What are you going to be?

A decade into its life, C.E. Mason Elementary was an established school showing children how to behave in the world around them. Kids studied hard, played hard, and got the kind of advice you can imagine a serious adult might wag a finger at the youngsters and deploy. Hearing stories of the school from the 1950s and early 1960s is a reminder that the anxieties and playfulness kids bring to school with them today are the same their parents and grandparents brought with them when they were youngsters, and the concern and care educators and parents have for kids isn’t all that different now than it was when Eisenhower was president.

Screen Shot 2018-09-13 at 8.44.43 AM

Back then, however, the voice of education echoed over the school intercom.

“I could nearly write the message the principal read over the intercom every morning,” a C.E. Mason alum told me this fall, recounting word for word the stentorian adult voice that filled the school to start the day.

Are you going to be ‘Mr or Miss Daydreamer?’ Are you going to stare out the window all day, thinking about your horse or favorite TV show and ignore your teacher? Or you going to be ‘Mr or Miss Ants-in-your-Pants?’  Are you going to wander around the room and not to your school work?”

“Same speech nearly every day,” he remembered, the words as fresh in his mind today as they were almost sixty years ago.

Richard and his brother came to C.E. Mason Elementary as fifth and fourth graders, transferring when their neighbor put up a fence to keep kids from walking through his driveway. New to the school, he remembered sitting in Mr. Miller’s class and thinking that all the kids knew each other. “I just wanted to fit in,” he told me. “Not stick out.”

The “Playshed” was Richard’s favorite place at C.E. Mason. “It was the big round topped play area,” he recalled, describing the Quonset Hut that still stands just northwest of the main building. “We played four-square, which was quite competitive and serious at C.E. Mason, compared to Raleigh Hills. I had a friend named Larry who was overweight, but quite good. His mom was a cook in the cafeteria at BHS. I didn’t see him again until our 20th High School Reunion. Everyone was raving how great Larry looked.  He’s lost weight and was very virile and good-looking. He is now a physical therapist in Alaska. He told me that he was embarrassed that everyone commented about his appearance. I asked him when he lost all the weight. He said, “Years ago. I lost weight as soon as I got away from my mom’s cooking.”

Lunches were a big deal at C.E. Mason, which had a cafeteria in an age when not every school did. Richard remembered once coming home from school and telling his mother that he had discovered that he really liked beets. “I asked her why we never had them,” he said. “She was silent for awhile and then admitted my dad hated them, and that’s why we had never had them in my childhood.” Thank goodness for the C.E. Mason cafeteria.

But it was more than beets that stuck with Richard most from his days at C.E. Mason. For a student who just wanted to be a part of the crowd and not stick out he had one major strike against him.

On Richard’s first day in Mr. Miller’s class the principal did more than just quiz the kids about what they were going to be. Richard remembered: “The principal announced on the intercom on the first day of school that for the first time in the school’s history, there were grandchildren of C.E. Mason attending the school.” Richard and his brother.

To be the grandson of Dr. C.E. Mason meant more than a little notoriety. It also led to an incident Richard remembered with fifth grade “horror.”

“The school had some kind of contest for being quiet on the bus, or not leaving litter, I forget the specifics.  The winning bus, we were told on the intercom, would have “C.E. Mason ride on the bus with them.” I was horrified. My grandfather was about 83. He had thick glasses, a big gut and he shuffled when he walked. I doubted he could even climb the stairs of the bus. I couldn’t believe they would subject me to that kind of humiliation. I learned a few days later that C.E. Mason was actually a stuffed tiger mascot that the principal kept in her office.  She really had me worried for a few days.”

Richard Mason’s memories paint a vivid picture of C.E. Mason Elementary. Like so many who attended the school in those first dozen years, his are recollections of a time when order and high expectations pushed up against the exuberance of youth. Competitive four-square, beets, and stuffed tigers, 1960 feels a world away, and still just like yesterday.

Advertisements

If you build it…

IMG_8448It was hardly a year old when they realized that the new school wasn’t big enough. Constructed in 1949 with just eleven classrooms, offices, and an assembly hall, C.E. Mason Elementary School found itself not quite able to accommodate the postwar expansion that had prompted its creation and swelled the population of Beaverton from in the late 1940s to the early 1950s.

In 1950 a library and another seven classrooms joined the original construction, perched a bit higher on the incline north of the original building, high enough to provide students for the past sixty eight years with a ramp to climb on the way from the main office to the northernmost classrooms.

main hallwayBuilders added a play structure north of the assembly room in the early 1950s, which stood until replaced with our familiar Quonset Hut in 1958. To the west of the extended wing of classrooms students played in a courtyard looked out at through walls of windows, a temptation for flying rubber balls in the 1950s as much as those same windows are today.

