MANCHESTER — If it weren't for some of 19th-century educator Francis Wayland Parker's changes to education — letting teachers design their own curriculum and freeing them to determine how they would discipline their students — Samuel Vaal might never have heard a saying that continues to motivate him.
Now a 16-year-old junior at Manchester High School West, Vaal recalls a teacher saying: "If you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room."
It was then the October Francis Wayland Parker Scholar decided to take Level 4 classes.
"It got me so organized," said Vaal, who has a 3.63 average and is 14th in his class at West.
He's now planning to major in criminal justice and minor in creative writing, hopefully at Northeastern University in Boston.
His grandfather is the inspiration for the criminal justice major. The late Gilbert Vaal was a Manchester police officer. He also served as a police commissioner, chief of security at the Mall of New Hampshire and Hillsborough County Superior Court chief court officer. The senior Vaal retired from the court in 2002.
Vaal said he never tired of hearing his grandfather talk about his work.
"I could listen for hours," he said.
Vaal said Parker's changes, though radical at the time, seem so reasonable now: allowing teachers to adjust their teaching methods to accommodate both those who learn at a slower pace and those who need extra stimulation.Vaal also admires the Bedford native's willingness, or perhaps, eagerness to travel to schools to make sure that needed changes were being made, helping teachers change their methods and their material, if needed.
The Francis Wayland Parker Scholar program is sponsored by the New Hampshire Association of School Principals, in cooperation with the New Hampshire Union Leader, Lifetouch Studios and the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Northern New England.