Full Circle in Holmes Foster

By |Published On: February 27, 2024|

Exciting news! This newsletter is a guest post by local writer and educator David Rockower. We hope you enjoy it!

The author in the 1980’s, pausing for a photo during the Holmes Foster Easter Egg Hunt

My parents moved to State College in 1976, when I was just 4 years old. At the time, we were a family of four in an oversized historic home just blocks from Penn State University. Little did we know that, over the next two decades, we would become a family of 9 and fill most of the rooms in our house. My love for State College started early. It didn’t take long for my brother and I to meet our neighborhood crew; in no time, we were riding our Big Wheels through the alleys, racing to one another’s houses. We played flashlight tag, runners and searchers, kickball, and wiffleball. My backyard was a mini baseball diamond, the grass worn away between bases. A flyball through the pine trees and over the playhouse was an automatic homerun.

The entire neighborhood was our playground and we used every inch of it. Holmes Foster Park had climbing equipment, wacky swings, a basketball court, and towering slides. Community field offered wide open spaces for football games, kite flying, and sledding. After our parents raked the fall leaves, we launched ourselves from ropes and tree limbs, disappearing into the prodigious piles. When we became Star Wars obsessed, we built (with the help of a parent or two) a playhouse in the shape of an AT-AT walker. We could actually shoot tennis balls from its “guns.” If we could imagine it, we played it or built it. Every day was an opportunity for exploration, discovery, and play.

I don’t know when I realized that my childhood was idyllic. Maybe it wasn’t until my wife and I were ready to have our own children, and we started thinking about what we wanted for them. When our children were born, we lived just outside of State College. I knew that I wanted to move back to the Holmes Foster neighborhood. It took some time, but in 2019 we purchased a house in my old neighborhood. I’m not sure I can explain the feeling of being back, but it was something like snapping the final puzzle piece in place after it had gone missing for years. Knowing that I could walk the same ancient sidewalks, look up at the same elderly trees, and cross streets with familiar names…well, everything just felt right in the world. And though our kids were teens, they found some of the magic that I’d experienced. They ran through the park to play basketball, went sledding at community field, and walked downtown with friends.

Being within walking distance to downtown opens up so many opportunities. It makes it easy to access events like the annual Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts. The festival brings a positive energy to our town, and it’s inspiring to see all of the artists—both children and adults— showcasing their work. A quick fifteen minute walk and I am in the center of it all. That’s really what I love about this neighborhood. If I want a quiet night, I’ve got it right there in my backyard; if I’m in the mood to be around people, downtown is a short walk away.

Now my wife and I are a few months away from being empty nesters. Our children are busy and rarely home. We are finding time to walk together. Sometimes it’s just a long loop through the neighborhood, other times it’s a trek downtown to eat dinner or meet friends. Walking here is never boring. I see and appreciate things now that I never paid attention to while I was growing up: the unique design of each home—many of which are celebrating their hundredth birthday, the Japanese maple trees that show off their fiery red leaves, the parade of neighbors walking their dogs. And the park…our property backs up to Holmes Foster Park, and we can hear the squeals of joy, the squeak of the swingsets, the laughter. It was forever ago, I think, but that was me. That was my crew.

The joyful memories of my childhood had a lot to do with this neighborhood. In literature, we sometimes talk about a story’s setting being a character, playing a central role in the story. Holmes Foster is a fully fleshed out character in my story. The kind of character that’s inviting, sparks curiosity, makes everyone in its presence want to explore, create, and connect. As I enter the next phase of my life, I plan to continue walking these streets, enjoying all that my neighborhood has to offer. But I’ll be watching with a new lens, hoping that other families can discover the same kind of magic that makes Holmes Foster home.

Heineman Fellow and 2017 NCTE Outstanding Middle Level Educator, David Rockower, teaches English at Delta Middle School, a democratic school in State College governed by students, teachers, and parents. David is also a freelance writer and has published articles in The Washington Post, Insider, Education Week, Your Teen for Parents, and is a regular columnist in State College Magazine. His book is titled The Power of Teaching Vulnerability: How Risk-Taking Transforms Student Engagement.

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