A century later, Park School stays true to its roots

One hundred years ago, a group of parents in Buffalo gathered to form a new school that would adopt the ideals of a progressive educational reformer and teach students in new ways.  A century later, the Park School still educates its pupils much the same way.

In 1912, Buffalo was one of the largest cities in the country with a bustling economy and booming population.

Also one hundred years ago, a group of parents in Buffalo gathered to form a new school that would adopt the ideals of a progressive educational reformer and teach students in new ways.

A century later, the Park School still educates its pupils much the same way.

“OK – one, two three…”

A third grader practices “Park School, We Sing to Thee” on violin with her music teacher. While the school song was published more than 60 years ago, it is young compared to its subject, which celebrates its centennial this weekend.

“There were many schools and many non-profit organizations founded in 1912 and I don’t know the exact numbers, but many of them haven’t made it,” says Chris Lauricella, Park School’s head of school for five years.

The school was founded by a group of Buffalo parents who wanted their children instructed in the ways of education reformer John Dewey. He fostered a brand of learning that emphasized students’ unique talents through problem solving, art, music and physical activity that often takes students out of the classroom for hands-on experiences.

While the school started with just 27 children, now 260 students are enrolled in grades K-12. They often intermingle on Park’s 34-acre campus, near the pond, marsh, on the trails in the woods or on the school's vast playground.

“Our kids are constantly outside. It doesn’t really matter what the weather is. They move and pass from building to building," says Lauricella. "We’re a school that always believes that students need to be outside – part of the natural landscape. It’s ingrained in everything that we do."

Park offers a distinct alternative to modern public education, which largely relies on standardized testing to measure achievement. But Park is not cheap. The school’s sticker price ranges from $13,000 to $19,000 a year – more expensive than many colleges.

Still, the school works, says Lauricella, often sending 100 percent of its graduating class to college.

According to Lauricella, Park wants to offer guidance to other education communities, many which struggle to engage with students, resulting in dropouts and low achievement.

“We’d like to be a model again. How do we replicate this model? How do we affect the conversation about education in western New York? We’d like to be there again and having that conversation again,” he says.

More than a thousand former Park students are expected to attend this weekend’s centennial festivities – some coming from as far away as Australia and from classes as far back as 1940. The occasion will be used to reflect on the school’s history and unveil plans for its next century.

“It’s the same exact ideas, same vision,” says Lauricella. “I hope if [the founders] were here today they’d be happy about what they’d see a century later. I think they would be.”