- Amy Mendillo for Providence Monthly
School Courtyard, Once Home to Old Oak, Receives Upgrades
Longtime Fox Point residents may know about the grand, glorious oak that stood on the south side of Wickenden Street in the late decades of the previous century, at the site of the current Vartan Gregorian Elementary School. Local legend says that the central courtyard of the school was designed in order to showcase—and save—that tree. The oak has since come down due to disease, according to school’s lead custodian, Freddy Bucci. But the courtyard, also beloved, is now being restored and upgraded for use as an outdoor classroom.
With the onset of Covid, the teachers at Vartan Gregorian, as with elsewhere, began bringing their students outdoors. They haven’t stopped. “It gets used constantly, all day long, two classes at a time,” commented school principal Matthew Russo about the popularity of the courtyard for such activities as science lessons, quiet reading time, read-alouds, and daily lunch. The space has become so well used, weather permitting, that teachers, students, and staff would like to see the changes continue over the long term.
Thanks to contributions from the school PTO, the late Vartan Gregorian (through a fund set up through Brown University), and the generosity of the South Kingstown vendor Stone Guys Masonry, that idea is becoming reality. Last year, the school purchased large sunshades and simple, sturdy stools to make the space usable. This year, Stone Guys has used local stone remnants to rebuild two stone walls in the courtyard (one of which surrounds the stump of the old oak) and construct a semi-circular, wheelchair-accessible walkway. “Now all the students will be able to use the space,” Russo commented. “That’s the most important part of the project.”
The courtyard has become a respite for students and teachers alike. “It’s a unique space,” Russo added. “It’s a worry-free environment. Kids can take off their masks. The teachers love it.” While the grand oak came down years ago, its special home lives on.
Image, Amy Mendillo