Children learned arithmetic and geography at Rev. Joseph Gogolewski’s school.
They also learned the Polish language — this was at St. Adalbert’s in Schenectady, a parish full of Polish-speaking people.
Albany Pro Musica: City of Immigrants Concert
WHEN: 4 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, 30 Second St. Troy
HOW MUCH: $35-$15
MORE INFO: 273-0038, wwwtroymusichall.org
Robert R. Pascucci, who researched the experiences of Italian and Polish immigrant children during the early 1900s, spoke about their early classroom events last weekend at the Schenectady County Historical Society.
The lecture was one of several events leading up to Albany Pro Musica’s “City of Immigrants” concert this Sunday at 4 p.m. at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. Other events included a discussion on the history of Albany’s Rapp Road community and television presentations (on WMHT-TV) on the “Irish Catskills” and Italian-Americans of New York and New Jersey.
Sunday’s concert, through music and dance, will celebrate the diverse cultures that have helped shape the Capital Region.
“In general, we’re honoring some of these cultures that came to make this place what it is,” said José Daniel Flores-Caraballo, artistic and executive director for Albany Pro Musica, who attended the lecture.
“We’ll have a presentation of music from the Dutch, the Germans, Hispanics, English and some others. We’ll finish with a homage to American composers who are in essence composers who have been influenced by Polish and Italian composers. We will have music from all these places.”
Music, Flores-Caraballo believes, reflects an area’s history.
“I think it’s essential that we embrace the history that makes this place so special,” he said. “When I was coming here to this job I did some research and I was quite impressed with the rich history of this place. In particular, I read that Albany was known as a city of immigrants.”
Pascucci is an expert on school days and younger immigrants in Schenectady schools. A retired educator who received his Ph.D in history at the University at Albany, he wrote his dissertation on Italian and Polish immigrants from the 1880s until 1930.
The late 1890s, he said, was a boom time for Schenectady. The arrival of the Edison works (later General Electric) and the resurgence of Schenectady’s locomotive industry required a huge labor force. People traveling from Europe to the new country filled the jobs.
Pascucci said that in 1900, 3,825 children were enrolled in Schenectady schools. By 1910 and 1921, the numbers were 10,794 and 15,597, respectively. With growth, came problems. He said a 1908 survey found overcrowded conditions, a reliance on substitute teachers and poorly equipped schools.
He said St. Mary’s and St. Adalbert’s elementary schools were quickly established for Polish families; at St. Adalbert’s, he said, the church and school were built the same year — 1903. The first school designed for mostly Italian pupils was not built until St. Anthony’s School was constructed in 1958. Our Lady of Mount Carmel School would provide a second option for Italian families in 1960.
Pascucci said some early students would leave St. Adalbert’s after the third grade, shortly after First Communion ceremonies. They might transfer to a public school or leave school to work.
Gogolewski believed the children received a skimpy religious education at home: “That’s why he wanted them to remain for the full six-year program,” Pascucci said, adding that the school eventually added two more grades for an eight-year elementary education.
Gogolewski, Pascucci added, also insisted the Polish language be spoken often in school, and some parts of the school curriculum were taught in both English and Polish. Religious leaders loved the idea, but by 1916, local leaders were not so sure.
Bishop Thomas Cusack, then Bishop of Albany, said children had to know English to learn a living in the United States; he was not a proponent of children beginning their educations in a foreign tongue.
Parents, Pascucci said, would remove their children from the school and transfer them to public schools to save tuition money, and take advantage of a broader curriculum and more extracurricular activities.
Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at [email protected] or @jeffwilkin1 on Twitter. His blog is at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/wilkin.