A Memoir of a Building, a Woman, and a Community

You could say that I went to Goodwin for Kindergarten through third grade. I wasn’t there the whole time, though. I began Kindergarten and stayed through the first two months of first grade. Then we moved to Niantic (terrible school experience) and moved back by Christmas. Then I stayed until about Halloween of my third grade year, when we moved to Clinton.

My time at Goodwin was wonderful. The other schools were much different. Both were big brick buildings with the institutional look and feel. It felt like I was going to prison when I first arrived at each. But Kathleen E. Goodwin Elementary School was as different as night from day, and I think reflected the character of the lady they named it after.

My mother told me that Miss Goodwin had been the principle and her teacher when she was in school. I didn’t really believe it. In my days Miss Goodwin was a sweet lady who rode her bike around town, lived up over Esty’s store in town, and visited our neighbors the Smith’s so she could see the children on Halloween.

I remember my grandmother stopping to talk in town with Goodie, as she called her. And I remember her smiling face when she would talk with my mother. My mother seemed to like to show me off to Miss Goodwin. And Miss Goodwin always wanted the particulars, not just a brief hello.

The school reflected the character of the lady. Goodwin was an orderly school but never harsh. There was room for expression and fun, but none for being mean to others or acting up. From my first day, I felt welcomed and even loved. My mother greeted Mrs Lafontaine, the receptionist, by her first name. I noted in my young mind that they were friends and knew that I could count on her if I needed anything or if I was sick. ANd that was always true.

My kindergarten teacher was Miss Macready, and I was smitten with her. She was petite and blonde and very kind and caring. I couldn’t imagine there being a better teacher in the school or in any school. Half days in her class flew by and we were soon on our way home.

Graduating to the first grade landed me in Mrs. Campbell’s class, which was about the best place I could imagine for first grade. When we moved to Niantic and back, they switched me to another class. Mrs. Campbell was fairly young and very “mod”. The teacher they assigned me to on my return was decidedly not either of those. I was happy to be back, but I was not happy to lose Mrs. Campbell.

If I could have seen into the future, I would have realized that my new teacher was a true blessing. She was stern, but caring, and had no problem keeping rambunctious boys in line. She also turned out to be the near neighbor and friend of my fourth grade teacher, which turned out to be a very good thing. But that’s another story.

My favorite place in first grade was outdoors. Our playground was a wonderful place, kept safe by the eagle eyes of our teachers. By second grade, for which I had Mrs. White, I didn’t care whether I was indoors or out. So long as I was near the pretty little girl I had a crush on, I was happy.

Mrs. White was older than most of the other teachers in the whole school, but she really knew her job. And she was great at reading to us. Reading became a great love of mine in that class. Well, that and Crystal Gunn. And since I was getting good at reading, I could enjoy the subscription my mother got to the “I Can Read” series of books, especially Danny’s Dinosaur.

What I remember most about the playground on the second grade side of the school was the jungle gym. The teachers called a monkey more than once, and they often spoke to me about using my hands. My favorite trick was to walk across the top of the steel bars meant for going under. While others were going hand-by-hand beneath the bars, I was trying not to step on their hands as I walked out and back.

In third grade, I lucked out again and got Mrs. Sommers. That woman smiled almost perpetually, and she had the patience of a saint. She taught us “phonics” and in only two months in her class I vaulted ahead in my reading so I could take on about any challenge at the Scholastic book fair.

It is funny how detailed my memories are about some parts of the school and the people in it, but how big sections of the school and my time there are missing from my memory. I walked to and from school until the middle of second grade and I remember that very well. But I don’t recall the bus rides out to Chalker Beach for the second half of second grade and the first part of third grade.

What I recall well is walking to and waiting for the bus while we lived in Chalker Beach. And I also recall riding the little bus to a friend’s house sometimes when my step-father was working evenings. I even remember a toy I took to school while I was in third grade.

The toy was called an SST. It was a car with a wheel in the center you spun hard with a ripcord. They allowed us to bring them in and race them one day and I was good at pulling that ripcord. But soon my time there ended, and we moved to another town where my teacher seldom smiled and the rules were very strict.

Something about Goodwin made me feel safe and happy and open to the world. It was a nurturing school and a caring place. They treated their students like their own children, in both love and discipline. And that was the legacy of Miss Goodwin, who never gave birth to any children, but called every child in town her own.

Leave a Comment