For over 50 years, SWS has aimed to employ educators who share a vision for what education can and should be. In many cases, those educators spent the majority of their professional careers in their positions and maintain strong and meaningful relationships with thousands of alumni to this day.
Please Note: This section is under construction! If you're a former SWS educator (or you know where we can find one!), please reach out to Zac Broken Rope at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Ellen Kaplovitz, SWS Program Coordinator (1978-2007)
From September 1978 to June 2007, I served as the SWS Coordinator/Counselor, providing democratic administrative leadership, educational support, and guidance.
SWS was a way of life and a family for me. My goal and greatest joy was to ensure that staff and students shared responsibility for planning and carrying out the SWS educational goals and practices: learning for the sake of learning, having close relationships with students and staff, finding their voice. Providing guidance and educational direction meant that I had and I still feel personal connections with the staff, students, program and ideals. I also value being the parent of two SWS alums.
Since leaving SWS, I have continued my interests in family, friendship and education, especially though yoga study, photography and travel.
Abby Erdmann, English (1977-2016)
The summer before I started teaching at SWS in 1977, Ralph Mosher of BU gave me funds to develop a course whose issues related to democracy and SWS. I designed "Individuals and Institutions", a course that included field trips to elementary schools and a local prison to teach students key questions about institutions. I taught that course every year for the next 42 years. In the second half of my SWS life, I developed "Creative Nonfiction" because the ”real” writing students were asked to do for their college applications wasn’t taught in school. Students wrote and rewrote—a paper a week. When asked to write their college essay, they then knew how to be themselves and to write in their own voice. In my last 15 years, I developed and taught "Identity, Race and Literature" when I realized that the white students were race illiterate and all students needed to read literature centered on black and brown characters. I loved teaching SWS English, partnering with great colleagues, seeing writers emerge who had never known they were writers, seeing arrogance melt into gratitude and humility, watching tense classes become communities. I knew my students deeply and they me, especially when I began to write and share the very personal papers I assigned. Significantly, many of my closest friends are SWS alums.
I treasured two of my committees—Students of Color, a safe place for BIPOC students to share their experiences, and Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is (PYMWYMI), both started by students. Empty Bowls was a giant art and music night when we transformed the fourth floor into an art gallery, raising thousands of dollars for The Bard Prison Initiative or Haley House. Doing social justice work with my students mattered—and still matters—to me. I started Brookline for Racial Justice and Equity (BRJE) after I retired with three alums to combat structural racism in Brookline. I would love hearing from my former students. Write to me at email@example.com, the email I have always had. Some things do not change; some do...
Beth Thompson, English and Drama (1973-1997, 1999-2000)
When I visited BHS in 1973 to explore my student teaching options, Ethel Sadowsky asked, “Have you considered SWS?” I had never heard of it, but Ethel took me upstairs where a boy with long hair did a contortionist routine in the doorway to the office, students talked in whispers on a church pew and a girl in a long skirt watered sprindley plants in Room 401. I wanted to stay. Judy Small was the beloved English teacher, poet and radical thinker and I was her fortunate student teacher! When Judy left to pursue her writing, I was lucky to get her job.
SWS was my home and family. I loved the students and the structure and philosophy of SWS let me know them in a deep and lasting way. We shared space and time. I loved the give and take-genuine conversation where you didn’t know what you thought or what you were going to say next. I taught "Bible", "Latin American Literature", "Creative Writing and Poetry" and many other courses. I collaborated with Anna in "Literature and History of the Depression." I collaborated with Abby [Erdmann] in "Short Story and Poetry," Gender in Literature", "Fate of the Earth.. "My wonderful colleagues were only a swinging door away.
I often taught One Hundred Years of Solitude and for me that book is written about SWS: the magical founding, the past and present existing at the same moment. In my mind, my students from every year are sitting in a circle in 401 reading their papers aloud, even though of course many of them sat there twenty years apart and 401 no longer exists in reality.
It was particularly thrilling to be in SWS in the early years when we were defining our philosophy. Most people joined SWS because they were against something. What were we for? Students didn’t want to be “just a number”, they wanted to be known, to be a significant individual. But what was their obligation to the community that was honoring their individuality? We debated these dilemmas constantly-sometimes theoretically, but more often as it related to a particular student. Hoards of graduate students flocked to SWS to influence us, guide us in Democracy. It was a joy to plan with them and then see our students rise up to question their authority and take over the process.
After leaving SWS, I taught high school English at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. I retired in 2020 looking forward to time for writing, yoga and meditation, but I quickly gravitated to elementary schools where students needed tutoring to make up for time lost to Covid. I have discovered that schools are still my home and school children my work. I carry SWS with me into all encounters: the bedrock belief that everyone has something to contribute and that given the time we will arrive at much richer and more creative solutions together.
