Niagara Gazette


October 21, 2013

HIGGS: The open classroom concept at Harry F. Abate

Niagara Gazette — Harry F. Abate School at 1625 Lockport St. is the last public school that I will be writing about in this series. According to Patricia Wilson Ross the author of School Bells Ring and my go-to source to get started on the research of the Niagara Falls School District, the school was named in honor of Mr. Abate who served the District for many years “both as a teacher and and administer.”

The two-story brick building contains 48 classrooms, an auditorium, gymnasium and pool. Land acquisition was $600,000 and the building and equipment costs were $4,748,535. Jim Brown, a Niagara Gazette writer of the times, wrote about the opening day: “Parents led children down carpeted hallways, a couple of youngsters wandered around the wide-open class areas red-eyed and sobbing for mama, others sat at tables talking of their summer and doing their ABC’s in crayons and one teacher was looking frantically for a nurse because one child was ill with the nervous first day jitters.”

My son was among the 1,100 students, 60 teachers and quite a few parents on this eventful day of Sept. 6, 1972. Workmen were still putting on the finishing touches on the third wing as completion was halted by a strike during the summer months. “The “open classroom” concept was geared to offer a lot more for both the slow learner and the more advanced” according to Russell Certo, a sixth grade teacher.

There were two kindergarten classes, six classes each in grades 1 through 5 and seven 6th grade classes. The Gazette reporter noted the pastel walls, large windows in the class areas and carpeting. Each class averaged 25 students. John Pattist was the first school principal. Mrs. Cynthia Jones is the current principal with Gerry Orfano is assistant principal.

The new school was dedicated on Feb. 18, 1973 with the late New York State Senator, Earl W. Brydges in attendance. He highlighted the new concept stating “All of us appear to be wedded to the neighborhood school concept yet the ‘neighborhood’ is a relative expression. It can mean a few houses, a block, or all of mankind. ... This school now gives us a new significance because in the City of Niagara Falls, students who only a few years ago would have gone to seven different schools are working with one another in one building. It is a change for the better.”

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