From Childhood to Adulthood: A Visit from Stanley

April 3, 2010 at 1:04 pm 5 comments

posted by Debbie Stone ‘84, former teacher/co-director of High Valley School

For years I taught with my mentor, Olga Smyth, who had been graduated from Bank Street in 1934, just 50 years before me.  Our school in Clinton Corners, NY, which she kept going after her husband died in ‘68, was a wonderful one, and I’ve heard now and then from some of my old students – who I knew from 1968 until High Valley closed in 1986 – how their stay at our tiny (maybe 20 students at the most) progressive and alternative school had helped make them who they had become.

I’d met Olga when I was in nursery school…our families were friends, and she’d been my teacher at the Poughkeepsie Day School when I was four.  Before High Valley was a school on its own, it was the boarding adjunct of PDS, and Olga and Julian Smyth had taught (with my mother) at the Day School, hauling two station wagon loads of kids back and forth to school Monday through Friday.  They made a home for those kids all through the school year, running a camp for about 40 lucky kids each summer, and working (with my father) for many years at the Vassar Summer Institute, an annual meeting ground for some of the best progressive thinkers and school teachers ever.  My two sisters and I (we all became teachers as adults, of course) were close to the Smyths and many of the “Smyth kids,” as we called those boarders, and spent a lot of time visiting, attending and then working at the summer camp, and, in my case, eventually teaching at the school.

So yesterday we had a visit from Stanley, one of those Smyth kids. Stanley lives in Washington State now after years in Kodiak, Alaska. I still live at High Valley, as do Olga’s son and his wife, even though the school has been closed almost 25 years, so I was here to meet Stanley and his wife when they came by on their East coast tour.  He was never my student, he is only 7 years younger than I am; but when you’re kids, 7 years is a lot, so I felt extremely maternal (?), sororal (?) educatoral (?)—well, affectionate—as I embraced Stanley.  I began to feel I’d always known his wife, heard the extraordinary story of their romance, and got a chance to remember together all the wonderful people we’d known.  To see someone you knew in those years between 5 and 15, say, when you’re now in your sixties, is so peculiar.  When I was 15, and Stanley was 8, for instance, we felt like different generations.  He was a little kid; I certainly wasn’t one of those any more. Now, 50 years later, we are contemporaries. And some of our most beloved fellow former children have died, as well as most of our teachers.  We went across the Hudson River to visit Olga, now 97, in the adult care home she has retired to.  She questioned Stanley with her trademark combination of sharpness and humor.

All the things I’d meant to get done during spring vacation (from a school where we get to carry on in that old progressive tradition, embraced also by our director, Alisa Algava, who is a much more recent Bank Street graduate) were pushed aside by the visit.  Spending time with Stanley was so much more important than doing my taxes.

Debbie Stone currently teaches at The Randolph School, a small progressive school in the Hudson Valley.  As a consulting teacher for children with different learning styles and experiences, she focuses on a particular student, or works with large and small groups, benefiting enormously from a chance to work with colleagues who share her enthusiasm for an integrated, alternative approach to teaching and learning.

Entry filed under: bank street history, community, families, our teachers.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Nick Shepis  |  May 8, 2010 at 3:01 pm

    I was a student at High Valley and moved to Arizona in 1986. In 1996 I moved to southern California and stayed there until August 2009. I then moved to Long Island, New York and currently live in St. James, New York with my father and stepmother. It was nice reading your comments as I always wondered what had happened to Olga.

  • 2. Bernice Galef Schutzer  |  July 31, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    Dear Debbie,
    I visited Clinton Corners 3 days ago because of very special memories of High Valley when you helped my son David Schutzer become the wonderful man he is today. You helped and taught me a lot also. I’d love to see you if possible, just to have a chat about those days and now, if you have time. I think of you and Olga and Mat often and with love. Hope you are well. I was surprised and delighted to know that Olga is still living.
    My e-mail is bernarts@earthlink.net

  • 3. Steve Lorand  |  July 21, 2011 at 8:18 pm

    Debbie Hi. I was a student at High Valley in the 50’s. Stanley and his wife came to visit me and my wife last year when they saw you and Olga. It was so heartwarming to see your little story here online. I’ve always wondered what happened to everyone.
    Best wishes,
    Steve Lorand (Catenaccio)

  • 4. Yvette Lehman  |  December 25, 2012 at 9:53 pm

    My mother Yvette Franzen now Lehman has been wondering about what news there is from High Valley. She is now 95 and living in Berkeley, Ca. She would love to receive e-mails.

    [Write to alumni@bankstreet.edu if you’d like her email address.]

    Warren Franzen

  • 5. George Malcolm  |  May 23, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    Hi Debbie, My name is George Malcolm. I was a student at High Valley from 1966 to 1970. I remember you very well. Olga and Julian Smyth were great persons and teachers. Also remember Bob Smyth, Martha Roder and Miss, Stralow(spelling?). A big event in my life.

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