Playground as Palimpsest: Criss-Crossing Memories through Time and Space

Commemorating an iconic location on Brownell’s campus that soon will be irrevocably altered.
Playground as Palimpsest: Criss-Crossing Memories through Time and Space
Upper and Middle School students reflect on the time they’ve spent on the playground, what they’ll miss most about the current playground area, and what they hope for future generations of BT students who will make memories in new spaces.

On September 17, 1863, Brownell Talbot opened its doors to the world. Since then, a number of generations have passed through the school, taking on the rigorous education that is presented at BT. The memories each community holds and the remembrance of the happenings in the school’s buildings are special for each student, whether it’s laughing until their stomachs hurt at the lunch tables or breaking down in tears in a math classroom. There are many spots on campus that one might regard as a “palimpsest,” which originally referred to a type of parchment used and reused in early instances of writing, but now has a more metaphorical meaning when applied to a place that has gathered layer after layer of memories by those individuals and groups whose lives and stories have criss-crossed through the generations. In the coming weeks, months, and years, many of these places will be torn down and taken away: individual classrooms, hallways decorated with artwork, the Lower School gym and library, among many others. 

The memorable is that which can be dreamed about a place.

— Michel de Certeau

But more importantly, the joyous and creative experiences made on the Lower School playground seemingly fade away as the playground will be moved to the field this upcoming summer. Such a change affects playground enjoyment for students as the location it currently stands in is extra special for many. In the past few years, the BT community has come to know of the construction the school will soon undergo, forever marking a shift in not only the look of the campus but also the reminiscence of good times on the unforgettable playground.

For Brownell Talbot, transparency on the project is a top priority and the plans and timeline can all be seen on the official website. The student body was informed on the project and given time to process the dramatic changes that will happen on campus. The major transformations that will happen will include the demolition of the lower school building, the reconstruction of lower school spaces and community centers, a new front office, and an updated cafeteria and eating system. To continue normal schooling during this multi-year project, many lower school classrooms will be moved onto the practice field as temporary pod learning spaces. This area will be known as Raiderville. As expected, there will be some changes to daily school life while there is construction, such as adjustments to drop-off and pick up as well as parking for staff and upper school students. None of this, however, will likely affect the learning happening at this academic institution. One concern around the school campus is where the early years children will play outdoors, since there won’t be a playground space available.

In this place that is a palimpsest, subjectivity is already linked to absence that structures it as existence and makes it ‘be there’.

— Michel de Certeau

Playgrounds are a pillar to a child’s development. As we grow to be young adults we hold some of our best memories on the swings, going rapidly down a slide or running through wood chips that stick onto our socks. We all have a favorite playground we receive nostalgia from and the lower school playground serves as that to many of our BT’s current students. The removal of the playground can be seen upsetting to some because there is an emotional attachment some hold to it. The playground is not seen as just a property to students, it’s seen as a reminiscence.  

The playground is the heart of a school, where friendships bloom, emotions are explored, and imaginations take flight. It’s more than just play; it’s where children learn invaluable social skills, emotional resilience, and the joy of creative expression. As the campus transforms, it’s important to remember that the memories made on the playground endure, even if the physical space changes. It’s an experience, not just a set location, shaping children’s education and growth.

— Mrs. Rohrig

Upper school students, although some will have graduated by the time the project is completed, will also benefit. Many are looking forward to the new dining room system. Currently it takes about half of the lunch period to get all the students through the line and hopefully the new system is more efficient and makes eating more enjoyable. The remodeled front office and community spaces is also something to look forward to as upper and middle school students. Overall, these improvements will drastically improve the daily movement and life at Brownell Talbot School.

Listen to more memories here!

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