Neighborhood School opened its doors in September 1986 to a small group of second and third graders. The first floor of 34 Peter Parley Road became home base to this group of students as they, with their teachers, explored ways to create a hands-on, learn-as-you-are-ready, creative, and cooperative environment. Seven students along with three part-time teachers quickly became a family of learners and undertook the challenge of establishing a foundation for a very different kind of Boston early elementary school.
Common bonds shared by two of its founders, Joyce Mallory and Tricia Morrow, prominently influenced the school’s foundation. Part of their commonality included having a background in special education. Presented with an opportunity to begin their own school, they knew it would be a place where children with varying strengths and needs would discover the value of learning differences coming together within a cooperative framework. They also knew that the school would be a place influenced by their shared Christian faith. It was from this faith that their focus on the importance of individuals, choice making, and living as members of a community was rooted. An early decision was made to create an environment that would include families and staff of diverse faiths. Religious beliefs and differences were acknowledged as part of life and explored within the curriculum in developmentally appropriate ways (i.e. sharing of holidays, study of history, study of music). Another cornerstone of the school’s foundation was the belief that urban culture has richness in its socioeconomic and ethnic diversity that should be explored and allowed to be beneficial within a school community. Practical application of this belief resulted in the formation of a financial assistance fund and a curriculum exploring the people, places and history of our families, city, and beyond.
As the school grew during the following two years to include more students and teachers, principles of developmental education were put into action. A system of grouping students in Levels emerged. In simplest terms, Levels were formed by taking our student body (ages 4 through 9 years old at that time) and dividing it into 3 homeroom classes. This system insured that mixed age groupings would be present in each homeroom and that students would have different positions in a level’s age continuum from year to year. Mixed ages helped create an atmosphere of normalcy for many different layers of learning to happen at once within a classroom or even within an activity.
As the program developed, the next few years were spent broadening and deepening the curriculum in order to “flesh-out” the school’s philosophy. Offering more opportunities for parents to be involved in the life of the school was part of this growth. Years of learning how to form and grow a learning community have been filled with challenge, joy, and consistent reward.