I’ve written about all kinds of community anchors that come and go.
I’m pretty sure we’ve never hit schools. Indeed, the schools attended by the Blumenau family of Hope Street, Stamford, have shown admirable staying power.
Springdale Elementary School — just up the street from 1107 Hope Street, and a place where I used to walk with my dad and brother for some open-field exercise — is still in business. So is my dad’s alma mater, Stamford High School, on the wonderfully named Strawberry Hill Avenue.
(Now that I think of it, I did once write about my dad’s old junior high, Dolan. That’s still around too.)
While those schools have lasted, other schools come and go — sometimes much quicker than anyone imagined they would.
This week finds my grandpa dropping off his recycling at a school that went from community institution to closed within a quarter-century’s time.
My dad, a member of Stamford High’s Class of 1961, attended double sessions at the school all three years he was there because of overcrowding. My mom spent her first year of high school in double sessions at Stamford High as well.
As it happened, the city of Stamford had a plan in place to respond to its teenage population boom. In the fall of 1961, the city opened its second public high school, Rippowam High School, on High Ridge Road.
The Hope Street Blumenaus’ younger child, my Aunt Elaine, graduated from Rip. So did the young woman who would later become my mother. And so did her younger brother, my Uncle T.J.
Rippowam High — named for a Native American tribe, which also lent its name to a local river — primarily drew students from the more affluent northern half of Stamford, while Stamford High drew from the city’s middle-to-working-class lower half.
(This seems to have been a common social pattern. When I lived in Framingham, Mass., 20 years ago, there was a Framingham North High School serving the leafy suburban parts, and a Framingham South serving the grittier southern parts where the freight trains ran through.)
In 1971, when my grandpa took his empty bottles there, Rip would have been settled in as a regular part of the city’s daily fabric.
But that didn’t last.
This New York Times article, despite its melodramatic lede, tells the story: As birth rates declined, the city of Stamford didn’t need Rippowam as much as it did in the early Sixties. Rippowam was closed following the 1982-83 school year. According to the Grey Lady, that was part of a larger trend: Stamford’s public school district declined from 24 schools in fall 1971 to 16 in fall 1983.
A third public high school in the northern part of town, Westhill High School, opened in 1972. Since Westhill was newer, Rip might have lost out to it when city officials were deciding what to close.
(A few of my cousins are Westhill grads and grew up in a house that backs up to the school’s property. Once in the late ’80s, when my brother and I were on our high school track team, we were visiting my cousins in Stamford and decided to sneak over to Westhill for a track workout. I jogged some laps while my brother — who won a New York State championship in indoor track around this same time — lit up a bunch of 400-meter intervals. The Westhill team was watching from the sidelines by the time we were done, wondering if the speedy stranger was a friend or a foe. They never found out for sure, because we never talked to them; when we were done, we just left. My brother had a flair for the dramatic during his competitive years, and leaving a bunch of kids asking each other, “Who the hell was that?,” was one of his great moments in that regard. This has nothing to do with Rippowam High or the patterns of Stamford’s teenage population. It was just a fun moment, and a favorite story of mine. And you get to hear it too.)
Anyway, the Rippowam building was used for alternative education programs, adult education, and for a science and technology magnet school.
Then, with enrollment on the rise again around the year 2000, it was pressed back into service as Rippowam Middle School, and remains in that use today.
Perhaps, fifty-plus years after its opening, Rippowam has finally found its permanent educational niche.