Inside the building, a team of educators greeted students with the energy always present in a new school. Principal Esther Peer, whose alma mater Oregon Normal School (now Western Oregon University) now has a scholarship named after her, was the first administrator in the building. She oversaw eleven teachers when C.E. Mason opened its doors in the fall of 1949, and presided over the hiring of a few more as the school grew.

CE Mason OpensAround C.E. Mason Elementary Beaverton exploded with growth as well. Highways, neighborhoods, businesses, the history of Beaverton, Oregon is one of great postwar boom.

And as town grew, students in the 1950s, wearing skirts, slacks, and button down shirts, poured into the school to learn the three Rs …and a little art and music too. C.E. Mason alum remember the bright classrooms, both stern and kind teachers, and a sense of fun.

Then, after 8th grade, C.E. Masonites trooped across town to Beaverton High School, and later Sunset High, taking with them memories of Miss Moshofsky’s arts and crafts class, Mr. Gillmore’s band, and the cafeteria downstairs. Life at C.E. Mason prepared them for the greater world beyond the rounded entryway at the top of the front steps of their little school.

You can see living memories of the original C.E. Mason building in its current incarnation: a wooden door here, a fixture there, the assembly room’s wooden floor beneath the carpeting of today’s library.

Most schools have only one chance at the wild energy of the opening years; this campus will have at least three. And looking back through the fog of time it’s clear to see that the foundation on which so much history has been built is solid, and the notion that our school is always outgrowing itself is ever present.

Young Trumpeter

Everyone has a special something to offer inside of them. So I think that part of being a composer, or an artist of any sort, is to find your own special gift and to nurture that, and don’t worry about anything else. If you’re a writer of haiku or short story, whether you’re a painter in oil or acrylics or collage, a dancer, a sculptor, it makes no difference. Find your own voice and pursue it, and then back it up with technique and craft.”      -Morten Lauridsen

Morten Lauridsen has been described as an icon among choral composers. His works have been nominated for Grammy Awards, earned him a National Medal of Arts, and are performed across the United States and the world more often than just about any living choral composer.

Screen Shot 2018-08-28 at 9.19.27 AMBefore any of that, before the awards and accolades, the applause and the performances, before shaking hands with the president or having his work performed at Carnegie Hall, back when he was a youngster in 1950, Morten Lauridsen started playing trumpet in the school band at C.E. Mason Elementary.

As a part of our school’s historical retrospective, I reached out to the composer this summer, asking about his time at C.E. Mason, and was rewarded with a charming reminiscence of life in Beaverton in the 1950s. C.E. Mason was a new school in 1950, large windows looking out from solid classrooms, a voluminous assembly room with a stage that is now our library. Imagining a young Morten Lauridsen playing trumpet on that stage is a connection to history that our current students, musical and otherwise, can relish. Like him and his mid-century contemporaries, students today are striving to find that “special something to offer inside of them” that a more seasoned Lauridsen described in the 2012 documentary film of his life.

The 1947 architect’s drawings for C.E. Mason show details for the wooden doors our students still open, doors a young Lauridsen would have passed through on his way to study Oregon history, a favorite topic, as well as reading, writing, and arithmetic too. Even then future artists had to meet state requirements in decidedly non-artistic subjects.

Screen Shot 2018-08-27 at 2.32.21 PMIn his six years at C.E. Mason, the young trumpeter remembered working most lunch hours in the cafeteria, washing dishes so he could have a free meal. I like to think that this work ethic, rooted in his formative years and expressed in the same building our current art students now inhabit, is in part responsible for the prolific catalogue of musical works the composer has built over the decades spent in the busy city of Los Angeles, where he is a professor at USC, and the peaceful silences of Waldron Island, where he composes beneath the stillness of the woods. Morten Lauridsen is a man of the world, but a boy of Beaverton.

As boy, Lauridsen remembered being “patched up” by the son of Dr. C.E. Mason, himself a doctor, after “being terrible spiked in the leg during a baseball game.” The small world of Oregon was smaller yet then.

Life at C.E. Mason Elementary for a creative soul in the 1950s wasn’t however, without peril. “I enjoyed most of my grade school teachers,” he told me. “Although I still remember distinctly the art teacher disapproving of my green bunny rabbit in the third grade–there went my career as a visual artist!”

If Morten Lauridsen were at ACMA today, we would frame his green bunny rabbit.

