STONINGTON — Dan Agins gets choked up every time he watches the video he made with his students in the Documentary Club about the building that sits atop the hill at 40 Field St. in Pawcatuck.
The building, which has housed Stonington High School, Pawcatuck Junior High School, was — until June 14, 2019 — Pawcatuck Middle School. When Stonington school officials opted to close the school to consolidate the town's two middle schools into one Mystic-based school last year, hearts may have been broken, but stories were preserved. The school building is rich with memories. Generations of Pawcatuck families had attended the school in one or more of its iterations, and it had become the hub — and pride — of the Pawcatuck community. When its closure was announced, students and teachers got together and found a way to preserve as much of the school as they could.
This weekend, the public is invited to see, hear and read some of those saved stories when La Grua Center hosts "Pawcatuck Remembers," a student-developed art exhibition, book project and video screening that captures "snapshots and stories of a school where students found connections with caring educators in a true neighborhood school since 1939," according to Lori Robishaw, the center's executive director.
They can also take home a free copy of the book, "Pawcatuck Students Remember" and watch "Pawcatuck Remembers," the video created by Agins and his students.
Agins, who taught social studies for 15 years at Pawcatuck Middle School before moving over to Stonington Middle School, said he and his students interviewed current and former students, teachers, and staff members, to create "a sort of farewell to the generations upon generations who attended the school that had become the lifeblood of a community."
One of the people interviewed for the video, he said, was Jack Sammataro, a member of the Stonington High School class of 1942.
"It was a cool experience," Agins said.
Agins, who said the project started to fizzle after a robust start, credited the folks at La Grua Center and his fellow teachers for helping get the project back on track and completed.
The exhibit is sort of a "Phase II" of a project that began in August of 2018, when several teachers from the former Pawcatuck Middle School — including children’s book author Sheila Adams, language arts teacher Marika Heughins, and photographer Tim Flanagan — organized a summer school class for students designed to collect memories and create the book. With assistance from Agins and from former Stonington Police Chief David Erskine — a man considered by many to be the unofficial town historian — they created "Pawcatuck Students Remember 1939-2019."
Robishaw said the exhibition has been updated to focus more on Stonington and Pawcatuck. Posters created from early photos of the school will also be on display.
The center received a grant from the Connecticut Office of the Arts in support of the project, Robishaw said, so the center was able to print more copies of the book. There will be two receptions, Friday from 5-7 p.m. and Saturday from 2 to 4 p.m. Both receptions will feature a short speaking program and the showing of the video. Guests will also have a chance to contribute their own memories via post-it notes that will go on display.
Wine, soft drinks, nibbles, and cafeteria “candy cookies" will also be available, Robishaw said.
"I think it's a very nice way to remember the school," said Adams, the children's book author. "The show brings it all together and opens up the size and the scope."
The exhibition will be on display through Dec. 15. The video is also available on La Grua Center’s YouTube channel at youtube.com/watch?v=v8rLU3mR0zQ.