It is his first day of teaching and Robert Bushell finishes writing the classroom rules on the blackboard before the 38 fifth graders file in for their first day of school.
Raise your hand, use your indoor voice, and keep your hands to yourself are just a few things Bushell used on that first day at Park Elementary.
Forty-five years later those rules are still important in every classroom, but Bushell has watched the education system change dramatically. He has seen it through the eyes of a teacher, a principal and as the director of elementary education for the past 24 years.
Robert “Bob” Bushell is retiring as director of elementary education this August after a long and successful career in Warwick’s public school system. He began teaching 45 years ago at Park Elementary School, and then served as principal for six years at Lippitt Elementary.
A self-proclaimed “project boy” from South Providence, Bushell knew early on he wanted to be a teacher. In high school, at La Salle, Bushell was looking into becoming a Christian Brother and enjoyed working with young kids. He was the first in his family to graduate from college. He graduated from Rhode Island College.
He was always interested in elementary education because students are so excited to learn at that age.
“Every day is a new day,” Bushell said. “It is uplifting and upbeat to be in a elementary classroom and elementary building. The students’ eyes are wide open.”
“Education for me was a godsend,” Bushell said.
And although the education system has changed around him, Bushell still has the same belief in education.
“To educate a child,” Bushell said, “is to do your best as an educator to instill confidence in children so they can reach their full potential to do well throughout school, their social lives, when they go off to higher education and as community members.”
Bushell believes he is lucky to have worked with many amazing teachers, principals and administrators throughout his time in the Warwick school system that exemplified his ideals of education.
He said, “A great teacher is worth their weight in gold.”
Through his time in the public school system, Bushell has watched standardized testing go “overboard,” frustrating kids more than assessing them.
He has also seen the school system go from about 19,000 students to about 9,000, and from 20 schools down to 16, but he sees the silver lining in declining enrollment.
“Yes, we are losing numbers, but we have kept good class sizes and numbers. We have more individualized teaching with smaller classes. I had more time to interact with each principal to make sure they were motivated to run exceptional staff development.”
He also believes that the inclusion and special education programs have flourished over time and Warwick’s program is “second to none.”
“We want to see them in our schools and give them the support here so they don’t have to go to another program or district to get that support,” Bushell said. “It is important that those kids receive the same socialization and educational opportunities as everyone else. I have always been a big supporter of the special education program; you really just watch the kids blossom in our programs.”
Bushell has also been a big supporter of full day kindergarten, especially with the implementation of the common core. He said two-and-a-half hours is not enough time for students to get to all that needs to be done.
“The old first grade curriculum is now the kindergarten one. They are expected to do and learn so much in a short amount of time. Not to mention kids need time to play. Kindergarten is essential for these kids to develop their social skills, and with the common core there is not enough time for the kids to get that,” Bushell said.
He also thanked the parents of Warwick and all the support they have shown not only himself, but the entire school system.
“Parents are the first teachers students ever have and their support is necessary throughout a child’s educational life,” he said.
Now looking toward retirement, after years of being a male figure for the students of Warwick, Bushell plans to spend a lot of time with his own children and grandchildren.
He also volunteered with People to People as a chaperone to travel with students around the world for nine years. In retirement he hopes to begin traveling the world again. He wants to return to Europe but is very interested in traveling to Australia.
“You know what makes it all worth it?” Bushell said. “When you see a student years after living a successful life. Or when a parent sees me out of the classroom or office and says I made a difference in their child’s life. You know your doing something worthwhile. It’s been a good journey. I loved coming into work every day.”