School unveils 'Wall of Fame'
By Sarah M. Corigliano
Gerena Principal Peter Levanos addresses the audience in the school's Media Center before the official ribbon cutting for the 'Wall of Fame." Reminder photo courtesy of AnnMarie Towne
Assistant Managing Editor
SPRINGFIELD Last Wednesday, German Gerena School in Springfield's North End unveiled its new Wall of Fame, featuring former students' success stories to help inspire current students.
The Wall of Fame was the culmination of about a year of planning which resulted from three retired teachers, who call themselves the "three old dinosaurs," reflecting on their years of teaching and all the children they met and, hopefully influenced.
They began wondering how those children grew up, where they were, what they were doing, and so on. And instead of sitting and wondering, they did something about it.
To help celebrate the 20th anniversary of the school, formerly known as New North Community School, they decided to organize a reunion with former students and teachers.
In addition to fulfilling their wish to see the products of their hard work so many years ago, they also wanted to give something to current Gerena students: positive role models who they can look to for inspiration, and hopefully even meet and work with as mentors.
Last March, the "three old dinosaurs," Ursula Hogan, Roger Hannigan and Donald Hooton with the help of a reunion committee including Gerena Principal Peter Levanos and other current and retired teachers, such as Richard Baetens, and former students, such as Sara Palmer (now a teacher at Gerena) and Nina Smolarz (now a teacher at Kiley Middle School) organized and hosted the reunion.
They also recruited former students to contribute to the future "Wall of Fame," which was unveiled last Wednesday in the Gerena Media Center.
The wall features the photos and short biographies of former students, highlighting their education, careers, personal accomplishments and affiliations as a way to show current Gerena students that they, too, can grow up and do great things.
At last week's dedication ceremony, Hannigan called the wall a "teaching tool" for Gerena teachers. And Levanos said the wall is only the beginning.
"The original idea was to say to current students, 'look, you can be very successful in life,'" Levanos explained. "We also plan to actively seek out former students to come back and be mentors."
As part of the official dedication ceremony, one of the "old dinosaurs," Hogan; one current Gerena teacher, Palmer; and one current Gerena student, fifth-grader Endia Jones, cut the ribbon.
Remarks were shared by Springfield First Lady Joan Ryan; State Representative Cheryl Rivera, herself a New North graduate; Assistant Superintendent Dr. Ann Southworth; Candace Lopes, representing Senator Stephen Buoniconti; and City Councilor Kateri Walsh two of her daughters attended New North.
A performance was given by the award-winning Gerena chorus under the direction of Diane Rodriguez. The chorus was the only inner-city/urban chorus to compete at the state level last year and they came home with the silver medal.
One of the songs they performed, written by Rodriguez, who accompanied the students on acoustic guitar, highlights Springfield's history, art and culture.
"This heart of mine belongs to Springfield," and "Spend a day or spend a lifetime because you're always welcome here," were both themes in the song.
Another theme of the event was strengthening the community of the North End.
"I graduated from this school, I live in this neighborhood," Rivera told the students present. "You're going to graduate from this school and I hope you'll come back and live in this neighborhood."
Ryan also talked about how she grew up in the North End.
"I grew up at the top of the hill here," she said. She added that the view from parts of the North End, of the Connecticut River and surrounding mountains, is unsurpassed in other parts of the city.
Lopes gave the students an assignment.
"Your responsibility is to go as far as you can go," she said. "You can come back here in 10 or 15 years and see your face go up on this wall."
Levanos and the "three old dinosaurs" also thanked the Davis Foundation and Lifetouch Pictures, whose sponsorship helped make the reunion and the Wall of Fame a reality.