By Sarah Ellen Berman • Photo by Isabel Greenberg
For Lyndall Boal, the tireless, dedicated social worker who divides her time between Bell and Seven Bridges Middle Schools, this Mother’s Day is a time of anticipation and reflection. After 24 years in the school system, she has decided to retire at the end of the academic year. Boal is looking forward to sharing many special moments with her family and wistfully looking back on her tenure in Chappaqua and the heartwarming times spent with her young adult students.
The celebration of Mother’s Day is a year-round event in Boal’s family. Gatherings occur frequently at her second home in Vermont and every opportunity to be together is relished. “My kids and I are very connected,” Boal noted. Last summer, she took the clan up in a hot air balloon to the sheer delight of her five grandchildren. During the year, Boal is constantly running off to attend her grandchildren’s sporting events. When her son Peter, the artistic director of the Pacific Northwest Ballet, implored her to come see a performance of “Don Quixote” recently, she heeded the call. She can also be found in the Boston area visiting her daughter, Jennifer, a magistrate judge.
One only has to enter into the space Boal inhabits at Seven Bridges to understand the positive influence she has had on so many young adults in the community. In this space, never referred to as an office, but instead as Mrs. Boal’s room, students congregate as they arrive in the morning and again at lunchtime. Nestled on couches, they exchange greetings and take turns reading aloud “The Maze Runner,” the current selection of their book club.
A humongous bulletin board is filled with mementos and thank you notes. “I keep everything the kids give me,” Boal said. In one drawer of her desk, she keeps the original blueprints for the skate park drawn up by one of her fans.
The design of the room is deliberate and purposeful. Gesturing toward the guitars and skateboards left by former “Boalers” – the name adopted by her acolytes, Boal described the environment: “This makes the kids feel comfortable, validated and safe. They can park their worries here and go out and learn.” “I get such joy out of this work,” she continued.
Boal effectively applies the principles of social work in the middle schools. She begins by ascertaining “what a child is passionate about,” and proceeds to build on this interest. “The self-esteem goes up. Then they do much better in math, science and social studies,” she observed.
Boal encourages her students to follow their dreams and supports them every step of the way. When a Boaler heard about an organization called Presents for Pets, she stopped by the room to consult Boal. Flyers were created and posted and fellow students brought in food for needy pets owned by senior citizens.
After attending a production of the ballet, “Coppélia,” at age eight, Boal’s son Peter declared that he wanted to become a dancer. Boal investigated opportunities and took him to an audition at the School of American Ballet. Peter went on to become a member of the New York City Ballet. “Talk about finding a passion and encouraging it!” Boal exclaimed.
Boal is also the champion of The Entertainers, a group comprised of students from both schools who perform variety acts at elder-care facilities in the area. This activity provides the children with a platform to shine. Boal noted that several of the participants are children with special needs who relish the recognition. Boal related that when one of these students heard the applause, “the kid just beamed.”
Boal is very involved with New Castle CARES. She has enlisted many young people to serve with her in this coalition. When several Boalers expressed their interest in having a skate park in town, Boal was ready to help. The students presented their ideas to the recreation department and provided guidance during the planning phase. “I have to compliment these kids,” Boal said. “They became part of the democratic process in town.”
In March of this year, Boal received the Ed Habermann award from the Horace Greeley Scholarship Fund in recognition of her dedication to improving the lives of young people in the community. Many former students returned from college and beyond to sing her praises at the Fund’s annual event.
Michael Abemayor, a graduate of the class of 2009, addressed his remarks to Boal. “It wasn’t just a job to you,” he said. “It was family.” He went on to recount a humorous anecdote. “Remember the time I put the phone in the ceiling?” he asked. Abemayor appreciated the fact that even when questions were posed at the time as to the nature and perpetrator of the prank, Boal remained mum. This sentiment expressed precisely the strength of the alliance forged by Boal with young adults in the community.
Former student, 31-year-old Elizabeth Cosgriff, was also present at the event. After a successful career in the financial services industry, Cosgriff has decided to follow her passion and become a social worker. She is currently interning with Boal at Bell.
After the accolades, Boal took the floor to deliver her acceptance speech. She then turned to the audience and called each student up by name to share the limelight. After some coaxing (in characteristic Boal fashion), several members of her family joined the group. It was Boal’s turn to beam as she gazed upon all her children.
Sarah Ellen Berman appreciates the way in which this social worker empowers young adults in the hamlet.