Elsie, Mel and me.

Spring term at The Wheatley School was not the typical mainstream senior year for me. What happened impacted my life and was the source of much pride and a constant reminder of the greatest experience anyone could have; to be fully self expressed, except for Saturday night May 15th that is.

Spring. Thank God for baseball; football and class elections distant memories and then, there was Barbara Johnstone! Oh my God, the most incredible girl in the world; she had a convertible, the long white scarf flowing and a smile that made you feel like you were the “one”, remember? All good.

Prior to that term, I didn’t feel like the “one” as a matter of fact I felt more like one-half, actually I arrived at Wheatley in my junior year so that made me half a wildcat too. The academic half of my life was miserable. I was surrounded by high achieving classmates destined for ivy and despite homework help from a loving sister, I felt like a looser. Crying myself to sleep with failure and incompleteness, my last conscious thoughts, shaping who I was; not good.

The Bodnar English class and 1000 words, a 1000 words, about some Shakespeare tragedy and earlier that term, from administration, “You have a free period to fill this term and hall monitor is out of the question, how about Mechanical Drawing?” More not good.

Miss Bodnar, always impeccably dressed and more than slightly dramatic listened carefully as I pleaded, pleaded for permission to build a Globe Theatre model in place of the dreaded essay; she agreed, though not really sure of what to expect. (I talked to her on the phone a few months ago about that decision; another story) I did the work and my academic life came alive as most of you were treading water in our little pond. Bodnar’s class got to hear about and see up close, a detailed scale model of the theatre; it completely covered the top of a card table and stood about three feet high. The finished scale model, the product of weeks of research and construction, detailed the relationships of components required for the functional needs of all the dramatic productions including the “groundlings sitting area, the trap doors, the balcony for Juliet and the back stage areas; a three dimensional picture worth thousands of words and best of all, a great grade. The same request to build a model was approved by Mr. Rosenstein to take the place of the big Chemistry term paper with similar excellent results. This time a model of an oil refinery covered 4 feet by 8 feet of space, a full sheet of plywood. Squeezable Baby bottles sent vegetable dyed liquids whooshing through transparent tubing to illustrate the transformation of crude to 80 octane gas; fun.

Mechanical Drawing? It’s cake for the three dimensional mind and the periods flew by and I flew through three more Mechanical Drawing courses that spring term plus two more invented by Mr. Cautella, just for me. Barbara Johnstone, my class ring now on her necklace, would poke her head into the drafting room as she passed by or waved from outside the window and mostly, whenever she could, hang out watching me put pen and ink to hundreds of “plates”. “A” after “A” after ”A”. I was on fire and while papering the schools' lobby with my work for honors day, Mr. Cautella suggested architecture for a career.

I married Barbara on the way to my Bachelors of Architecture. I have told this story before and some time ago Barbara confessed to hanging around the drafting room because she had a crush on Cautella. So, where would Chuck Napoli be if that “free period” was in another subject or if further project-based learning granted by Elsie and Mel tweaked other interests? That I don't know, but I do know that learning through self expression will empower our kids and generate a powerful future for America.

I learned first hand that successful learning is designed; high academic achievement is the result. The “theatre model” lesson plan was my design born out of my need to be me, the constructor, unique for 1960; mechanical drawing was not in the academic plan it was just good luck that uncovered a talent. Looking good for Barbara was always the plan and proved that showing off assures the highest degree of academic effort; thanks for the memories.

Warmest regards,
Chuck #11