PAWCATUCK — A remembrance book featuring interviews of former students was unveiled Thursday at a special event at Pawcatuck Middle School. This is the school building's 80th birthday, and its final year as a middle school — in the fall, students and teachers will move to the consolidated Stonington Middle School, in Mystic.
The book is titled “Pawcatuck Students Remember 1939-2019,” with the subtitle "The Past is Still Present." The book project was spearheaded in 2018 by teachers Sheila Adams and Marika Heughins, and involved the Student Forum and a group called the Pawcatuck Remembers Club.
Interviews of former students were conducted by groups of students participating in the project. Former students were located through a Facebook page and posters displayed throughout the town, Adams said, and about 35 responded to the request for interviews.
Every decade of the school's existence is represented, and every chapter includes historical highlights such as who was president, what songs were popular, and news headlines.
Once the organizers decided on a format, they went through yearbooks to get photos of the interview subjects and current photos.
Adams said that students involved in the project learned not only the history of the school and town, but also what it was like to live in earlier times.
School psychologist Lori Liguori, who has been at the school since 1986, said she was going to miss the school and the community that built it.
“It’s hard to leave a place when you’ve been there 32 years,” Liguori said. “It really becomes a home. It’s such a small building, it’s easy to form relationships.”
In a speech at the event, Principal Timothy Smith said, “It’s bricks and mortar, but it’s not just the physical thing. There’s something about the culture here that was created long ago, that was self-perpetuating. … I was always mindful not to do things that upset that stewardship.”
“It’s the relationship among ourselves that makes it great,” Smith said. “The inter-generational thing was so valuable for the kids. It’s great to see the span of generations here.”
In its 80 years, the building at 40 Field St. has been a high school, a junior high school and a middle school.
Mary-Margaret Critcherson-Schlais, who was interviewed for the book, graduated in 1962. “The kids have done a wonderful job with their project,” she said. “The students that interviewed me were very knowledgeable.” She noted that her mother was a teacher while she attended the school, and her father was custodian.
“All three of my sons went here, and my mother taught all of them, plus her son-in-law and grandchildren,” Critcherson-Schlais said.
Chuck Wardman, who graduated in 1968, said the class he enjoyed most was woodshop.
“My teacher, Mr. Kavanaugh, was really quite a character,” Wardman said. “A few of my projects went wrong in a spectacular fashion.” Wardman recalled how the shop teacher taught students to clean their paintbrushes by testing the cleaned brushes on their nostrils.
“Middle school is awkward, but I always felt safe here,” he said.
Jo-ann Pierpont, who taught math at the school from 1994 to 2017, said she commuted from Brooklyn, Conn., during her entire tenure.
“My teacher family here was my support,” she said. Before she retired, Pierpont had her math class calculate how far she had commuted back and forth through the years. They found she had commuted the distance equal to 13 times around the equator, and also “drove to the moon and halfway back.”
“I have such fond memories,” Pierpont said. “It’s great when students come up to me and say they remember me and that I made a difference.”
Seventh-grader Peter Previty said he had a good experience doing two interviews for the book, plus designing the cover.
“I learned a lot about the history of Pawcatuck,” he said. His grandfather, father, and several aunts and uncles also attended the school.
Lori Freitas, who graduated in 1983, said she recently married a fellow graduate after getting together at a class reunion. Her son, Ashton Rose, worked on the remembrance book last summer, she said. “It was a really great project for the kids,” she said.
“It was fun,” said Peg Devine Young, who is Lori Freitas' aunt. “We were just so young and carefree. I made some good friends that are still here, and have lunch with them every two or three months. I’ve known them for 65 years.”
The event included poster-size photos of current students with their own remembrances. The La Grua Center, in Stonington Borough, will display the photos and remembrances as part of its November-December art exhibition.
Adams noted that two grants paid for the layout and printing of the book.