“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

— Margaret Mead

I have often been amazed by the wisdom and the pure innocence of children, only to be confounded by the abject stupidity of adults.

For some reason, which I may never fully understand, I am fascinated by children’s ability to see through nonsense, to slice right past the issues that sometimes cloud the judgment of adults often resulting in poor decisions with less than desirable consequences for everyone involved.

After returning last Sunday from a whirlwind trip up and down the east coast, I spent a good part of Monday trying to catch my breath and to catch up.

My schedule took me to a luncheon with the Niagara Falls Rotary Club for a meeting arranged by Club President Louise Lascelle and school Business Manager Greg Norton and Principal/Chief Academic Officer Karen Marchioli at the Niagara Charter School way out at 2077 Lockport Road in Wheatfield. 

Without going into all of the details that led up to the school’s opening in August, 2006, suffice it to say that after a long and sometimes contentious effort, the Niagara Charter School is apparently educating 336 students from grades K-6 and doing a remarkable job of it despite the odds which include fiscal challenges as well as some substantial performance expectations.

Although the school is open to anyone, the population is comprised primarily of children from the inner-city neighborhoods in Niagara Falls, many of whom may not be able to receive the same level of attention and care they are getting from this school’s longer days and extended school year.

With the small and relatively young staff of dedicated and passionate teachers and an energetic, committed and involved governing board’s leadership, the school seems to be headed in the right direction.

Marchioli is hopeful that the additional classroom hours combined with the school’s commitment to traditional as well as non-traditional methodologies and technological enhancements will translate into improved performance levels for the students.

If student behavior has anything to do with it, they are well on their way.

Watching the way the students behaved and conducted themselves while we were there was a lesson to all of the adults who were visiting and touring the school after lunch on Monday.

Without exception, the children were orderly, polite, amazingly quiet and seemingly deeply engaged.

They actually appeared to be learning and loving it.

I asked one of the students what she liked most about going to school there. Her answer was clear, simple, to the point and unclouded by the conditioning we adults have learned to attach to everything.

She said, “Its fun!”

Imagine that. Learning is fun.

Besides the children’s natural curiosity and their endless desire to play, some part of that observation that learning is actually “fun” belongs to the teachers, counselors, staff and especially their physical education teacher, Kim Abrams, whose enthusiasm for the children is nothing short of contagious.

Standing proudly in the gigantic gymnasium, which she calls her “room,” Abrams’ impact on the children is evident in her unbounded joy of simply being there. She, like the rest of the staff there is hoping that their recent campaign to add a playground to the campus will actually come to fruition this year.

Knowing that good health leads to better learning fuels her commitment to making sure that the children eat right and exercise daily as part of their regular curriculum in the hopes that it will become part of their routines for the rest of their lives.

Thanks to a generous commitment from Amherst businessman, Daniel Gestwick and parent contributions, the school hopes to raise the other half of the $90,000 they need to build an outside playground.

Before the long day was over, one of the best lessons for all of us conditioned adults came from a small group of students from Our Lady of Mount Carmel School which is located right here on Independence Avenue in the City of Niagara Falls.

One of the few parochial schools left in the region, Mt. Carmel reminds me of my own elementary school, Our Lady of the Rosary, which was also run by the great Sisters of Mercy, but has been closed for a long time now.

Open since 1950 with only 126 students today in grades pre-5, the school’s commitment to assisting “families in the education and growth of their children academically, spiritually, emotionally, socially, and physically ... to empower each child to make responsible and appropriate decisions” was evident when they appeared before the City Council Monday afternoon to share a little childhood wisdom.

Five of the 13 winners of the districtwide competition sponsored by the Orleans/Niagara Teachers Center, Rebecca, Rebecca (two Rebeccas), Jason, Marc, and Michaela made their Principal, Jeanine Fortunate, their technology teacher, Mrs. Iodice and their classroom teacher, Mrs. Juron as well as their parent very, very proud with their poetry, essays and short stories about “My Community”, Niagara Falls.

And, in the process, they may have taught some of us a good lesson about the beauty of our city and how easy it is to see it through fresh, new innocent eyes, uncluttered and unconditioned by the politics and minutia which despite our best efforts and best intentions, our judgments and sometimes our decisions make little sense to the pure innocent minds of the children we like to believe we are helping.

Contact Bill at bill.bradberry@yahoo.com