The heady mix of angst, nostalgia, and sensory overload; corridors bedecked with construction paper; the smell of lunch and lockers and science projects; the stray kid let loose in the hall; the teacher with the guiding hand and warning gaze. It’s school!
You visit enough of them, and you think you’ve got it down. But then you come face to face with whatever makes each one unique. At Lincoln Community School, it’s the smell of chlorine in the humid cocoon of the Olympic-size pool.
If you tell someone you’re visiting Lincoln School, they invariably mention the pool, but there’s another program that Principal Keith Makowski is very proud of: the curriculum for mentally disabled students and preschool kids with special needs. These services come up numerous times on our tour of the school.
The Grand Tour
About 460 kids are enrolled in Lincoln Community, which Makowski says is fairly small compared with other schools in the district. Viewing the multi-purpose auditorium and cafeteria, it looks just about the right size to accommodate assemblies of that size.
The first stop is the life-skills room. This is set up with kitchen, laundry, and other common household amenities for mentally disabled kids who need a little extra help navigating life’s daily challenges. The room smells deliciously of home-baked cookies.
Up next, first grade. These kids are eager and enthusiastic, each one boasting that he or she has already reached “the last page” of the assignment. They wave their papers in the air and raise their hands to be called on.
On the way to the gym, we run into Assistant Principal Alana Ryan. A sign on the wall behind her reads “Best Students, Best Staff, Best School.” Ryan clearly agrees, remarking on the “energy and magic” of the place.
These students are “not from the richest part of town,” she says. “They work harder; nothing was given to them.”
She also praises the PTO. “They do great things, family swims, movie nights, yoga. They raise a ton of money at fundraisers and holiday bazaars.”
As we approach the gym, the obligatory trophy case advertises the school’s many athletic triumphs. After a zigzag through the locker room, we enter the pool area. It’s warm and sultry, too warm for winter coats. Though empty and quiet, you can almost hear the din of kids competing in a swim meet. Along the walls are school banners and signs with sayings such as, “I promise to be safe in and out of the water.” The pool no longer has a high diving board. A standard one does the trick.
The pool stays open 11 months of the year, closing in August.
Art and Older Kids
Our return trip takes us to the occupational-therapy room, where kids get physical support and services to improve flexibility, hand/eye coordination, fine motor coordination, and muscle tone. A fifth-grader gets help tying his shoes. Outside the room are mobility devices and wheelchairs.
In a fifth-grade classroom we observe how the class is divided into groups or “centers.” Some students even sit on the floor to discuss the topic at hand.
The older kids are a flight up. We stop in at an 8th grade technology class. Makowski advises them to “act normal.” You can already see the confident high-school swagger in these students, who will be going on to BHS, High Tech, County Prep, St. Dom’s, and Saint Peter’s Prep, among other area high schools.
Last stop, the art room. This is one of the most pleasing spaces in the school because it is on the top floor with lots of light and views of Bayonne’s cityscape. There’s a general feeling of hubbub as students work on their projects.
Makowski is a Bayonne native who attended the Vroom School and graduated from Bayonne High School. He went on to Pace University in New York City, where he studied business management and earned a degree in Business Administration.
But the business track wasn’t doing it for Makowski. “I’d played baseball and coached kids at Bayonne High School in junior varsity baseball,” he says. “I wanted to be a manager; I wanted to be in charge.”
He enrolled in what was then St. Peter’s College to get the credits he needed to be an educator, and the rest is history. He’s been at Lincoln Community for five years.
He’d like the older students to be role models. Principal Makowski teaches “respect for all—students, staff, and family. You should give and get respect.”—Kate Rounds .