The Worcester Public Schools and Mr. Monfredo and U.S. history

By Rosalie Tirella

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American slaves and owners. In Mr. Monfredo’s 5th grade classroom, we students learned the truth!

I’m watching the new Ken Burns pbs documentary on Benjamin Franklin tonight! Are you? Passionate about American history! The catalyst for my love dates back to when I was a Worcester Public Schools student decades ago at Lamartine Street School. I learned a lot of American history there – for instance, the genocide of the American Indians, the horrors of slavery. All at the long gone Lamartine on Meade Street, now the City of Worcester Code Dept … in my fifth grade classroom – Mr. John Monfredo’s classroom! Our former Worcester School Committee member and ol’ Belmont Community School principal was a young teacher back then, right out of teacher’s college – 50 years ago! And he was excellent! Cutting-edge! Our sixth grade teacher, Mr. Chickarian (sp?) was cool, too. I still remember seeing my 6th grade classmate, Mary, reading BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE for her book report! She was super smart. It was the ’70s, and the times were different, more open, less racist…there was no MCAS test, FOX NEWS … no Eric Trump, no cancel culture. We were a more humane, open America. Our teachers weren’t afraid of teaching the truth to our public school students.

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At OSV. An interpretor – a doctress! Mr. Monfredo took his entire class to Old Sturbridge Village at least once every school year. A fun class field trip where we students piled into a big ol’ WPS yellow school bus for a bumpy, giddy ride to Sturbridge, to a living museum, an early New England village in action. I loved seeing the artisans plying their trades in real time!

Things got boring and flat at Worcester’s Burncoat Senior High School, years later – when they should have gotten really exciting and cool. Our 11th grade history teacher, quiet and polite (I forgot his name), had us memorize all these dates and facts out of a big blue boring US history text book. No fun. Bleh. Meh. I don’t remember a thing! We kids forgot it all as soon as the chapter tests were given to us by our serious, low-key teacher, always in blue suit in tie …

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Black history is American history! We learned that in Mr. Monfredo’s classroom!

Mr. Monfredo wore colored velvet vests to go with his cool suits! He was so handsome – all of us girls had crushes on him! In Mr. Monfredo’s class he let us choose and read books outside our history text book, to go down that special path that intrigued us … We did art projects to accompany our book reports … we drew and painted and watched videos on slavery or American Indian crafts … and we discussed the texts, the information in an open and honest way. Still my fave history class!

Amanda Gorman photographed in LA on January 29, 2020.
Amanda Gorman photographed in LA on January 29, 2020.
I know Mr. Monfredo would have had us students reading and reciting the young Gorman’s poems.

Mr. Monfredo was years ahead of his time – his school was located in my neighborhood, Green Island, one of Worcester’s poorest neighborhoods. He had Lamartine declared WORCESTER’S first inner-city school – which made us impoverished students and our families eligible for all sorts of federal and state educational programs, materials etc. He tailored classes for all kids … kids like me and Mary, kids like the older boys who were practically teens but were “kept back” and were struggling to read our class books and uninterested in class work and maybe a bit “rough.” They went to special WPS programs for part of the day and came back for art, music, movies, plays etc. I mean, everything we should be doing now for our WPS students TODAY, John Monfredo and many of the Lamartine teachers were doing a half century ago, with support from Mr. McFeely, our school principal and, I assume, WPS administration. Our WPS teachers were grand! They had no MCAS to teach to, they were given the freedom to close the classroom door and run their own classrooms, they collaborated, they were creative, they worked with families, many African American and Puerto Rican … they were EXCITED to teach us poor kids, many of whom would go on to be the first person in their families to go on to college (like me, for instance!)

Now?

Ridiculous squabbles. At the expense of ALL WPS students.

UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1970:  Photo of Maya Angelou  Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
UNSPECIFIED – CIRCA 1970: Photo of Maya Angelou Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
We read I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS IN MRS. NEDWICKS PROVIDENCE STREET JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL’S Honors English class. Our Worcester Public Schools were grand!

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https://www.pbs.org/kenburns/benjamin-franklin/