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Morley Elementary School to Celebrate 90 Years of Community

The Morley class of 2016. Courtesy photo

Edward W. Morley Elementary School first opened its doors for the 1927-28 academic year, and has invited alumni, former teachers, and parents to attend the school’s 90th anniversary celebration on June 6.

By Ronni Newton

Many things have changed over the past 90 years, but one thing that has not changed at Morley School is the close relationships that students form with their teachers, and the true sense of being a community-oriented place.

Morley Principal Ryan Cleary, staff, students, and the PTO have been hard at work over the past year planning the school’s 90th anniversary celebration. Cleary said it’s been great meeting and talking to so many people – alumni, former teachers, and former parents – who have been involved in and interested in commemorating the anniversary of the school they love so much.

“As I spoke to them, there was so much consistency in people’s reflections on this building, and their experiences here. It was amazing,” Cleary said.

Morley was originally called the Fern Street School, and when the current building was constructed it replaced a three-room portable building. Over the course of 20 years, from 1915 until 1925, the population of West Hartford’s public schools had nearly tripled, swelling from 1,351 to 3,257, according to the book “Celebrate! West Hartford,” and the town undertook the construction of eight new school buildings, of which Fern Street School was one.

On Feb. 21, 1930, the school was officially renamed the Edward W. Morley School, in honor of the renowned physicist who lived and worked in West Hartford. According to Cleary, Edward Morley was a major contributor to Einstein’s work on the theory of relativity.

The oldest alumna Cleary spoke with was Janice Falkin, now 92. She started at the school in the 1929-30 school year. “She named each teacher she had. She spoke of how close her relationships were with her teachers and the Morley community,” Cleary said. She even spoke of walking from the school to the Center, which at the time was nowhere near as dense as it is today.

“The way she described these experiences was almost identical to what students today say – how they love their teachers, love the fact that Morley is a community school,” said Cleary. “It literally gave me the chills.”

No matter when they or their kids had attended Morley, Cleary said he heard almost identical impressions of the school from everyone he spoke with.

Brick at Morley School commemorating the multi-generational Kerrigan family. Courtesy photo

The Kerrigans are a multi-generational Morley family, and absolutely love all that Morley stands for. Mike Kerrigan was a student from 1979-86, and his first son, Sam, started kindergarten at Morley in 2006. Oliver followed three years later, and then came Avery, who will graduate from fifth grade this year.

Mike’s sister and two brothers also attended the school.

Mike’s wife, Liz, was never a student at Morley, but in addition to being a Morley parent she is closely tied to the community having worked in the school’s daycare while in high school at Hall in the 1990s, and she also worked there as a teacher right after graduating college. And her uncle, Richard Levitt, attended Morley from 1960-64,

“My kids are third-generation Mustangs,” Liz Kerrigan said.

Liz Kerrigan said she thinks one of the things that makes Morley so special is that it’s one of West Hartford’s last “true neighborhood schools,” where most of the students walk and the student body is small.

“What always made it such a special place to me is how much of a neighborhood school it is,” said Mike Kerrigan, echoing his wife’s comments. “The kids all congregate at the school.”

Liz Kerrigan said that Morley is the type of place where parents walk their children to school and linger, and come to pick them up and hang around long after the bell has rung.

“It’s a true hub for families, and has been that way forever,” Liz Kerrigan said. “That’s why we wanted to live here – on the grid [the neighborhood of straight blocks surrounding the school] – because we wanted that experience.”

Principal Ryan Cleary at the Morley Red Wagon Food Drive. Nov. 8, 2017. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

“Also, what I think separates Morley is such a dedication to philanthropy,” Liz Kerrigan said. It’s not that other schools aren’t involved in philanthropic projects, she said, but it’s imbued in Morley’s culture. The backpack brigade that donates schools supplies to needy West Hartford students, the red wagon brigade that restocks the Food Pantry just before Thanksgiving, performing in nursing homes, partnerships with schools in Hartford – they are all things that have been taking place at the school for years.

“Morley is deep-rooted in tradition,” Liz Kerrigan said. “It’s a very diverse group of families, but somehow they seem to be able to keep the curriculum moving forward and keep the traditions we have come to expect.”

Mike Kerrigan has remained connected to his Morley classmates – and did so even in the pre-Facebook days. And he’s kept the connection to teachers as well. When a beloved physical education teacher, Adrienne Allen, succumbed to cancer shortly after retiring, Mike Kerrigan was asked to speak at her memorial service.

“You’re lucky if you get one of those special teachers,” Mike Kerrigan said. At Morley there have always been many special teachers, who form strong bonds with their students.

“There are so many ways they make learning so special there,” Liz Kerrigan said. “They make a footprint on your heart.”

The Morley community will have much more opportunity for celebration and reminiscing at the 90th anniversary celebration on June 6. The event begins with a community assembly on the back field at 9:30 a.m., a “walk through time” in the hallways, and a reception at 11 a.m.

Cleary said he has no idea how many alumni, former parents, and former staff will attend, but estimates it will be somewhere between 50 and 100.

Falkin, who lives on Fern Street in the house in which she grew up, plans to attend the celebration of what has been her neighborhood school for nearly a century.

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Students prepare to set out for the ninth annual Morley Backpack Brigade. June 14, 2017. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

Edward W. Morley Elementary School. Courtesy photo

Mr. Brigham’s class in 1976. Courtesy photo

Morley grade 6 in 1986-87. Courtesy photo

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