Students at Coolidge Corner School reflect on changes


Mia Thompson

Students trickle into the Coolidge Corner School, once named the Edward Devotion School. The temporary name has sparked conversations, with students having a voice in deciding the new name.

Renata Shen, News Editor

In his 1744 will, Edward Devotion donated his estate to the Town of Brookline. Scattered between land holdings, livestock and household goods, Devotion’s property inventory included a human being.

“1 Negrow,” the will said. Devotion valued his slave at 30 pounds sterling, or $38 U.S.

Although Devotion’s slave owner status is on public record, Brookline residents did not seriously consider renaming Edward Devotion Elementary School until last year. In a May meeting, members of Brookline Town Meeting voted to officially change the name.

Until a permanent name is decided, Devotion is temporarily known as the Coolidge Corner School (CCS). This year’s name change to CCS, as well as the reopening of the renovated school building, have drawn a variety of opinions from students.

Seventh grader Elan Lipton sees both sides of the argument.

“{Devotion} owned slaves; that’s just wrong. And it might be teaching kids of a younger age the wrong message, that they’re graduating from a slave owner’s {school},” Lipton said. “{But} Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, and we remember him as a great hero.”

7th grader Emeri Shende-Ruiz firmly supports the name change. Shende-Ruiz believes his racial identity influences his opinion.

“I don’t think that a public school with many different races should have the name of a slave owner,” Shende-Ruiz said. “My ancestors were slaves, and I don’t want to have my school be named after someone who could have treated my ancestors so badly.”

As a white student, Lipton acknowledges that the name Devotion doesn’t affect him as much as it might students of color.

“I’ll never have the same experience as an African-American person knowing that you were going to school named after a man that owned slave,” Lipton said.

Eighth grader Alex Levy believes the name change erases the history that accompanies Devotion’s era.

“{Town Meeting} changed the name just to act like they were being more progressive, but in reality, they changed history in the wrong types of ways,” Levy said. “I’m not saying we should name the school after {Devotion}, but I think we should still honor his memory. He created this school.”

According to a Town Meeting draft of the naming process, CCS students and other town residents have an opportunity to submit names before a nominations committee, comprising of 12 students and additional CCS staff members, review the submitted names.

Clinical social worker and CCS parent Hannah Margolis wanted to ensure that the town recognized the students’ interest through the naming process.

“While kids are really resilient and adaptive, they should really have a say in what the name change is,” Margolis said. “And they should really understand why this is happening.”

Lipton believes that the 12 students on the nominations committee isn’t enough.

“If only {12} students get to decide, those {12} students might not take into account everybody’s personalities or preferences,” Lipton said. “I think the whole school has to vote.”

Lipton acknowledged the finality of the town’s decision but wished that the whole student body was involved.

“Sometimes you have to let the adults decide. But when it comes to actually changing the name, the kids should decide. Because they are the ones who are going to be graduating from here, they are the ones whose siblings are going to be graduating here, and if they stay in Brookline, maybe their kids will graduate from here too,” Lipton said.

Margolis hopes that CCS students take advantage of this chance to be part of history.

“This is an awesome opportunity for kids to have a say and have a voice,” Margolis said.

Levy added that some students still resist the name change, despite the town’s decision.

“A lot of the students were recommending ‘Devo’ for the new name,” Levy said.

Shende-Ruiz hopes that the school’s new name will honor a prominent African-American.

“There was this African-American woman who lived in Brookline, who was a slave in Brookline, and escaped,“ Shende-Ruiz said. “Her name was Ellen Craft.”

Unlike the name change, nearly all students agree that the new building is a step up from the previous Upper Devotion and Lower Devotion schools. Margolis’ daughter and 4th grader Ada Goldstein said that the new building was easier to navigate.

“{In Lower Devotion} you had to climb six or seven flights to get all the way up to your floor and into your class,” Goldstein said.

The new building includes a cafeteria that can seat 300 students and three floors spread over a sprawling campus. However, despite the convenience of the new design, the new school can feel somewhat alien to students.

“It just feels weird to be an 8th grader not knowing the school by heart and the kindergartners knowing even a little bit more than me,” Levy said.

According to Lipon, CCS doesn’t feel quite the same as Devotion. There’s a certain quality of school pride that the new building hasn’t been able to capture.

“All of my Devo merch in my room is now antique. They’re not selling them anymore; they’re selling CCS merch, which is not the same,” Lipton said.

Even with the new name and building, students feel like the school’s values have not changed.

“It’s a big change, but the teachers keep it warm, and it still feels like a community,” Levy said.