Woodfern Turns 50: From Mimeographs to Laptops

A look at the changes at the school and the nation as the school celebrates its golden anniversary.

In 1962, teachers at the newly opened Woodfern Elementary School stood before blackboards and passed out mimeographed worksheets.

Today, as the school marks its 50th anniversary, students can speak with people around the world or download videos onto smart phones or tablet computers from a satellite based communications  system inaugurated in 1962 when Telstar 1, the first electronic telecommunications device–developed in part at Bell Labs in Hillside–was successfully launched.

On Saturday, the Hillsborough School District will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Woodfern Elementary with a party from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The event will feature tours of the facility and a carnival. The district has reached out to alumni and former staff to join the celebration.

“The biggest change at Woodfern is the incorporation of technology as a tool used in today’s learning environment,” said Hillsborough schools superintendent Jorden Schiff.

“Woodfern started as pencils, black boards and mimeograph sheets and it is now white boards, wireless classrooms, and globalized curriculum,” he said. “Providing students with the opportunity to ask questions of students in India, or discuss character development with an author in Russia, in real-time would be impossible without today’s technology. This globalized approach to education would have been unimaginable 50 years ago.”

So Much History Over the Years

What was going on 50 years ago?

Here’s a sampling:

  • In 1962 the world held its breath as the United States and the United Soviet Socialists Republics flirted with nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Soviets and the United States were testing nuclear bombs, the United States was using military advisors in Vietnam, James Meredith became the first black student to enroll in the University of Mississippi and President John F. Kennedy ordered 3,000 troops to the state to enforce civil rights rulings. Black parents and students marched in Montclair for equal education, and a suit was filed against the Englewood school board seeking the end to racially segregated schools.
  • Algeria won its freedom from France, there was a coup in Syria. John Glenn was the first American in space, the U.S federal debt topped $300 billion, and a massive Atlantic storm struck New Jersey and caused $100 million in damage, killed 21 and destroyed 2,000 buildings.
  • Four British musicians later known as the Beatles began recording songs, Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” leaked from transistor radios, New Jersey’s The Four Seasons had Top 40 hits like “Sherry,” Freddy “Boom Boom” Cannon sang about New Jersey’s “Palisades Park” and in California, the Beach Boys hit the charts with “Surfin.”
  • Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in a National Basketball Association game, and the newly minted New York Mets lost the first nine games of their inaugural season,  the first time that had ever happened in major league baseball.

Heather Bartholomew, a Woodfern Elementary art teacher who also attended classes there in the early 1990s, said she recalled the school as a small, comfortable place.

“It was a very small school then,” she said. It felt like a neighborhood school, she said.

Woodfern opened with 20 classrooms for students in kindergarten to grade 6, the school district said. It was expanded in 1986 and 1994.

The addition of the Woodfern School reflected the rapid growth of the township that began in the 1950s.

Hillsborough, like the rest of North Jersey was filling with new homes and businesses as the population doubled in the 1950s, from 3,875 residents in 1950, to 7,584 residents in 1960, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Today the township, which has grown to 38,303 residents has nine schools that serve more than 4,900 students. Hillsborough High School, with  approximately 2,400 students, serves nearly as many  students as the township had residents in 1890 when the population was 2,825.

An Anticipated Celebration 

The celebration has created excitement and interest among the students, teachers said.

Jill Hansen, who teaches first grade, said he students don’t necessarily understand the historic nature of the event, but are exited by the birthday celebration aspects.

The students have written letters to the former staffers, Hansen said, and she hopes their letters will be selected  by some of the  70 former teachers to be read at an assembly on Saturday.

Both Bartholomew and Hansen said the students were enthused to write letters to be placed in a time capsule to be opened in 2025.

“The letters express their thought about their futures and what they hope to be doing,” Hansen said. “It  will be interesting for them to open those letters and see how they expressed their hopes and dreams.”

Bartholomew said each grade selected for study a decade from the past 50 years and will appear in school Friday in clothes popular at that time. Hansen said they also have been asked to perform a popular dance from the decade of their choice.

The Woodfern of Today

The biggest change at Woodfern is the use of technology as a tool in classroom, Schiff said.

Fourth grade teacher Debra Carmen Benitez said the addition of white boards, laptops and even copy machines has changed the approach teachers and students apply to learning.

Bartholomew said the change for her as an art teacher, is the incorporation of arts in to academic subjects like math, science and literacy.

When she was at the school, there were separate classrooms for art and music, but today she teaches in regular classrooms several times a week, and her subject matter is devised to support the curriculum to expand critical thinking and creativity.

Some Things Haven't Changed

But Hansen said it is more than just computers and new teaching methods that make Woodfern a special pace to teach. 

Schiff said the school reflects the district’s goals “providing a superior education for all students so they will lead us successfully and responsibly into the future (and) it is the staff of Woodfern School that strives to meet this goal every day for each student.

He said, “Woodfern School provides them a safe and welcoming home in which to operate. This goal for Woodfern’s teachers is as true of the staff of 50 years ago as it is today.”

Hansen said it is has been a rewarding experience that is reflected in the fact that she and Benitez have spent their entire teaching careers–she, 27 years, and Benitez, 35 years–at the Woodfern Elementary School.

Bunny Romano October 18, 2012 at 08:06 PM
Woodfern was and is a great school with dedicated teachers & staff. I always thought of it as a home away from home where you learned even more stuff! My own children went there & now my grandchildren. Congratulations Woodfern on 50 great years!
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