Mather students, dignitaries mark school’s 375th birthday

Mather School alumnus and NYC Police Commissioner Bill Bratton joined students and Principal Emily Cox for a celebration of the Mather's 375th anniversary. Photo by Kelly Davidson

On Monday, students, parents, teachers and lawmakers gathered at the State House for a ceremony to commemorate the 375th anniversary of the Mather School. The school, which sits atop Meetinghouse Hill in Dorchester, is the oldest public elementary school in the nation.

Monday’s event, which consisted of singing performances from the students and a public proclamation from the members of the Dorchester delegation, was one of several events that have taken place this week around the city in honor of the school’s historic milestone.

On Wednesday, the school held the official celebration of its birthday, which included remarks by New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton, an alumnus of the school who previously served as Commissioner of the Boston Police Department.

Mayor Martin Walsh also dedicated a street corner near the school in memory of Marie Conley, a Mather crossing guard who was killed in the line of duty by a vehicle in 2011.

Monday’s event at the State House opened up with an a capella performance from the students of a traditional West African song, “Funga Alafia,” which translates to “Welcome and peace be to you.”

They followed with the school song, which emphasizes the students’ role in history: “We are glued to history in the Mather way….from Richard Mather, reaching up to me.” The song is a hallmark of the leadership style of Principal Emily Cox, who has served as principal for seven years. She often emphasizes to her students the importance of their place in the school’s almost four-century old history, reminding them that with such a historic legacy comes expectations of greatness.

The students were addressed by several members of the Massachusetts state house. Long-time Representative Gloria Fox of Roxbury welcomed the students to “the Peoples’ house.” Rep. Evandro Carvalho, who represents the Fifth Suffolk District portion of Dorchester and is approaching his six-month anniversary on Beacon Hill, congratulated the children with handshakes on his way up to the podium. Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry, the wife of Dorchester Reporter editor Bill Forry, followed suit with high fives for the students, and reminded them that while she fully expected them to succeed, a key part of success was learning to handle obstacles that might come their way: “Remember if you’re struggling in a subject, it’s okay. What do you do? You keep trying, and if you still have difficulty, you ask for help!”

The members of the Dorchester delegation then gathered together to present the declaration commemorating the Mather School. Representatives Fox, Carvalho, Nick Collins (4th Suffolk) and Dan Hunt (13th Suffolk) and Senators Forry and Sal DiDomenico (Middlesex/Suffolk) took turns reading the proclamation aloud. It referenced the school’s growth from its beginnings as a one-room schoolhouse serving just six boys of English descent to a co-ed student body of more than 600 students representing a wide range of heritages.

Each morning, the proclamation noted, students begin the day with a school pledge shared in the school’s most-spoken languages of English, Vietnamese, Cape Verdean Creole, and Spanish: “I must work hard today, get smarter in every way, helped by my teacher, my family and my friends. If I make some mistakes, I have what it takes to keep trying ‘til I really succeed.”

The resolution also noted the various members of the school community who contribute to the school’s mission of “educating and empowering all children to reach their potential through academic and socially enriching experiences”: the teachers, staff and administrators; the children’s families; an array of community partners who provide support before, during and after school; and alumni who have shown “success in business, achievements in the arts and leadership as public servants.”

The resolution was signed by Senate President Therese Murray, Senate Clerk William F. Welch, House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, House Clerk Steven T. James, Senator Dorcena Forry, and Representative Carvalho.

The ceremony ended with two more songs from the students – a rendition of “Happy Birthday Mather” in the style of Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday,” and “Lean on Me.” The children then boarded on the three Duck Boats that had carried them to Beacon Hill for the return trip to Mather.

Along with commemorating the school’s legacy, the entirely volunteer-organized week of Mather birthday events aims to raise $375,000 for the school. The funds will be used to support core academic programs such as literacy, professional development for teachers and libraries in each classroom; enrichment activities such as before- and after-school programs; and building maintenance, including an upgrade to the auditorium.

The week will conclude with a Birthday Benefit Fundraiser on Friday, October 24 at the Phillips House from 6 to 11 p.m. The 21-plus event, which is open to the public, will feature live and silent charity auctions and live dance music by the band In the House. Tickets cost $50 and include pizza, appetizers and dessert. They can be purchased at matherelementary.org/375.