FRAMINGHAM – After a multiple month effort led by Framingham Public School (FPS) students in partnership with community partners, the Framingham School Committee voted unanimously to rename Woodrow Wilson Elementary School as Harmony Grove Elementary School – A Global Academy. The new name will be celebrated at the end of this school year, with the new name to take effect at the start of the fall 2021 school year.
Last summer over 1,500 signatures were collected on a student-led, online petition to change the name of Woodrow Wilson Elementary School in Framingham.
On September 30, 2020 the Framingham School Committee, in response to this public outreach and upon the recommendation of the Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity Subcommittee voted to approve the beginning of an input process on renaming the Woodrow Wilson Elementary School, with the intention of changing the name.
Although Woodrow Wilson was an important person in our country’s history, he is also well-known to have supported racist policies and segregation. Several other schools around the country named after Woodrow Wilson have taken action to change their name.
“This year the Framingham Public Schools have engaged in some incredible work as part of our anti-racist journey,” said Dr. Robert Tremblay, Superintendent of Schools. “Our commitment to this core value of our District Strategic Plan is now evidenced by our actions, not simply our words. Working to lift and honor student voice, garner staff input, and enlist our community educational partners at the Framingham History Center, Framingham Public Library, and Framingham State University, among others, is testament to our willingness to change when we know it does not align with our values.”
“Having the opportunity to watch this process unfold so closely has been nothing short of awe-inspiring,” said Priscila Sousa, District 5 School Committee Member and liaison to the school in her role as Chair of the Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity Subcommittee. “During a period in history when it has been easy to find reasons to criticize, a hardworking group of citizens, students, FPS staff, and FPS families showed us how bright Framingham’s light can shine. I am honored to have been a part of this effort and, once again, beaming with pride for our community. There is, however, much still left to do towards equity in our district. There is substantial work to be done, but this process has renewed hopes in our ability to achieve positive change.”
The two finalists submitted for consideration by the School Committee were Harmony Grove Elementary School and Ruby Bridges Elementary School. An excerpt from those submissions are included below.
Harmony Grove was a historic park located 1.5 miles from Woodrow Wilson Elementary School on the shores of Farm Pond. It was used for picnics, boating, strolling, games, and large outdoor meetings at the natural amphitheatre. The ampitheatre hosted rallies and speeches from famous social justice activists to promote women’s rights and the anti-slavery movement.
Some of the well-known activists who spoke at Harmony Grove were Julia Ward Howe, Lucy Stone, Sojourner Truth, Henry David Thoreau, Wendell Phillips, and William Lloyd Garrison. From 1846 to 1865 it served as a gathering place for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, which held a big anti-slavery rally there every Fourth of July. On July 4th, 1874 there was an important suffrage convention with speakers questioning the Declaration of Independence as women had to pay taxes even though they didn’t have the right to vote.
Ruby Bridges is a civil rights activist, author, and public speaker. When she was 6 years old, she was the first black student to attend and desegregate the all white William Frantz Elementary school in New Orleans. Four federal marshals were assigned to Ruby and her mother to escort her to school every day that year. She had to walk past crowds screaming vicious slurs at her.
Only one teacher, Barbara Henry, was willing to teach Ruby. She was the only student in her class for the entire year as other families wouldn’t allow their children to be in her class. This meant that Ruby had to eat lunch alone and sometimes played with her teacher at recess. Despite these challenges, she never missed a day of school that year. Ruby Bridges received the Carter G. Woodson Book Award for one of her books about her experience.
In 1999, she established the Ruby Bridges Foundation which promotes tolerance and creates change through education. The foundation opened the Ruby Bridges school of Social Justice and Community Service. In 2001, she was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal.
“Tonight’s School Committee Meeting was the culmination of months of work and years of student advocacy surrounding the effort to change the name of Woodrow Wilson Elementary School,” said Tiffanie Maskell, District 7 School Committee Member and liaison to the school in her role as Chair of the Policy Subcommittee. “I am grateful to have had a small role in this momentous process. And I am proud to see change happening in this city, brought about by the voices of our youth.”
“What an exciting journey to get us to this point,” said Purnima DeMorais, Principal of Woodrow Wilson Elementary School, soon to be named Harmony Grove Elementary School – A Global Academy. “The collaborative process of renaming our school sends a powerful message to our students, parents, and community. A message that reiterates our social justice, inclusive and tolerant core beliefs. I am honored to be part of this exciting and important process.”
Getting to this name was an involved process which included various opportunities for community engagement. Here is the summary of events that led to tonight’s outcome:
- It began with a student-led petition which gained over 1,500 signatures in the Summer of 2020.
- In the fall of 2020, the School Committee voted to decide to rename the school, ensure students and community voices were heard and that awareness was created for the initiative to move forward.
- Weekly FPS-led planning meetings were held to create an outline and timeline, age-appropriate lessons were planned for students, communication was shared with staff and students – not just at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School, but also across the District and throughout the Framingham community.
- In March, a collaborative event was held virtually with support from the Framingham Public Library, The Framingham History Center, and an Associate Professor of History from Framingham State University and at the same time, a trilingual submission form was circulated throughout the community to collect name submission ideas that met the desired criteria for the new name. Click here to view video from this event.
- More than 478 community members, staff, and students suggested 111 unique school name options.
- Volunteer Community Members continued to gather virtually in April to review all submissions and narrow them down for the May 5th School Committee meeting where a presentation and Public Hearing were held. Click here to view the presentation.
- Tonight, May 19th marks the final vote on the new name of the school.
Over the next few months FPS will undertake a series of steps to make the name change official. This includes notifying the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the International Baccalaureate (IB) organization, and the post office, as well as updating the website, school signs, and more. A renaming ceremony will be scheduled for when the new name takes effect at the start of the fall 2021 school year
About the School to be Named Harmony Grove Elementary School – A Global Academy
The school, originally named in 1928 to honor the 28th President of the United States Woodrow Wilson, has been an International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program (IB PYP) World School since June 2015. It is one of four IB PYP schools in Massachusetts and part of a network of about 2,000 IB PYP schools in over 110 countries. IB PYP schools share a common philosophy – a commitment to high quality, challenging, international education. Learning experiences focus on the development of the whole child as an inquirer and a life-long learner. The school values international-mindedness and students strive to demonstrate the IB Learner Profile every day. The Elementary School offers three strands of general education and language development in Portuguese and English through Dual Language Education, Transitional Bilingual Education, and English Immersion with Portuguese as a World Language.
Editor’s Note: In full transparency, the following is a press release from the school department