To celebrate NYC Homecoming and the reopening of city schools post covid closures in 2021, students and staff at The Washington Irving Campus have launched an interactive exhibition on the history of teaching, learning and student life in our historic Washington Irving Campus Library. Our students are leading the research, design, curation, and facilitation of this exhibition. They continue in the great tradition of service learning and activism, just like the students who first protested for building construction to start in 1909 and entered our school post construction in 1913. Students and staff worked together with Union Square Academy for Health Sciences teacher and instructional coach David Edelman, our building's school librarian and custodial staff to preserve, analyze and display objects from our school building's history. Students have also begun to collect oral histories from alumni and staff including Gilda Miros. It is our hope that our amazing educational artifacts refocus the conversation on education reform away from movements tied to standardization and testing and back to community building, service learning and civic engagement, as was the case when Washington Irving first opened its doors.
Items such as the WIHS 1924-1925 instructional record, details vocational training, instructional practices, field trips, projects, community events and experiential learning with great attention and care tied to building community, relationships, rigor, relevance and realness. These values are nothing new and have long been a focus of public schooling in New York City. As such, there is much to be gained and learned by revisiting what city schools looked like and what city schooling involved in the past. The resources available to NYC Public School students and educators were nothing short of remarkable. A transcription record that contains a radio show about WIHS broadcast by WNYE in 1950 captures stories of students, the school choir and Principal Meade describing WIHS as a "composite school which is untangled from the restrictive forces of collegiate influence that fosters both technical skills and the ability for students to solve to problems of the living boy and girl."
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Items on display have been categorized and curated by students at Union Square Academy for Health Sciences into several categories: Civic Engagement, The Arts, CTE (Career & Technical Education), historically known as Vocational Studies & Student Life.
One particularly interesting item with roots in CTE is this booklet from the girls’ welcoming committee, written by students to incoming freshmen. or more accurately freshwomen (Washington Irving was all girls up until 1986 and the Federal enforcement of Title 9), explaining all the amazing vocational classes offered at our school when it was first founded including hat making, dressmaking, homemaking, secretarial studies and nursing.
Student government helped create an interactive scavenger hunt which students and staff eagerly participated in based upon their request for fun game day activities connected to their learning. If you would like to visit and engage in a scavenger hunt, dip pen writing tutorial or a student lead docent tour of the exhibition please let us know.
David Edelman and his students would like to give special thanks to the following contributors: Jose Valdez, our building’s custodian, who without his help, many of these amazing artifacts would have been lost or destroyed. Tia Keenan, a community activist whose grandmother Rosemarie Morale graduated from Washington Irving in 1950 with a concentration in dressmaking who donated an old Theodore Kundtz manufactured school desk with a built in ink well. Marty Raskin, a retired NYC educator who has graciously shared numerous photographs and objects on display in our exhibition.
Known initially as Girls' Technical High School, the school was the idea of progressive educator William McAndrew as an educational center large enough to house the institution, at the time part of Wadleigh, the only girls' high school that existed in multiple locations around Manhattan. In an about-face in 2011 Washington Irving was gradually phased out as Mayor Bloomberg began creating new small schools. Currently 1 Success Academy Elementary School and 5 small DOE High Schools, all with various Career & Technical focuses, operate in the building now renamed Washington Irving Campus.
Very similar to the educational philosophy of the NYC DOE today to emphasis Career & Technical Education and create schools that provide students with specific employable technical training, internships, as well as liberal arts academia, Principal McAndrew believed that girls training for vocational or technical trades and those undertaking an academic curriculum should be educated together to improve students access to academics, vocational opportunity and since all students have much to teach and learn from one another. Vocational programs included housekeeping, nursing, marketing, care of babies, laundering, embroidery, plain sewing, garment making, costume designing, drawing, illustrating, plain and fancy cooking, entertaining, sanitation, picture hanging, telephoning, dancing, stair-climbing, typewriting, bookkeeping, stebography, salesmanship, office management, bookbinding, cataloguing, commercial filing, printing, photography, gardening, newspaper writing, in addition to the usual high school academic subjects.
Superintendent of School buildings C.B.J. Snyder designed a seven-story brick, limestone, and terra-cotta structure with an imposing arched entrance, paired round-arched Florentine Renaissance windows on the seventh floor, a deep cornice, and a tiled hip roof. The building was to cost $600,000. Two years later the proposed building was enlarged with the addition of another story and a flat roof that would be available for recreation. Construction on the school began in 1911 after student led protests in front of the Board of Education. Washington Irving first opened its doors to students in 1913. Principal McAndrew deemphasizing classical studies and was a proponent of a more civic focused curriculum. Although McAndrew designed the curriculum to favor employers, he did not believe that private business should ever be entrusted with direct control over schools. Boys did not attend the school up until 1986 when Title IX legislation first passed in 1972 began to be enforced at the school.