A double-date back at school

Marcy O’Brien

I don’t think I’ve double-dated since high school but I recently got an offer I couldn’t refuse.

The invitation had come in the mail earlier this summer and I’d put it aside – who needs to go to their 60th high school reunion when you made it to the 50th and 55th? I thought it will simply be the same faces that have cared to show up in the past, probably minus a few who didn’t survive the last five years. The only difference will be the increased number of hearing aids and many more big, brown, age spots

When I found the invitation, I was in a less jaded mood. The docs had just said that my back and hips will be working less efficiently in five years and I started to think, Why not go? Who knows what the 20’s will bring? The 1920’s were the Roaring Twenties, but my personal 2020’s might not be so rip-roaring. So I whistled up Jet Blue and booked myself to Beantown.

I grew up 18 miles south of Boston in a small working-class town called Stoughton, Massachusetts. The only other Stoughton in the country is in Wisconsin and I often see the Stoughton name label on their highway trailers and mud flaps.

But my Stoughton isn’t famous for much unless you consider the robbers and getaway truck from the notorious Brinks robbery in the 50’s. Every little town has to have a point of pride.

But after this trip I was able to fly home with a renewed sense of pride – twofold.

First and probably foremost, the reunion was much more fun than I expected. Everyone seemed relaxed and comfortable; we all seemed to enjoy each other; the laughter was constant; the hospitality and food were terrific and I’d have to say a good time was had by all. And then there was the second part of the date, the fieldtrip.

Peggy, from the reunion committee, had arranged for our group to tour Stoughton’s brand new high school. I thought ho-hum, tour a school. Big Whoop. Can I pay money NOT to do that?

And then Peggy said that the new superintendent – who she proclaimed “fabulous” – had volunteered to personally conduct the tour. Whoa. The man with all the answers is going to show us around? I’m in. And I’m beyond glad that I went. I don’t often get my socks knocked off.

The $156 million dollar facility opened this school year while the four-section old high school is being torn down in its front yard. When the old buildings are completely gone, new athletic fields will fill the space. As Stoughton has grown in the decades since I moved away, the old school’s multiple additions could no longer contain its burgeoning population.

My little hometown, however, had always agreed on the need for education. We had grand teachers and opportunities that many public schools didn’t offer. Time has proven today’s citizens consistent with those values, and Stoughton, again, went all out. $156,000,000.

Because Massachusetts still has Town Meeting as its form of government we were told that the vote to approve this ginormous expenditure was overwhelmingly YES as was the popular vote referendum. After an awe-inspiring hour on the tour, I’d have to say it was worth every dime. This is an environment for learning, the likes of which I’ve never seen or even read about.

At first glance, the bright, soaring lobby resembles more a shopping mall than a school. Visual excitement was my first reaction to the three stories of angled sight lines mixed with circles, lightness and light. Sensors control not only temperature in the air-conditioned building but also the light, balancing the abundant daylight with artificial for constant optimal learning environment. What? They care if the students are comfortable?

John Marcus, the new Superintendent of Stoughton’s schools, was as congenial and witty as he was informative. He answered our group’s many questions and frankly, it seems the architects and planners had thought of everything, with extra safety precautions I didn’t know existed. All who enter pass security reception which also monitors 191 inconspicuous cameras throughout the building, except the classrooms. (I never saw one)

The high school’s mascot, the Black Knight, is in artistic evidence throughout the building as are the school colors in the graphics and art work throughout the buildings. The Knight rides high above the school’s Hall of Fame wall, honoring alumni who have left their professional imprint nationally or internationally.

After passing the administrative offices, the school cafeteria also opens directly into the grand space – almost like a sidewalk café, offering both hi and low seating. Visitors will also use this reception area when attending public events in either the gymnasium or the 865-seat auditorium across the grand lobby.

The theater itself is the latest in light and sound technology, handicapped seating, dressing rooms, etc. The entire high school band can be seated on the extended stage which was completed with a fly system for sets, drops and additional lighting.

The huge gymnasium can seat the entire student body in its artistically decorated bleachers. Batting cages, wrestling mats and space dividers are stored in flying systems near the ceiling. Both team and P.E. lockers occupy the floor underneath in addition to the massive state-of-the-art fitness and training rooms.

After a while I was so bombarded by stunning facts, I had trouble absorbing them. The 294 solar panels on the roof? The botany lab’s greenhouse? The second black-box theater for the drama classes? The acoustically specialized band and chorus rooms? The in-house television station to be student run? The huge science labs?

The Genius room off the library, home to the resident computer technician for students and faculty? The color darkroom in the new photolab? The small gathering spots for student friendship and study groups scattered throughout the building? The college tiered classroom for large class lectures and teachers’ meetings? I think I’ve forgotten as much as I saw and heard. And all of this before the far reaches of their academics.

I was briefly jealous. And then I realized that these students will come to the world far more exposed and ready than we were. They will learn in high school what took us years more to observe and absorb. They begin their next levels of learning with base knowledge that our hi-tech world demands, broadening their options forever.

I quickly moved from admiration to pride – that our small town treasured their youth enough to give them this tool set for the future. These lucky students will appreciate that faith investment – and build with it. My dear friend, Julie, is thrilled that her grandson and grand-nephew will be in the first graduating class.

So much of my enjoyment was seeing this wonder with friends of 60 years who know how far we’ve come from those early days. Our hometown past and future came together in an eye-popping, heartwarming way I wouldn’t have missed. Congratulations Town of Stoughton, old friend. Your legacy is assured.

Best double-date ever.

Marcy O’Brien is a member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. She can be reached at Moby.32@hotmail.com.


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