“Harriet the Spy” sat at her desk in fifth grade at Crow Island School in 1979. At least that’s what her teacher, Mary Mumbrue, decided all those years ago. “Mrs. Mumbrue was teaching the book to our class,” says Lauren Rein, the former fifth grader, referring to the children’s book by Louise Fitzhugh. “She looked at me and said, ‘You are Harriet the Spy.’ It stuck with me. I was only 10 years old, and my teacher was able to call out what I was going to be good at.”
“Crow Island shaped me into who I am right now,” says Lauren. “I went to school feeling like I was a superstar. It was a very motivational time in my life because I was always feeling encouraged and capable.”
Although she’s long since put away her spyglasses, Lauren does admit she has an innate curiosity, which enables her to pursue her passion: Finding and connecting people. That passion is the ticket to making her current quest a success: Discovering and bringing home to Crow Island School every living person who attended over the last 75 years.
School Principal Julie Pfeffer says that there are three goals for inviting Crow Island’s Alumni to Winnetka for the October 2-4 long weekend of activities. “We want to bring back the alumni and give them an opportunity to connect with each other and enjoy their school, “ Julie says. “We certainly want to celebrate the 75th anniversary. Finally, we want to have a new vehicle to raise funds for some of the significant architectural features of Crow Island.”
Built in 1940, the school’s concept and design was novel. “In the design process, the architect worked in collaboration with the school community,” Julie says. “So the students, teachers, and community people were all consulted to find what would be the best learning environment for children.”
When Crow Island’s doors opened, kids walked in to find that the light switches and chalkboards (among many other features) were at their eye level. Every classroom had its own larger L-shaped meeting area, a smaller workspace, three walls of windows, a bathroom, and an entrance to a private courtyard outside. “There are all sorts of little design features throughout the building that are made for a child’s environment,” Julie says.
Recalling that access to the outdoors brings back strong memories. “The courtyards had seating so we were allowed to have class outside in nice weather,” says Lauren. “There were woods in the back where you could hide out and play. It was so awesome.”
The unique architectural features (by the firm Perkins, Wheeler, and Will collaborating with architect Eero Saarinen) have drawn applause and recognition from all over the world and earned Crow Island its U.S. National Historic Landmark status for its 50th anniversary in 1990. To this day, professional architects and students walk around the building marveling at its design foresight. “We have architects coming from Japan, Poland, England, and Germany,” says Julie. “Students and professors from local schools of architecture visit often also.”
As principal during this milestone in the school’s history, Julie believes the school design is as relevant today as it was 75 years ago.
“It speaks to the amount of attention we pay to the whole child,” she says. “I tell new parents that the L-Shaped classroom design with a bathroom and courtyard helps to create community. Also, offering a workspace to children to have messy or ongoing projects is important. It’s part of our school design, and it’s part of our school philosophy.”
Now Lauren (a.k.a. Harriet the Spy) is calling Crow Island Alumni to recall their fond classroom memories and get into a reunion state of mind. “The school gave me and so many others a fabulous way to start life,” she says. “I’d like us to be able to relive that together.”
Did you attend Crow Island? Connect with your classmates here: crowisland75th.wordpress.com