Promotional collage for "Big Little Town" by the Needham Historical Society.
Georgia Meyer, GBP Student
Every day on my drive to school I pass the Town Hall, historically distinguished houses, Hershey train station, and all kinds of old churches. I also pass a Dunkin’ Donuts, a Japanese steak house, and a unnecessarily high number of Closet Exchanges. I never really give any of these sites any extra thought. Maybe the occasional, “I really want a coffee”, or, “maybe I’ll take the train into the city this weekend”, but nothing to appreciate the vast history of Needham. I never think about the difference between Needham Bank and Citizen’s Bank— just two places to cash a check or get some money, when in reality only Needham Bank has a fascinating history, complete with a robbery. After watching Big Little Town, my ride to school has become a little less boring. Sitting in traffic at the intersection of Great Plain and Webster means looking at house with a plaque stating it was built in the 1800’s and wondering what it has seen.
Big Little Town is a film created by Kathryn Dietz and Marc Mandel to honor Needham’s 300 years of history for its year-long tricentennial celebration. The film examines different aspects of Needham’s creation; from its original split from Dedham and Wellesley to its ethnically divided neighborhoods in the 20th century. The film looks at images drawn more than 300 years ago and interviews Needham residents today. The effect is an intriguing and relatable story which pulls together all the pieces of Needham we see today.
I was particularly interested in the story of William Baker. I remember hearing brief snippets of the story throughout the years but nothing that stuck with me for too long. But when I heard the details of Baker’s eccentric personality and saw the pictures of the attractions he commissioned in Big Little Town I was amazed! A friend of mine, and fellow GBP student, lives on a piece of what’s left of the estate, so I have had the chance to see how beautiful it is. I can just imagine what it would have looked like with the gardens, the rides, and the hotel it had back in its glory days.
When I walked into class and found out we were watching a movie right before April Break, I was just glad to have a class I could relax in for a little like every other student. But, by the time the movie was over, I was filled with excitement; I was ready to share what I had learned with my friends and family and maybe find out more about my town on my own.
GBP Students listen and take notes on a lecture given by National Parks consultant and BU professor Jim O'Connell. (Photo by Ms. Tincher)
Sydney Banker, GBP Student
As GBP students, we have been fortunate to experience many great lectures and presentations given from outside sources. On Tuesday, both GBP sections gathered together to listen to Jim O’Connell’s lecture on the development of the Greater Boston Area. The discussion covered a wide variety of topics such as; climate change, transportation, parks/recreation, shopping and housing. What made the lecture so engaging and interesting was its heavy focus on the development and influence that Needham had towards the advancement of Boston. Our knowledge about the filling in of the Back Bay was furthered through pictures and statistics regarding the actual transportation of the dirt from Needham to Boston. Another large theme Mr.O’Connell focused in on were the shifts that took place within the Greater Boston Community that ultimately altered the way Boston’s society came to be as it is today.
Paradigm shifts are a heavy focus of the GBP class curriculum. Paradigm shifts refer to a revolution or transformation driven by a change within society. Over the course of the year, we have learned about and studied several paradigm shifts that have taken place over the course of Boston’s history. Today, one of the shifts that we learned about was the Boston community’s response to their needs/desires that allowed for them to bring about change within the city and surrounding neighborhoods. For example, with an increase in modes of transportation, primarily trains, a large spike in the development of suburbs took place. This is a great example of a paradigm shift because a direct cause and effect situation is taking place that eventually sparks a change within society.
After taking detailed and thorough notes on the presentation, we were asked to log into Google Classroom to respond to the question; “What do you see as a main takeaway from the lecture you heard today on the development of metropolitan Boston?” A variety of great responses poured in ranging from focus on economic impact, to development of suburbs, to the influence of transportation. Reading my classmates responses helped me to broaden my ideas and understandings of the lecture.
Once our speaker had concluded with his final thoughts we were given time to look over and organize our notes. This is a crucial skill that we have been able to practice and develop through GBP class lectures that will be extremely helpful going forward in larger college lectures. Although our GBP class number is most likely smaller than many of the lectures halls some of us will attend next year, today was a great preview of what is next to come.
