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       A Sunnyside Story by Marjorie Godlin Roemer 
 
How to comb through all the disparate memories, the moments preserved as if in amber, and all the 
others lost forever? We lived across the street from P.S. 150 Queens. I could see it from my bedroom 
windows. I watched children going and coming. 43rd Avenue was a busy street, lots of movement.  
 
When it was time for me to go to school, I remember being overwhelmed by its size. That first day in 
kindergarten, crowded, so many children crammed together in a room. Did it already smell of sour milk 
and urine, or is that just a later memory that I’ve attached to that first day? Finally, the teacher said we 
might draw. Newsprint and fat crayons were put on our tables. I leapt at the opportunity. Just as in my 
days at the Sunnyside Progressive School, I would create a design on paper. I began to draw on first one 
side of the paper and then the other. Then the teacher said: “We’ll draw the policeman on the corner. 
Here is a circle for his head; now you draw a circle for his head.” I was frantic. I had soiled the paper with 
my own drawing. A kind teacher’s aide gave me another piece of paper, and I dutifully drew the head 
the teacher required on my piece of paper, our composite, generic drawing of a policeman. I have 
always said (following Robert Fulghum) I learned everything I needed to know that first day of 
kindergarten.  
 
But really, it wasn’t all that regimented. What I remember are the parents coming in to teach us folk 
dancing, to help us make hooked rugs and candles and soap so that we might have some sense of early 
American history . . . and that is still the only real sense I have of that history . . . the candles, the soap, 
the crocheted rugs.  
 
I remember classmates: Annluise Williams, Robert Sussman, David Horowitz, Carol Pasternack, Allen 
Rosenshine, Florence Goldberg, Sheila Feldman, and a host of others.   I remember plays and 
newspapers, writing poetry to music, illustrating stories. When it was time to do math word problems, 
I’d say that my group needed to rehearse our play, and I’d usually get permission to take my cast out to 
another room. I did the same when it was time to learn geography . . . still real gaps in my education.  
 
So, in the 1940’s and the early 50’s I remember what was best in progressive education in that 
neighborhood school (and maybe what was weakest in it too). I remember rivalry and competition, but 
all in a lively, fluid set of circumstances. In Mrs. Levine’s 4th grade class we were seated each week in 
order of our grades earned that week. If you had the highest grades that week, you got to pick your seat, 
and so the class was arranged by what was taken to be our achievement. A dreadful practice now  
in retrospect, but I don’t remember suffering from it, except for that one week when my grades slipped 
and I sat on the ‘wrong” side of the room.  
 
In those days we began to pay attention to what was happening in the world.   We were horrified by 
McCarthyism, by overt racism, always in other places . . . and yet, how little did I understand about my 
own privilege and what it meant to grow up there, protected from so much pain and struggle in the 
world . . . indulged . . . dancing the Misirlou . . . being celebrated for our words and our drawings . . . in 
an enclave where freedom seemed real for us and where we had little notion of how our world was 
circumscribed and hedged by race and class and the good fortune to have landed where so many good 
people shared a world-view that prompted a progressive education in the neighborhood public school 
right across the street from where I lived.  
 



Marjorie Godlin Roemer is a retired creative writing teacher at Rhode Island College.  She currently 
teaches memoir writing to seniors at the Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning program. 
 


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