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Applewild Award to Local Pediatrician

28 Jan

Dr. Sharon Parnes was presented with the Lavarack Family Alumni Award at ceremonies at Applewild School in Fitchburg on Friday, December 13. The Laverack Family Alumni Award is presented annually to an alumna or alumnus whose life has, in an exemplary way, embodied Applewild’s mission and core values. Head of School Christopher B. Williamson highlighted the core values of respect, honesty, civic-mindedness, and compassion when speaking of Dr. Sharon Parnes of Wrentham and honoring her for her “character, spirit and benevolent service.”

Dr. Parnes is a practicing pediatric neurologist in the Boston area with offices in Brockton and Cumberland RI. She was one of the Applewild “pioneers”, members of the first five graduating classes at the school, 1960-64. Parnes graduated from Applewild in 1963, and after secondary school she graduated from Bennington College, followed by medical school at Brown University. Williamson cited Parnes for being a pioneer in her chosen field of medicine as well.  “(Dr. Parnes) act(ed) as a beacon for women physicians in the early years of the feminist movement. Very self-effacing, Dr. Parnes might not call herself a feminist nor want to be credited with having been a trail blazer, but she is a perfect reminder of how change happens incrementally when individuals take on the challenge …of acting on their beliefs. She wanted to fully engage all of her abilities, and that led her…to be… one of only six women in her (medical school) class…. She still remembers how surprised professors were when she and others asked to actually see patients as part of their early training. Originally interested in pediatrics, it was on such visit and seeing a classic seizure that Dr. Parnes became fascinated by how the brain works.”

In her presentation to current Applewild School students in grades K-8, Parnes talked about what it was like to be a student at the school in the early 1960s.  She reflected on the memorable teachers, the school’s family atmosphere, and especially that girls competed in athletics, an uncommon activity and opportunity at the time.  She spoke about what it’s like to study the brain and to help children who develop problems with how their brain functions.  She mentioned seizures, tics and ADHD as the most common issues she sees as a neurologist. She showed projections of the brain and what areas of the brain perform which activities. Her advice to the children about how to keep the brains healthy was: get lots of sleep, eat healthily, wear helmets, get exercise and learn.  Parnes’ soft-spoken, open demeanor resulted in a flurry of questions from the children following the presentation.

One classmate summed up her recollection of Parnes in this way, noting her success as a softball player.  “A graceful performance, effortlessly repeated, on a small playing field at Applewild, is a small metaphor for the graceful performance Dr. Sharon Parnes lives every day with the grueling demands of her work.  She has navigated such an incredible career with tremendous skill, humility, indefatigable energy, and love.”

Several of her classmates joined her for a mini-reunion luncheon following the presentation.

A 50 year retrospective discussion by the gathered alumni was led by Williamson. The lively conversation produced a series of themes: the school’s Green and White team competitions, tolerance of religious faith, which had been an issue for several at their previous schools, sports, great teachers, and dance class.

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