Photos from South Boston in the 1970s. (Photos from WBUR)
Grace Connolly, GBP Student
It is obvious through the name of this class, The Greater Boston Project, that we are learning about the evolution of Boston and the surrounding area. Up until recently, the focus of the class has been on colonial, pre-revolutionary and antebellum Boston, and how these historical events have defined the city. We have learned how each one of these time periods have imprinted their legacy on the city of Boston through the people, culture, customs, landscapes, and businesses that thrive here today. Yet, as students in 2016, we often lack the ability to feel a deeper connection with events that took place hundreds of years ago. This all changed recently when we started reading All Souls by Michael Patrick MacDonald.
MacDonald starts his story in the 1960’s and progresses along until the reader reaches his present day life. MacDonald is an exemplary narrator due to his unique perspective. Growing up in the Southie projects allowed him to experience the city during some very influential events. One of these being the Boston Busing riots. MacDonald’s first hand account of the incidents, mainly in chapter four, become very real to the reader due to the descriptiveness of the individual riots. In addition to MacDonald’s account, many parents of the GBP students were in and around Boston during the riots. The combination of the two perspectives gives us students a way to connect with the historic events better.
In fact, the very reason I am in Needham Public Schools is a direct result of busing. My two sisters and I were born in Boston. We lived around the corner from an elementary school where we played on a regular basis with the other children in the neighborhood. However, due to the busing lottery system that was in place at that time, it was most likely that we would not attend our neighborhood school and we had no guarantee of being placed together as sisters. My parents had three choices: face the uncertainty of the lottery system, pay for private education, or move. The decision to move to Needham was difficult given that we left behind a wonderful home, with great neighbors, and close friends. Here in Needham I attended Mitchell Elementary, a short walk up the hill from my home. The proximity to home, made it easy for my parents and I to attend events, meet neighbors, and participate in and strengthen the community.
MacDonald further articulates how Boston busing affected communities from the Southie point of view. Many of the families being bused didn't have the opportunity to move or go to a private school, thus they were forced to watch their neighborhoods and communities deteriorate. There were multiple reasons that caused the communities to fall apart. The fact that many students had to go across town to their schools played a major role in the deterioration. A neighborhood school is a place where parents have the ability to connect with other parents and form a close knit group. When their child’s school is in another area, parents don’t always have the option to travel across Boston to that school and meet other parents. This creates a lack of community and close connection among the adults, that transfers onto their children. Because the communication aspect is missing, many communities slowly fell apart. In addition to the lack of close schools, people became less open to welcoming ‘outsiders’ into their lives. The strong sense of community felt before busing prevented the formation of other communities due to the us-versus-them mentality shared by many. The racial stereotypical views people had prevented many interracial relationships to form, especially in an area like Old Colony. Although the bulk of this issue occurred in the 1970's, the city of Boston is still changing because of it. Many parents with children approaching school-age continue to move out of the city in order to provide the education they wish for their children.
Although the forced busing was with good intention, the unintended consequences of busing have hurt the city. Desegregation of the schools was necessary, but forcing the two poorest schools in Boston, with some of the strongest communities, to immediately accept the changes caused many issues that could have been prevented. Thankfully, the Boston Public Schools have successfully desegregated, but the painful process has left many scars on Boston, as shown by MacDonald and existing issues within the system.
Before reading this novel my perception of Southie came mostly from its depiction in the movie Good Will Hunting. I realize that Good Will Hunting is fiction and represents the views of its screenwriters— it is not necessarily an accurate representation of Southie. But, because I had never visited or studied Southie, it was the view I was most familiar with prior to reading All Souls. Seeing as it is such an iconic movie Good Will Hunting has probably shaped the opinions of many people who, like myself, have never visited Southie or had contact with residents of Southie. In Good Will Hunting Southie is poor and run down. The characters from Southie are from large Irish families and have a tight-knit community; they go to their local pub and everyone knows their names. The main character, Will, is very hesitant about leaving Southie because he feels so attached to his friends there. Eventually Will’s friend Chuckie convinces him to leave. Chuckie tells Will that he has an opportunity that all the other boys in Southie would die for, that he must to escape now or he will never leave. Chuckie and the other characters from Southie were trapped there by poverty and lack of education. Characters from Southie seemed to use their pride in the town to hide their despair. This movie shows Southie as a depressing place, loosely disguised by Irish pride, that needs to be escaped from. This is a pretty common depiction of poor, urban neighborhoods and one that I did not question very much when it was presented in Good Will Hunting.