Rich Goldberg, Social Studies (1986-2014)
I was the Social Studies / history teacher in SWS from 1986-7 until my retirement from Brookline in 2013-2014. My usual "upstairs" gig was 10th World, 11th US, and a 12th grade elective, like "Philosophy." I usually taught one or two classes in the "regular" school.
My first impressions of SWS were incredibly positive. Here was a school program where students had not just a voice, but power. Many were talented and
articulate. The staff was first-rate, and for many years stayed constant: Ellen, Abby, Beth, Dave, and Steve. Others joined later, Brad, and Kira
Karen and of course the amazing Dan. (Apologies if I left someone out.) We met to discuss students and the program. Quite a contrast from the arid department or full school faculty meetings. My boon companion was David Moore. Together we formed an odd couple, who sparred endlessly but always enjoyed our time together.
I always viewed being a teacher in SWS as an incredible piece of luck. The best teaching was when a student became engaged with the subject, left their
comfort zone and was challenged. It didn't happen all the time, but often enough. What made SWS distinctive more so than the classes was the sense
of community, best exemplified in a crowded Town Meeting with a topic of real import, maybe how to revise a policy like affirmative action, attendance,
dire need, or who did and who did not feel welcome in the Lounge. I'm not sure we always balanced freedom with responsibility, but the question was always present.
There is life after SWS, and I have enjoyed retirement. I am still involved in local political work in Cambridge and my union. I still bike, jog, and swim.
I thought that once I was free of class preparation, reading papers, and grading there would be endless time to read books, take courses, and go to
an endless succession of museums, concerts, movies and do a lot of foreign travel. It hasn't happened, but I still harbor hope. I still have the love and support of Nancy and the time to do more of the things with her I couldn't do when working full time. I am thankful.
It's great to look back at what has been the success of SWS, particularly so if it energizes us to what are the challenges of the future and what we
can do to make positive change.
Karen Harris, English (2002-2019)
I taught English in SWS from 2002-2019 (and a downstairs class for a couple of those years, too). A few of my friends are SWS alums (from the 80s!), and they’re particularly brilliant and hilarious (and talked a lot about all that SWS gave them), so I was delighted to find my way there after teaching in a variety of other settings— all remarkable in their own ways. I treasured my years in SWS. The ethos and students and staff continue to infuse and inspire my ongoing work in writing, curriculum development, and teacher education. The course Friendship in Literature grew into a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant to direct an institute for teachers from around the country called Friendship, Literature, Film, and Adolescence. It was mind-blowing to see this SWS class exported in this cool way, and to work with these talented, diverse teachers from all over and witness their resilience and hunger for connection post-Covid. I even got to bring Keira along for some of it, and we got a chance to share and celebrate our own friendship, which was an added, beautiful bonus.
I also taught Spirituality in Literature, Humanities, The Natural World in Literature, Childhood and Memory, and Novels of Social Change, among others. I loved my classes so much. I loved how teachers and students challenge one another to bring their full selves to school every day, warts and all. My favorite moments are just too many to isolate, but I adored the ritual of SWS graduation each year, and the finale. And even though it was sad to leave classroom teaching and SWS, I loved my surprise send-off Town Meeting/party/performance, which the students organized around the theme of a Wallace Stevens poem. They sang, wrote poems, danced, painted, drew, and played music-- and brought lots of candy. As we say so often, and so affectionately— only in SWS! (Heart emoji…)
In addition to writing and working with teachers, I’m still playing a bit of music, too. I’d love to hear from former students! I miss everybody. firstname.lastname@example.org
Anna DiStefano, Social Studies and Program Coordinator (1973-1978)
I started as an intern in SWS in 1973 (or it might have been 1974). I was a Social Studies teacher the next year (half time in the downstairs school and half time in SWS. Then, I became Coordinator and Social Studies teacher through 1978.
I remember that I taught US History, Exploring Human Nature, Introduction to Philosophizing, Interpersonal Relationships, and Women’s Studies. I also co-taught the Literature and History of the Depression with Beth Thompson. I loved the freedom of creating my own curriculum in those days. I also remember using student journals in most of my courses and responding to them on a weekly basis.
I remember a discussion in Town Meeting where we had to decide what to do about the school requirement that teachers and students needing to do the Pledge of Allegiance every morning. Most people in SWS didn’t want to do that. We were told if we didn’t, the teachers would be reprimanded. So, we came up with the following solution. Anyone who wanted to recite the Pledge could go into my classroom (402?) and recite it, but the rest of us didn’t have to.
The most important book in my own development is The Hidden Injuries of Class because it helped me understand myself as a product of the working class (I grew up in Lawrence).
I’d love it if past (or present!) students wanted to contact me at email@example.com.