It is a pleasure to look back sixty odd years and see a picture of our school through the eyes of an artist. Knowing the astounding work that would come later from this young trumpeter and unconventional preadolescent artist puts a glow to his memories of C.E. Mason Elementary, and might serve as a reminder to our current students of the long history of art at this special campus.

Lauridsen ended his reminiscences with a heartfelt comment that I hope many students would agree with across the years. His life at C.E. Mason, he said, was “in all, a fine grade school experience.”

These days, every morning in lieu of a first bell of the day we play music over the PA. Tomorrow morning that music will be Chanson Éloignée. Our kids will be moved, the power of art will swell in song, and the same halls that young Morten Lauridsen walked in 1950 will reverberate with music composed by one of C.E. Mason’s favorite sons.

Wending Toward School

“It has been a long siege, but at length it is over. Once more the church bells may ring and the kiddies wend their way toward school.”
Beaverton Times after the 1918 Spanish Influenza epidemic in Beaverton

The story of C.E. Mason School begins long before the first bricks were fitted together in the late 1940s. To choose a starting point for this tale one might pick up a newspaper from November 15, 1918. Beaverton, Oregon was a small town in a rural state finding its way in the early 20th century amid the challenges of world war and an epidemic of Spanish Influenza.

Screen Shot 2018-08-10 at 6.37.49 AMIn times of adversity the community pulled together, raising money for the war effort, planning a celebration for armistice, and looking to local leaders for reassurance and guidance. On that Friday in November 1918, it was the single local doctor who provided that comfort. Writing in the Beaverton Times, Dr. C.E. Mason told citizens that it was safe again to open churches and schools, and that once again students could get about the business of learning.

This value placed on education was apparent throughout the front page of the paper that day, a note just beneath Dr. Mason’s letter explaining that “Janitor Squires” had “used his vacation well” and “thoroughly cleaned the woodwork of the high school building and is having the blackboards in the grade school resurfaced. so that the school will be like new for Monday.”

Enrollment grew in Beaverton schools over the years that followed, and in 1920 Dr. Mason was elected to the school board with the promise of ensuring that Beaverton schools were as good as those in the big city of Portland. He was board chairman by 1929.

This civic engagement, city pride, and dedication to helping students was part of the spirit of Beaverton in these interwar years. Dr. Mason’s pursuit of quality education for local students, including his own kids, helped to define the school district he was helping to lead.

The 1930s and 1940s saw even more growth in Beaverton and in 1947 the school district spent $15,000 on farmland designated for a new grade school to help with overcrowding. That school opened in the fall of 1949 as C.E. Mason Elementary. A year later epic growth prompted the addition of nine more classrooms at C.E. Mason.

Screen Shot 2018-08-10 at 7.39.29 AMAlmost seventy years later there are still students in those same classrooms, reading, writing, learning, and making art. Creative sixth through twelfth graders sit today where the youngsters of 1949 once did, and while C.E. Mason Elementary has changed much over the decades, the impact the school has on the city of Beaverton is as great now as it ever was. Next week more than 700 students will “wend their way toward school,” a school that our hardworking custodians have spent summer vacation making “like new for Monday.”

Pausing to Reflect

Harry Truman was president in 1949, South Pacific opened on Broadway that year, and up on Center Street a little school opened called C.E. Mason Elementary. Looking at an old photo of the place it’s hard to believe the growth that has filled in the green spaces around campus. Beaverton in the 1940s was a much different place than it is today, and while highways have rolled out alongside C.E. Mason, houses have grown where fields used to be, and the landscape looks completely different, the school at the heart of it all is still here, beating with the steady rhythm of students arriving to learn.

Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 2.02.31 PM

This year is a big one in the history of our school, with a major renewal of campus set to begin in the summer of 2019. Before this major construction, it seems right to pause and look back over the years and the people who have called our school home since it opened in 1949.

Honoring the rich history of the school, over the months ahead I will do my best to celebrate some of the stories of C.E. Mason Elementary and its transformation into the vibrant Arts & Communication Magnet Academy it is today. Ours is a school with deep history, interesting characters, and more than a few tales that will have your shaking your head in wonder.

That said, I’m a principal, not a historian, so I hope folks will be patient as I try to capture a slice of history from the past seventy years, knowing my focus is always on helping support my students today. Those students benefit, in my opinion, from knowing that they are a part of something greater, new chapters in a grand story. The snippets I share won’t be all of that story, but glimpses from the decades students have been filing in through our front doors.

I’ll do my best to post something every week from now until spring, and over the course of the school year will try to provide a sense of the grand scope of our little school. Whatever your connection with our school, I hope that you’ll find in these scribblings some familiar memories, a few surprises, and an appreciation for just how much we are all alike whether we were here in the 1950s, 1980s, 2000s, or today.

