument to LGBT rights. She feels her class did their small part to help move the nation forward.
Some of these kids went back to the school last week to attend the end-of-year assembly. It would be the last one in the building they grew up in. The school has grown so much it has to move to a larger building. Come the fall, it will open its doors in a former music school on the Upper West Side where new generations of students will hopefully make memories and connections as enduring and precious as these kids hold.
In the photo up top, the genial face wearing glasses in the middle of the huddle was our kids' second grade teacher, Jay. They were attending their second day with him when 9/11 happened, which makes him an indelible part of that memory. On Facebook last week, Jay wrote: Taught these "kids" when they were in 2nd grade. They just graduated from college. They growed up pretty darn good. Big love!