back of the napkin #82
are we smarter?

tbt - visiting pikeside elementary

TBT I stopped by my old grade school the other day. I didn’t go inside the building. I’m not sure why I stopped. I guess my nostalgia muscle was
needing a little exercise. Whenever I drive past the building there are still lots of memories associated with the first place of learning I attended.

There’s a paved driveway there now; it was gravel when I attended there. Buses would pull up to the school and let students off at the front entrance. The staircase in my memory was comprised of many steps that seemed to reach to the heavens. It’s much smaller than I remember.

Classrooms were arranged by class grade order with first grade starting off at the left of the entrance, then proceeded counter clockwise around the first floor before descending down what seemed like a huge staircase to the basement. That’s where the second fourth grade classroom was located taught by the notorious Mrs. Sinnett – she was the first teacher I heard of who was accused of abusing children.

The cafeteria was also in the basement, and it was also where the local community went years ago to receive the polio vaccine in little sugar cubes. There were a few times Principal Glenn Schaeffer would show a movie to us and it would be shown down in the basement. (I can still remember seeing movies like Disney’s Treasure Island, and an animated movie about the function of the heart and the science about the sun.)

The cafeteria – mmmm. I still remember lining up and filing past the cook’s station where every plate was exactly the same. There were no choices, and you gladly accepted what they put before you. If you didn’t like something – I remember I wasn’t a big fan of Harvard beets – you didn’t eat it. I remember the smells and tastes of macaroni and cheese, potatoes and gravy, buttered bread, corn, rice pudding, and milk.

Six years of my life were spent there. I can still see some of the faces of my teachers. I certainly remember their names – Crouse, King, Huffman, Gregory, and Bland. I remember the steep steps out of the south entrance; that’s where I would sit during recess when no one would play with me. I remember the playground as this expansive field where students would be playing games or talking in little groups. I was never asked to play; I would stand up against the brick wall and watch everything from a distance.
It’s all so small now.

I remember in second grade picking up the top of an old acorn and telling a couple of students that it was a gnome’s hat, and that they would play around a tree at the back fence of the playground – and they believed me. The only other memory I have of second grade was that Mrs. Huffman and Mrs. Moss were like “co-teachers” and for half of the day we would have one teacher and the other half of the day we would have the other teacher. I liked Mrs. Huffman better.

In fifth grade, there were so many students that the class was split into two with two different teachers. Because she had taught my dad and my sister, I so wanted to be taught by Mrs. Gregory; the other teacher was someone I didn’t like; I think her last name was Busey. Mrs. Gregory knew my grandparents, too. She was firm but fair lady who had the most wonderful handwriting I think I’ve ever seen. She also loved to hand out mimeograph sheets – and we all loved to “get high” over the smell of the freshly printed, still damp blue sheets.

Sixth grade was unusual because Pikeside had one of their first male teachers – Mr. Sam Bland – a tall, skinny man with crew-cut hair who was fun. It was different having him as our teacher; hearing a man’s voice instead of a woman’s voice felt like being taught by “dad” instead of “mom”. We could never be sure what he might do. And he liked to have us read something – like the Scholastic newspapers we would get - then let us talk about our thoughts over what we read. Mr. Bland was “cool”.

Sixth grade was also the year when students could be eligible to be part of the Safety Patrol. SP students were given the responsibility of making sure students stayed in their seats during school bus runs. We got to wear special badges and at the end of the school year, all Safety Patrol students in the county were taken on a trip to our nation’s capital where we met our senator, Robert Byrd, and were treated to a Senators baseball game.

That was over fifty years ago. There were good days; days when I wasn’t bothered by politics or problems. Days of learning and play. Days when the focus was on reading, and writing, and arithmetic. Days when we weren’t forced to hear about such social or political things. Days when we were taught to love and honor our country – not to hate it. I know that will never return to public schools, but I’m so glad I had those days so long ago.

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