Creativity Flourished at P.S. 150

  by Laurie (Beckoff) Wellman

          As schools around the country face severe cuts in funding for the arts, I think back to the incredible creativity of our teachers and of the curriculum in PS 150 in the 1950’s. Instead of endless rote learning, and copying from textbooks, we painted murals of cave dwellers on brown paper hung along the back wall of the classroom, made shoe box dioramas of adobe villages, learned ethnic folk dances, made giant scrapbooks of various European countries, and worked on special projects in self-directed groups (now known to educators as “Cooperative Learning”), out in the hall, in the library, or anywhere that we could find space.

 

            My most cherished memories center around the original plays and songs that our class wrote and performed in the school assemblies. The process of doing the research and writing the original songs left such a lasting imprint on me that, to this day, more than 50 years later, I can still sing many of the songs that we wrote. I am also quite certain that this early experience contributed to the fact that I have been a song writer, both informally and published, throughout my adult years. (See end of this article.) The following are some excerpts from the various songs that our class wrote:

 

 1)  Selection from one of the original songs written for our Class 6-2 (Mrs. Singman) musical play about mythology. The play was called, “It’s all Greek – and Roman – to Me.” (The melody is “Little Brown Jug.”)

 

"We are the gods of the earth

We have been here since its birth.

We are mighty, we are strong

And we rarely do things wrong.

Jupiter is the king of us

Venus is the goddess of mush.

Mars will always go to war

Neptune’s fins will never sore.

Minerva is the wisest one

Apollo is the god of sun…. etc. etc.

We were all here today

To put on our 6-2 play."

 

  2)  Selection from original song written by our Class 6-2 for the closing assembly at the end of the year 1955. Note: WNYE was a NYC radio station, where members of our class competed in a quiz show called, “Let’s Look at the News.” (The melody is “Davy Crockett”)

 

"Started our class on September 10th

Got down to work with our pencils and pens

As for sports, we started out fine

And won the slapball without even tryin’

            Chorus: Six, six-two, starting off just right.

 

We went off to WNYE

We were as smart as we could be

They asked us questions, we answered them right

Our brains are working, day and night.

            Chorus: Six, six-two, working day and night…. etc.etc."

 

  3)  Selection from original song written by our class for PS 150’s end-of-year assembly; not sure which year. Note: folk and square dancing were taught as part of the gym curriculum. (The tune is “When I Was a Lad” […I polished up the handle on the big front door…],” from “H.M.S. Pinafore.”)

 

"When we were kids in 150 we learned from a wonderful faculty

They taught us well and they taught us good

But their English we never really understood

Their English we never really understood

So lend us please your ears and eyses

And enjoy with us our closing exercises.

The dances that we learned each year have given us a lot of cheer

A school of dancers, that is us

Our knees and all our other joints will never rust

Our knees and all our other joints will never rust.

So lend us please your ears and eyses

And enjoy with us our closing exercises….etc.etc."

 

  4)  Also as part of our original 6-2 musical production about mythology, each student had to write an original song that introduced his/her god or goddess. I was Ceres, the goddess of agriculture. (The melody is “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”)

 

"I am a goddess called Ceres 

I rule all plants and trees         

Agriculture’s my concern                 

From me many things you can learn.

Many crops depend on me

So don’t forget my name

That is Ceres, yes indeed

It’s always been the same."

 

  5)  Here is Lucy Kryzak’s original song. She was the goddess Diana. (The melody is “Little Brown Jug.”)

 

"I welcome you, I am Diana

On Mt. Olympus you do stand

I’m goddess of hunting, as you may know

And goddess of the moon, also."

 

          I hope that this brief article will jog the memories of other PS 150 alumni who probably remember bits and pieces of their stage productions as well. The process of writing the songs was exciting and gratifying, and seeing them performed on stage was a real confidence builder. As one small aspect of my life-long career as a specialist in teaching English as a second language, in 1976 I co-authored an album of original songs for teaching grammar, vocabulary, idioms, pronunciation and other aspects of the English language to adult speakers of other languages. It was the first of its kind in the U.S., using a variety of American musical genres, and was distributed through the U.S, and abroad. It was called “Hard to Learn that English as a Second Language Blues,” and was published by Collier Macmillan International, Inc.  Two years later, we published a second album, called “ESL Express.” This is not a plug; the albums are no longer available. However, if you teach in a NYC public school or adult ed. ESL program, you just might find a copy of the albums or cassette tapes in your resource library.

 

          I feel passionate about the power of songs to motivate learners and to provide an avenue for easy mastery and retention of instructional material, and have given workshops on this topic throughout the country and in various parts of the world. And to think, it all started at PS 150!

In 1947, Laurie’s family moved into a two-family house at 40-30 44 Street, on the Gardens side of Skillman Avenue. She attended PS 150, JHS 125 and WC Bryant HS. She had an active career as the ESL specialist for the NYS Education Department Office of Bilingual Education, and was a Visiting Assistant Professor in the SUNY Albany Graduate School of Education ESL teacher preparation program. The mother of two grown children, and grandmother of four, she is now retired and lives in Saratoga Springs, NY with her husband.