The 127th first day of school

Lately, I’ve been posting historical photos of Maryland Avenue Montessori School to the Old Eastsiders group page on Facebook and garnering lots of great feedback. Many of the group members attended the school for at least a year or two, some of them non-stop from kindergarten through eighth grade, and the photographs conjure memories of all kinds.

They are part of a long tradition of public schooling in the heart of the East Side. As I saw kids and families going into the school today — the opening day of the 2014-15 academic year (on the traditional calendar) at Milwaukee Public Schools — I thought about their carrying forward of this tradition.

Today, students and their parents walked through the school’s portals, up its steps and into its classrooms for the 127th straight year. And on the same location, the tradition dates back further, to when the Common Council’s Committee on Schools recommended the purchase of a frame building on the site for a school in 1865.

Six years later, a brick schoolhouse — designed by architect Leonard Schmidtner, who also drew St. Stanislaus Church on the South Side — was erected on the land. In 1887, the first phase of the current building opened, followed by major expansions in 1893 and 1951. It is that amalgamation that continues to serve Milwaukee children today.

It just might be the longest continuously operating school in the city, though there are a couple others that also compete for that title.

Public education is a tradition beyond the East Side, of course, and most of MPS’ more than 150 schools all across the city swung open their doors today, welcoming kids of all colors, classes, religions and needs.

At the same time MPS is seeking volunteer tutors to help foster success in the schools. As the kids head back to school, please drive carefully when you see children present, please yield to crossing guards, please urge your elected officials to support public schools, please donate to a Milwaukee classroom and please lend a hand to a school that could use your help.

Whether or not the children are ours, we all benefit from an educated populace, so please be a part of building the future.

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