If you have a story to tell or the name of someone I ought to talk with, please share those with me at bjorn_paige@beaverton.k12.or.us . I’m excited to share the stories that make up our history.

Thoughtful Destruction

“Masters, be kind to the old house that must fall”
-Julia Randall

At the end of the road is a sparkling new building, good for students, a haven for learning, modern, marvelous, and built to be an art school. That road, however, is anything but smooth.

Winding, filled with potential potholes, and paved over sacred ground, the path to progress promises to try our souls.

In a little more than a year our current campus will swell with the sound of hammering, bulldozers, and a great moving of earth. Construction fencing will circle our school, and looking down at the commotion within those plywood and chain link walls, the birds that fly overhead will witness the destruction of our old and wonderful building and the construction of something new.

IMG_7105Our current home, formally CE Mason Elementary School and home to ACMA for the past quarter century, is covered with meaningful student art, regarded with well deserved affection, and packed with more vivid memories than a Terrence Malick film.

This June, as the last summer we’ll spend in this building arrives, feels like a time of calm before the emotional storm, a chance to take a deep breath before piloting this splendid old ship into the dock for the last time.

As we do, we’re in the opening stages of planning the new building. Our architects are presenting ideas to the staff, and meeting with teachers from programs in need of special infrastructure (where to put the kiln, what kind of acoustics we need in the recording studio, what we mean by a 21st century darkroom). Our Urban Design students have taken a field trip to the architects’ office, where they presented their own ideas about what our school needs. In a comic aside, I asked at our last meeting: “Did they include the place to stable the therapy llama?” and for a few seconds everyone at the table paused, considering that that might be something our ACMA students would suggest. It was marvelous.

And as the architects are capturing on paper as much creative vision as the budget will allow, we as a school community are doing our best to wrap our heads around the idea that in just over a year CE Mason will be gone.

IMG_3784If our building was only a building, that wouldn’t feel so wrenching, but CE Mason Elementary, home to Arts & Communication Magnet Academy, is more than a building; it’s home.

This building has seen decades of students pass through its doors, nervous sixth graders, confident graduates, extroverts, introverts, and an assortment of artists and those willing to see life artistically.

…and art students did to CE Mason what art students do: they filled it with art.

Art appears everywhere in our current building. Student murals from the twenty-six years ACMA has been in existence fill our hallways, peek around corners, and smile down on the students as they walk to classes.

IMG_6246Mona Lisa, in full ‘90s grunge uniform of flannel shirt and backward baseball cap, smiles enigmatically toward the north. A canine Mona Lisa looks south, her muzzle a doggy smile. And hidden in plain sight, a collection of images tucked brilliantly in a complicated corner near the main office provides a fantastic version of Da Vinci’s most famous portrait, a reminder that art can be as playful as it is refined, as clear as it is heartfelt.

Contemporary student art hangs alongside the installations from years past. Paintings, drawings, sculptures in wire and clay all turn our hallways into a living gallery. Without lockers interrupting sightlines, it’s possible to stroll from the library to the math classrooms on the far end of the building and see canvasses hung at eye level, untouched but never unappreciated, every day. It is astounding.

In a little more than a year, it will be gone.

And yet…

…it won’t.

IMG_3856You’ll hear some artists talk about the impermanence of art, Picasso’s line: “Every act of creation is first an act of destruction” and such, but truth be told, even if we admit that the comfort is cold. The images that fill ACMA’s hallways, whether they’ve been there for five years, ten, or twenty, are part of our collective soul, and aren’t easy to lose.

But, painted on sixty year old plaster, the murals can’t be cut out or peeled off. While we’ll be able to save some three dimensional pieces, we’ve got to be more creative about the others. More than a year out, we’re already working on it.

We know that how we approach this opportunity will help define us …and believe in the idea of thoughtful destruction.

So, we will save what we can, we will capture what we can’t in creative ways (film, high resolution photographs that we can enlarge and display, and a couple of other creative solutions) that allow it to live on, and we will celebrate everything.

IMG_7350We will remember what James Baldwin said of life and art: “Nothing is fixed, forever and forever and forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock. Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have.”
And we will be those witnesses to our past, active participants in our present, and creators of our future. We will celebrate the history of ACMA’s first home and build on the creative spirit that defines our school as we continue to create.

I’ve said before that ACMA could be ACMA in a circus tent. We are the people who fill our school, the magic of creativity, and the commitment to making art. More than any building or campus, ACMA is a state of mind. So over the course of the next school year we will mourn, make art, move forward together, embracing the process with the hearts of artists.