The works of 19th-century poet Eugene Field have found a home in the school in Normal named for him. Books to Benefit, a local nonprofit, recently presented a collection of Field’s writings to Administrator Jane Collins. Books to Benefit accepts donated books and through its semi-annual sales raises monies to support literacy programs in the community. Their secondary mission is to preserve rare and special books by placing them in appropriate collections where they will be properly preserved, used, and appreciated.
The Unit Five school was opened in 1936-37 as a WPA Project and was named in honor of children’s poet Eugene Field (1850-1895) who is perhaps best known for his poems “The Duel” (The Gingham Dog and Calico Cat), “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod,” and “Little Boy Blue.” In addition to writing poetry for children, Field was a skilled journalist who became both an editor and writer for several Midwest newspapers, including those in St. Louis, Kansas City, Denver, and, finally, Chicago. His Chicago Daily News humorous column titled “Sharps and Flats” secured his journalist fame. At least five other elementary schools in Illinois are also named in his honor. In 2016, Field was inducted into the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame.
Books to Benefit was pleased to place a four-volume, vintage set of Field’s works with Eugene Field School. Published in 1920 as part of a twelve-volume set, these books include his Poems of Childhood with its tribute from Indiana poet James Whitcomb Riley. The volume titled Songs and Other Verse, first published in 1896, the year after Field’s death, still had uncut pages. Collins noted that a portrait of Field is displayed in their hallway and that these books will be a good addition to enhancing the history of the school.
The educational focus at Eugene Field School has changed since its founding. Today, it serves a population of about fifty differently abled students who face physical, emotional, and learning challenges and offers them training in life skills to help prepare them for successful, independent living. Collins explained that the students are high school age but that one program offered at the school includes those ages 18 to 21. This Transition Program provides intensive training in real-life settings with emphasis on independent skills. In addition, the Vocational Center provides short and long-term training experiences with highly individualized goals for its students. An Adapted Learning Program, established in 1987 by Unit 5 Special Education teachers and staff, creates an individualized transition plan for each student while keeping the same academic standards as those of the Unit Five high schools.
Eugene Field would surely be pleased that his work graces the halls of a school devoted to serving children. He was, after all, considered “the poet of childhood.”
Books to Benefit is located at 360 Wylie Drive and is open each Wednesday and Saturday from 10-2 to receive donated books, or books may be placed in drop boxes located at the YWCA and the Wesley United Methodist Church in Bloomington. The next book sale will be June 6-9. More information can be found at the website, Books2Benefit.com.