Thirty-five years ago, his class buried a time capsule. Now a former Lewiston teacher looks back on the best years of her teaching career
LEWISTON — It has been 35 years since Chloe Giampaolo’s fourth-grade class buried a time capsule outside Montello Elementary School on East Avenue.
Thirty-five years since a 1987 Guinness Book of World Records, a map of Lewiston and Auburn, a photo album, several letters and more have been sealed, lying in wait.
And there, the capsule will remain for another 15 years until 2037, when students and staff will unearth the ordinary treasures left to them by 23 fourth-grade students in 1987.
In a ceremony recorded by his son, Giampaolo’s students stood up one by one to read their letter to the Montello students of 2037. The letter described simple aspects of their daily lives: their style of dress, their favorite foods, popular music and the common schoolyard. Games.
But the letter delves deeper, expressing the students’ fears, ones that remain remarkably similar to today’s concerns.
“Have you solved the pollution problem? asked the children. “The threat of nuclear war terrifies us,” they added. “We’re afraid that while we’re at school there might be missiles flying overhead right now.”
“We are afraid that our fathers or our brothers will be forced to return to war. We remember people who went to Vietnam and never came back.
The letter was written entirely by his students, Giampaolo said, and every element was chosen with care. His students called companies and knocked on doors to collect all the elements needed for the capsule. A local funeral director donated the wooden coffin to protect the capsule, a metal cylinder no more than 3 feet tall.
“I never pushed anything on my kids,” she said. “I would discuss things with them and tell them that you know those are the possibilities of what we could do, but I always left it to my students to decide if they wanted to do it.”
At the end of the ceremony, each of their class released letters into the sky attached to balloons.
“We need to understand our past as we look to the future because it can help us make decisions. And I think those kids made a lot of good decisions,” Giampaolo said.
Inside and outside the classroom, Giampaolo is a remarkable woman. She has a master’s degree from Morgan State University, a historically black public university, has written six books and has traveled to all seven continents.
No other school gave him the freedom and support to go beyond the established curriculum than the administrators of Monetello.
“I had the best teaching of my career here in Lewiston at Montello Elementary,” she said.
While Montello’s time capsule may be the most enduring endeavor of Giampaolo’s 30-year teaching career, it was by no means her only notable undertaking. During the half-dozen years she taught at Montello in the 1980s, Giampaolo students made headlines for a number of experiential learning projects.
In 1985, Montello’s entire fourth-grade class participated in Maine Native American Day, an event hosted by Giampaolo. Students learned about Maine’s indigenous culture and heritage from 15 youth and four adults from the Penobscot Nation who came to Montello for the day.
At the time, Giampaolo said she came up with the idea because she was “dissatisfied with the Maine Indian material” while teaching Maine history to her students, according to the Lewiston Journal.
“Our kids are growing up with so many stereotypes,” she shared in 1985. “The main focus of the program is to unlearn stereotypes.”
One of his classes wrote about their three main fears – death, divorce and nuclear disaster – which was later published in book form by the Geiger brothers. She has also partnered with Bates College in Lewiston to bring her students to the school’s science labs for hands-on learning in geology, biology, chemistry, astronomy and physics.
“When I could see a change in a student, not just, you know, what they were doing in terms of schoolwork, but even emotionally,” she said. “Look at the child as a whole and see things change. Watching a child switch from one way of thinking to another was very important to me.
She left Montello in 1988 for a better paying position in Maryland. But she quickly quits the profession of writer because her new school does not allow her to teach as she did in Montello.
“Children don’t come to school to learn how to pass an exam,” she says. “My kids (in Montello) used to look at the clock and say, ‘Oh, hell, three. We have to go home already. You know, they wanted to be there.
“Tom Hood was the best director I could have had, of all the different directors I’ve had in my life,” she added. “He was very encouraging and very cooperative in many ways.”
In 2037, few will remember Montello as it was in the 1980s. Giampaolo’s fourth-grade students will be 60 years old, give or take a year.
“I’ll be an old lady!” said Danielle Smith. In 1987, she was 11, according to The Lewiston Journal.
Although marked by a granite stone, Giampaolo sometimes worries that the community forgets the time capsule. Although she probably won’t live to see the day it is discovered, she hopes some of her former students will be there to celebrate their work.
“I’m very, very proud of them,” Giampaolo said. “I may never see them again. But, you know, they will always be close to my heart.
Maine likely won’t see a big impact from the High Court’s ruling on religious schools