On Saturday, December 3, we gathered in the assembly hall of Boston Arts Academy/Fenway High School to celebrate Vito Perrone, who passed away in August. It was fitting that we gathered in this space, since Vito cared passionately about schools.
I was so pleased that some of my students could be there for the occasion. They served as ambassadors, hanging coats and giving tours of BAA, but I believe that they also learned something about this great man and his staunch belief that schools could and would be better, and that students deserved to be actively engaged in all classrooms and with all teachers.
Sunny Pai, a founding BAA faculty member and Fenway student teacher and now a Program Director at an alternative program at Charlestown High School in Boston, read from a 1998 letter that Vito had written to his students in Harvard’s teacher education program as they were ending their student teaching. Vito wrote, “…I hope you were able to understand that… adolescents and young adults… can be powerful learners. They can be responsible. They can be active participants in their communities. They can be serious about their physical well being, friends to those younger and older, humane and committed in their relationships. They can be serious readers and writers, and thinkers, persons capable of changing the world. We can’t ever afford to see them as less, even as they often try to convince us that the less is all there is, even as they sometimes content they don’t care about anything that connects with our interests as teachers. Our ongoing task is to see and work from whatever strengths they bring forward, even if that strength is mostly resistance.” I watched my students nod their heads in agreement to these words.
It was a virtual brain trust in the room as Jay Featherstone showed a video from the North Dakota Study Group of Vito speaking in 2000. Jay gave historical context to Vito’s words, and Deborah Meier, George Heins, Ann Cook, Eleanor Duckworth, Larry Myatt and many others shared stories, readings and memories. I was happy to hear some of the younger educators in the room asking those in retirement to keep fighting for more equitable schools.
Two of Vito’s grown children and their spouses as well as two grandchildren and Vito’s widow all were able to attend. I believe that they, like all of us, appreciated the opportunity to learn more about this amazing man… this “teacher with a heart,” which is the title of one of his books.
I can still hear Vito’s voice in my head as he talks about schools with larger purposes and generative questions—both Vito terms. I hear him remind me to keep asking those hard questions and to keep studying history so we can make intelligent connections to what has come before us. I appreciate knowing, as he said in the video, that there are more good schools now than in the 1970s. Sometimes when we are in the thick of it, we forget that.
Thank you to all who joined in this celebration of Vito. I know Vito would have enjoyed being with us.