All Souls shows a more complex perception of Southie. Despite the poverty, drugs, and crime that seem ubiquitous in Southie, the author says that he is considering moving back. This is in direct contrast with the narrative I am most familiar with where people try to escape areas like South Boston. The reporter who MacDonald talks with is surprised by this decision; the reporter had researched Southie and concluded that it was dangerous and poor—an undesirable place to live. MacDonald’s claim that he is considering moving back to Southie proves that there is something about Southie that makes up for its negative characteristics.
I’m excited to learn more about MacDonald’s experience living in South Boston. As I read this book it reminds me of our Neighborhood Projects and how we are looking at the neighborhoods the same way the reporter was observing Southie—as outsiders. We are using statistics and outsider observations to understand a town but, as MacDonald shows us, there are some aspects of a town that need to be observed firsthand. As outsiders we have prejudices, which is only natural, but we must recognize these prejudices before attempting to learn about a neighborhood. We need to try to learn about areas that we are unfamiliar with with an open mind; it’s important that we try to see an area like Southie the way an insider would. My prejudice going into our study of Southie was the narrative from Good Will Hunting. I believe that Southie was a place people wanted to escape from but were trapped in due to economic circumstances. As I read All Souls I have to set aside this preconceived notion so I can learn the much more complicated truth about Southie from MacDonald, and insider.
Spencer Ress, GBP Student
As one of the oldest cities in the United States, Boston has many neighborhoods rooted in rich history. Each of its neighborhoods have possessed unique and distinctive characteristics, as people from all over the world have came to Boston to foster and cherish their respective cultures in it. Through this great history, Boston has sustained its vibrant neighborhoods, which is evidenced in the highly-diverse and energetic populations that make up each part of Boston. With all this in mind, it is no surprise that GBP has asked us to look more into these neighborhoods with our latest major assignment - the Neighborhood Project. In pairs and trios, we’ve been assigned the task of creating an infographic that depicts information about the history and development from the 1950s to today of a certain neighborhood in Boston. A list of neighborhoods in Boston was presented to each group to pick from and observe. My group happens to be a trio, including fellow classmates, Michael Dateo and Vinny Troung, and we ended up choosing Beacon Hill to investigate.
A couple days into the project, we have commenced preliminary research on our neighborhood, having already found many basic current statistics. Many of these happen to be demographic statistics, which relate to race, gender, income, housing, etc. Michael and Vinny have also found some statistics, but I have mostly been responsible for this part of the assignment. For this reason, Michael and Vinny have mostly conducted research to find stories/developments related to Beacon Hill in contemporary news as well as past news. I will also look to find more demographic statistics from the past. As far as the infographic, I have started the formulation of one in the program, known as Piktochart. A small amount of progress has been achieved so far, as the overall theme and fonts have been chosen for the infographic and some basic information has been put in. As seen in this project as well as many others we have done this year, is the unique opportunity to practice skills that will be needed for college and the application of the real working world.
As three of many great skills we learn in GBP, this project allows us to practice visual communication, collaboration, and MSA skills. In regards to visual communication, this skill will be vital for things most likely such as presentations in college and business meetings beyond that. It is very important that pieces of visual communication such as power points, should be enticing and compelling to drive your main points you wish to convey in your dialogue. Along with visual communication, collaboration will also be important obviously. I would say this is the central and most important goal in GBP, as it will be a core practice in anything we do beyond high school. Whether in small or big groups, it will be critical to have the ability of communicating individual roles, decision making, feedback, evaluation of group progress or quality of product, and dynamics. If all of this can be achieved, only then will it be possible to successfully complete a variety of task in any subject. Lastly, this project will benefit our ability to model and do analysis of statistics in the future. As a core element in mathematics, perhaps any future job or internship I take on, may require me to break down statistical data to obtain key information and insight.
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