Johnson School Students Begin Journey to Uncover the Past

Project Launch
Posted on 12/31/2023
Charleen Belcher, Library Media Specialist

The faces of the second, third and fourth grade students at the Johnson School Legacy Project kickoff event on the morning of January 16 were full of anticipation for their future discoveries. While it can be challenging to imagine life before 2024 even when reading a historical news article or story, there’s no doubt that hearing from folks who experienced life as a Johnson elementary school student many decades ago had significant impact on these students.

The five-month-long student learning project is managed by Charleen Belcher, Library Media Specialist at Johnson, and Grace Magley, Director, Digital & Personalized Learning. Belcher remarked on the rare opportunity the current Johnson students had to reach future generations by encapsulating memories of a place that was so special to so many. The project is truly project-based-learning in action: students will ask alumni and experts questions about Johnson’s past—in many cases in live interviews--and compile their learnings. The school has been part of the fabric of Natick for 75 years as of this year.

“We’re hoping that this is one of those things they never forget.” Maybe they’ll look at the Johnson legacy website in the future and say “I did that. I was part of that.”

Belcher said the students would be using the Book Creator program, Google Slides and creating interactive digital timelines to “show the evolution of the school and what’s taken place [there].”

At the kickoff event the students gathered in the gym and heard from alumni speakers that included Cricket Lemon (now at Syracuse University), retired Natick postal carrier John Murphy and Natick Police Sergeant Edward Arena.

Lemon, who graduated from Johnson nine years ago, appeared on screen remote from her college dorm room. She shared how she fondly remembers time spent learning about the lifecycle of chickens in truly hands on fashion when her Johnson class watched chicks hatch from eggs. As she was speaking, she remarked that a pin that she received from a Peacemakers event was beside her in her room.

As the honored guests spoke, Belcher reminded the students that they had the opportunity to ask questions. Hand after hand was raised. So many of the questions centered around relationships.

Lemon said she remained close with all her Johnson friends and stated to the students watching—the final students to attend the school before its June 2024 closure—that they’ll likely keep their Johnson friends in their lives as well.

John Murphy, who went to the Johnson School from 1955 to 1960, echoed Lemon’s statements when he said, “The relationships you have here are all amazing.”

Two to three of his best friends—to this day—went to Johnson school.

Mid-Century Johnson Was Different
During the time that Murphy attended Johnson, there were 13 elementary schools. Prior to his school career, his mother went to the Johnson School building when it was the Oak Grove School. Murphy ended up having six of the same teachers his mother had when she was an elementary school student.

Students seemed not too surprised to hear Murphy state that “everyone walked to school” back when he was a student. Several students still walk to Johnson today and they’ve heard many times over about the school being known for being in a central, walkable area.

They looked awestruck when they learned that not only did Murphy have a 50-minute lunch period, but that he could walk home for lunch and then return to school afterwards.

Johnson Legacy Project student researchers will be learning more about the daily lives of those who attended Johnson and about its educators who helped make the school students’ second home throughout its seven decades.

 Murphy relayed an anecdote about one teacher who not only was unforgettable herself, but also did not let the fact that her students matured and grew older get in the way of her remembering them well, no matter how many years had gone by. One day when Murphy was doing his postal rounds, he spotted Miss Parker and she recognized him in a heartbeat, calling him “little Johnny Murphy,” which he got a chuckle out of.

Both Lemon and Belcher spoke about how there were so many things to still learn about Johnson’s past and to commemorate for others. Belcher said that a guiding prompt to steer students’ inquiry-based learning was to think about “questions you don’t know the answers to.”

Lemon urged students to find out more about unique layout of the school, a task they will likely take on when they pore over artifacts, articles and the words of beloved Johnson staff and students these coming months.

Charleen Belcher was photographed on the day of the kickoff event and her photo accompanies this article.

Those interested in providing their Johnson memories or photos (or in being an interview subject) can contact Charleen Belcher ([email protected]) by January 31.

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