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Final Arts Week at Macy Elementary School Is Joyful and Sad

Jun 29, 2015 09:23AM ● By Pamela Johnson

Original and current members of the Macy Arts Week committee shown (l-r) include Bonnie Harper, Maria Eydenberg, Monica Rigamonti, Edith Naylor, Anne Donahue-Boddy, Maryanne Donahue, Linda Tavares and Carolyn Carey.

written by Marjorie Turner Hollman, Contributing Writer

Clara Macy Elementary School has been nurturing and educating Bellingham children since the 1960s and has been carrying on the tradition of “Arts Week” for the past thirty-two years. As the plans for closing the much-loved school have progressed, one of the biggest losses for many will be the tradition of Arts Week. There was another redistricting that took place in Bellingham around 1990 (my own children were transferred from South School to Macy School). Many at the time were dismayed and angry about the change, but I assured parents, “Macy has Arts Week.”

Now another transition is about to occur, and with the closing of Macy School comes the end of Arts Week. Or will it be the end? As my grandchildren enter the Bellingham School system, it is my hope that somehow this grand tradition will find a home, perhaps in both South and Stall Brook schools, so that all this town’s children can enjoy the benefits of Arts Week, in whatever form it might take in the coming years. As inspiration, here’s the story of this most recent—but I truly hope not last—Arts Week!

Arts Week began in the 1981-82 school year with an idea. Then-Macy-principal Annette Packard approached the staff about having an entire week set aside devoted to the arts. Carolyn Carey was on that original Arts Week committee, and returned as she has each year since retiring, offering dance and drama classes. “Originally we put everything aside for an entire week,” Carey related. “There was not all the testing that we have these days. We found five days was a bit much, so we moved the event to the week after Memorial Day to ensure it was four days, not five. It took some adjustment, working out the loss of planning periods and such.”

Maryann Donahue was also on the original Arts Week committee. Retired thirteen years, she has been back for every Arts Week since she retired, and once again taught music classes, along with Debbie Hoppe, who retired three years ago. “Arts Week is my favorite time of year,” Donahue smiled. “I’m here all week!”

Hoppe nodded in agreement with Donahue and explained, “When all the school is focused on an idea, everything comes into focus—the kids internalize it.”

Anne Carey, a former Macy teacher who now teaches dance, yoga, stress reduction, and physical education at Lexington High School, took a personal day off to join her mother, Carolyn, to teach dance and drama to the children. “It’s been like alumni week here at Macy,” Anne said. “Many staff have been returning to visit.”

Carolyn Carey noted, “For many years we had a staff and teacher show and talent sharing. That all started with a child who was outstanding in her piano playing—we wanted to give her a chance to share so we came up with the talent show.”

In recent years the team leader and driving force behind Arts Week has been the very personable Arts teacher at Macy and Stall Brook elementary schools, Maria Eydenberg. She in fact exemplified its spirit each year by devising her outfits during Arts Week so that they illustrated the theme of the week. The students knew she would do this and looked forward to seeing how she would be dressed each day.  She made Arts Week an around-the-world adventure and a way of having the students enter into the many different cultures of our global community.

Despite sadness at the ending of this tradition, Arts Week continued in full swing. The week began with a parade, but this year the parade was also the opportunity for Donahue and Carolyn Carey to honor the current Arts Week committee for their work continuing the tradition. That afternoon the children from the 4th-grade chorus offered a concert for the entire school to enjoy. Throughout the week additional former students and retired teachers provided classes—Kim Harris taught Spanish songs and stories; Susan Penswick, Wendy Trudeau, Paula Richards, and Joanne Phillips offered stories and crafts; and Linda Baxter Lasco taught quilting.

Wednesday morning the Bamidele Dancers and drummers brought rhythms of West Africa, Brazil and the Caribbean to life. A number of children were invited up to use the instruments. Later, most of the teachers joined the group on stage and danced to the lively sounds of rhythm instruments that reflect the West African diaspora throughout the western world. The colorful costumes, call and response songs, the infectious rhythms kept the children’s attention throughout the program.

School superintendent Ed Fleury (his last year also) nodded as he watched the performance. “I love this. It’s one of the best programs I’ve seen for elementary age—it would be great for older kids too—the 5th and 6th graders.”

Beth and Tony Parkes brought square dancing to Bellingham in a big way, teaching all the grades how to dance using some old, traditional group dances. Thursday and Friday evenings, families were invited to return to Macy school to enjoy square dancing. The Parkes are skilled teachers of contra and square dance in the Boston area and beyond. Their teaching was laced with humor and shared with clarity.

The middle school band returned to Macy for one more concert Friday morning, while Leland Faulkner created shadow art, combined with storytelling and magic, for the children Friday afternoon.

Principal Jaime Slaney explained, “This is a celebration of Macy School—Arts Week is dedicated to all kinds of arts, music, and dance. It’s what Macy School stands for. This is my 8th year at Macy; one of the questions I was asked when I was interviewed was, would I keep and support Arts Week. If we had a school motto, it would be  ‘Whatever it takes.’ This whole process of leaving is tough, and we’re putting the kids first until the end.” She continued, “Each year we ‘clap out’ the 4th-graders at the end of the year—it was a tradition at one of my former schools. But this year, we’re doing it for the whole school. We plan to walk through the neighborhood on the last day of school to say goodbye.”

Hopefully, rather than being an end, the traditions of Macy School will continue and become part of the wider town’s school traditions. How this might happen will undoubtedly be distinctive in each school, but the lessons learned at Macy are worth sharing.

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