Students of maverick educator Ted DeMuro, who died Sept. 26, are digging up memories of the man they say turned them on to learning in a way no one other teacher did.
“No school I went to taught anything like Doc did,” Roy Curry recalled of the educator his former students refer to by his affectionate nickname.
Late Tuesday afternoon, with daylight fading, Curry and a handful of other former students and friends of DeMuro gathered at the rear of Westdale Middle School in Baton Rouge armed with shovels and a pickax and began digging. They were looking for a metal box, a time capsule, buried in the ground in spring 1994 when they were eighth-graders.
The students plan to open it at a memorial service planned Sunday afternoon at Phil Brady’s Bar, 4848 Government St., one of DeMuro’s favorite hangouts.
First, though, they have to find it. They plan to try again later this week.
“If it’s there, we’ll find it,” promised Ricardo Alvares, a friend of DeMuro.
The capsule was buried next to a small, tin-roof covered concrete square that used to bear the weight of a kiln. In this kiln, students made bricks and art pieces, some of which were used on a large monument spelling Westdale that stood for two decades in front of the middle school but was torn down to make way for the fire station that’s there now.
On Tuesday, they dug on one side of the former kiln, and then tried the opposite side. They tried to recall where it might be. DeMuro, they recalled, had them stand in the center of one edge and then gave them a set of directions.
“He said, ‘Step over, step over, step out,” Curry recalled.
But after digging a second hole at the spot suggested by those long-ago directions, the metal box buried 20 years ago still eluded them. They decided to call it quits for the night.
Adolph Myers recalled fondly how different school was when DeMuro was teaching. From the mid-’80s to the mid-’90s, he taught art at Westdale. His work there grew into a program called The Community, which focused on troubled students; the group has started a Facebook page.
“They called it The Community but it was actually more like a family,” Myers said.
Curry said DeMuro remembered him because he was a kid who was constantly getting in trouble and running his mouth, which didn’t faze DeMuro.
Burying the time capsule was Doc’s idea, to commemorate the students’ time at Westdale before they went on to high school.
“I have no idea what’s in there,” Curry said.
After leaving Westdale, DeMuro founded two charter schools. The first one, established in 1997, was Community School for Apprenticeship Learning, or CSAL; its middle school is still in operation. The other, a high school named East Baton Rouge Arts and Technology School, or EBRATS, was in operation from 2001 to 2007.
DeMuro courted controversy throughout his career and was finally pushed out of both schools in 2004. Combative, DeMuro had waged lengthy, losing battles over test scores and teacher certification with the state and the local school system, which authorized the two schools. He ended up leaving the state and moving back to where he grew up in Boston. There he reconnected with and married his middle school girlfriend, Heather. He died in Boston after a long bout with throat cancer.
Sunday’s memorial at Phil Brady’s is scheduled from 3:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.