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Bob Crawford: The first ASL student

When Bob Crawford (’58) applied to ASL, he did not need to complete an application. Instead, Crawford’s parents simply signed his name on a list, officially enrolling him as the first student at ASL.  

It was in the middle of fourth grade in 1950 when Crawford moved to London from Alexandria, Virginia. Like most ASL students, it was a change in a parent’s job that caused their family’s move.

In the 1950’s, when the Crawford family arrived in London, the city was not as crowded, significantly safer and did not have much diversity from being prominently British. His parents enrolled him into a smaller British boarding school in Kent, as it was the only school that would accept him when he arrived mid-year. Despite gaining some knowledge of the British culture through his time at the boarding school, including finding one of his favorite British dishes, “bread and treacle,” Crawford was happy to leave after three months. “The school was okay but there was one teacher (a Frenchman) who was sadistic and physically abusive. Although I had some fun, I was very unhappy” he said.

In the meantime, Crawford’s parents were fortunate enough to meet Stephen Eckard, the founder of ASL, at a party at the U.S. Embassy. During their conversation, Eckard revealed he was looking to start a school for Americans. “After a couple of conversations, they signed me up as his first student” Crawford said.

That April in 1951, Crawford and eight other boys began learning in Eckard’s apartment. The school was only an elementary school with most of the subjects in the same room, and Eckard as the sole teacher.

ASL was the smallest school Crawford had ever attended. “It was not like ‘school’ in the traditional sense. If you can imagine nine small boys in one room, it was very active and intimate,” he said. His favorite subject was science, especially chemistry and physics, despite no lab capability. “I do remember working [on] the dining table and other tables in [Eckard’s] apartment in the spring of 1951,” Crawford said. He describes the closest analogy to be “a one-room schoolhouse.” The students studied together until the next fall when Eckard rented a house nearby on 58 Green Street and partially divided the students into separate grades in the house’s different rooms. Eckard moved Crawford up a grade so he was in Grade 6 at that time of fall 1951. During this time, the number of students and teachers at the school had risen tremendously. Further grade distinction and the addition of the ASL middle school, Grade 7 and Grade 8, came the following year, when the school location moved again to Grovesnor Square, the current location of the U.S. Embassy.

Due to the fact that the school was small, Eckard and other ASL teachers were able to take  students to the many London landmarks, including the British museum and St. Paul’s. These field trips were Crawford’s favorite experiences at ASL. “My fondest memory of ASL was the school itself in the middle of London,” he said. The teachers also took them to Kensington Park in replacement of a typical playground for activities, including soccer, cricket and walks.

After three years in London, Crawford and his family moved back to Rhode Island in 1953, following the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. Moving around a lot was normal for Crawford and his family. Crawford attended around 11 schools between Grade 1 and Grade 12, with at least two occasions of attending three schools in one year.

Following his time at ASL, Crawford completed high school in Virginia, before enrolling in the U.S. Naval Academy. When he graduated from college in 1962, Crawford was commissioned into the Air Force as a computer programmer, before leaving to join the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM). Crawford returned to DC in February 1963 where he lives today. He retired five years ago and is now 75 years old.

Despite having left the school after attending it for only a few years, Crawford’s experience at ASL and time in London had a large impact on his life. “I would say that the most important impact that ASL (and Steve) had on me was fostering my natural independence and confidence. That has helped me all of my life. That and the subsequent time in Germany in [High School], gave me an appreciation of the world that many Americans do not have,” he said.

Despite ASL’s impact on Crawford, he did not maintain a prominent connection, until recently. He had kept in touch with one of his friends, Tom Parker (’58), through his parents, but not the school. Crawford was browsing the internet a few years ago when he came across the ASL’s website. He reached out via email and has been on the alumni email since.

Crawford has visited London a few times, but his scheduling has prevented him from spending time at the school. However, he is traveling to London in 2017 with his family and is trying to arrange a day he can spend at the school.

Day in the life of Bob Crawford Day in the life of Lower School student Day in the life of Middle School Student Day in the life of High School Student
Bob Crawford (’58) remained at ASL from the spring semester of Grade 4 – Grade 7.

In his first year, the school day started at Steve’s apartment at 9 a.m. He lived on Lancaster Gate and traveled by car, bus or tube to school.

The school day went through 4 pm. He spent the day learning at Eckard’s dining room table in his apartment. Most of the subjects were taught in the same classroom to the nine boys. This means there were no hallway breaks, and the students had to be focused and sufficient the entire day. Later on, when more students came, they began to split into grade levels.

When it was time for lunch, Crawford would eat his “brown-bagged” lunch in the classroom or outside if the weather permitted it. At this time it was right after WWII and Britain still had rationing for food, so the apartment had no cafeteria or kitchen in which to prepare food.  

After school, there were no sports or clubs. The school did not have a playground either, so the way the students participated in activities was by having the teachers take them to the park to play soccer, cricket, or walk.

Crawford did not participate in activities outside of school as well, partially because he was young, but also because he was living in post-war London. There were not many organized sports teams for kids. Television was black and white at the time, so the Crawford family’s two servants took Crawford and his younger brother to Kensington Park, across the street, to play or occasionally see band concerts.

On weekends, Crawford did not hang out with his friends normally, as students at ASL lived scattered around London at the time. If he did meet with friends it was through the parents.

Crawford traveled around London by bus and tube with his mother or alone, despite being young. London was much safer at the time. His family had a car, but rarely used it.   

Millie Rajguru (’24) has been attending ASL since Grade K2.

Rajguru wakes up for school at 6:30 a.m. and leaves her house in Belsize Park by 7:45 a.m. in her family’s car to get to school by 8:05 a.m.

Her class eats lunch at 12 p.m.

After school, Rajguru enjoys drawing, playing with her dolls, or doing some math. She also plays tennis every tuesday.

On the weekends, Rajguru goes to her brother’s baseball games, has playdates with her friends or goes to the movies.

Rajguru never has homework because she is in Grade 4. Students at ASL do not receive homework assignments until halfway through Grade 5.

Eric Henrikson (‘21) has been attending ASL since Grade K1.

On a typical school day, Henrikson wakes up at 6:30 a.m. He travels to school by the school bus.

Middle School advisories start at 8:05 a.m. and classes start at 8:30 a.m.

Henrikson has a few classes before recess at 11:15 a.m. For recess, students play on the school’s blacktop and playground, which ASL calls Waverley Park. Lunch is in the school cafeteria and begins at 11:45 a.m.

After school, Henrikson typically plays tennis and completes his homework. He plays the trumpet for ASL and is on the ASL tennis team. On the weekends, Henrikson plays tennis and soccer. He lives in Hampstead and none of his friends live very close to him.

Lila Wolfson (’16) has been attending ASL since Grade K1.

Wolfson wakes up at 7 a.m. to make her school bus, which will get her to school by 8 a.m.

After one class, Wolfson has a break, which is when she occasionally goes to the St. John’s Wood neighborhood’s High Street for Starbucks.

At lunch, Wolfson enjoys going out for lunch to the High Street for Gails, Mori or Harry Morgans.

After school three to four times a week, Wolfson has dance, which she participates in outside of school. She also takes part in the school’s Community Partnerships program.   

On weekends, Wolfson has dance, but also enjoys to spend  time with her friends. She has one friend that lives down the street from her and another friend that lives in the same neighborhood, Notting Hill. She notes that most of her friends live in St. John’s Wood near the school.

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