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Junior high

Food For Thought

As I look back, I find it odd our summers on the acreage were so isolated compared to life in our former neighborhood. Even though there were classmates within shouting distance, we seemed to cut off contact once school was out for the year. Summer vacation put us in a different world we seemed to accept as normal, even though nobody indicated in any way the rules had changed.
I can’t remember encountering classmates, or even close friends, during the summer, though I’m sure some of them went to the swimming pool and the library as often as I did. I recall developing a new friendship at the swimming pool one summer. I found myself chasing after a wad of tar scraped from a seam in the bottom of the pool (a common pastime) in competition with a sturdy, friendly boy who said his name was Andy. We swam together and talked about our families for the better part of the summer, but I never saw him again after. About my age, he should have turned up somewhere at sometime where we would have encountered and remembered each other, but it never happened. I can only assume, either he was visiting for the summer or, being nearly naked in swimsuits, we simply didn’t recognize each other without our more familiar clothes.
After only a couple more years on the acreage, I found myself ready to go into junior high, which included sixth through eighth grades at the time. I remember being apprehensive about the new routines. There would not be one teacher for a classroom full of students who spent the whole day together, more or less in one place, but we would have a home room with a teacher who might not teach even one of the subjects we would be taking. We would go, every 40 minutes or so, to another classroom– sometimes going back to our home room in between classes, sometimes not. A different teacher for every subject, different seating arrangements in different classes– how would I ever remember all of it? And to top it all off, we would have gym classes twice a week and would have to go outdoors to the nearby high school building for those.
I soon learned that we were reminded, instructed and herded so meticulously as to where and when we were headed next, it would have been impossible to stray from the orderly lines that marched from classroom to classroom. Still recovering from a wartime shortage of teachers, the staff included several once-retired and fairly elderly teachers whose methods and manners were somewhat outdated. There were also a number of extremely young and inexperienced teachers with exciting new outlooks, as well as a couple who might have been refugees from European countries, to judge by their command of the English language and their understanding of American youth.
The benefits we derived from being exposed to this eclectic mix of teachers may have been the best part of the education we received during those few years. Three things from that time changed the course of my life and stuck with me for all these years since; The love of literature, especially Shakespeare’s plays, “Romeo and Juliet” and “The Merchant of Venice.” A deep respect for the English language and a determination to preserve its best features and protect it from the damage inflicted by slang, fads, carelessness and the blurring of precise meaning. And the excitement and enjoyment inherent in anticipating discoveries and new insights– the pure joy of acquiring new knowledge.
The best thing about junior high school during those years was the junior high principal, Nell McGowan. Miss McGowan did everything she could to broaden our horizons and create opportunities to expose us to things we would not have otherwise encountered within the limits of the prescribed curriculum. There were no art classes offered on any level of our school system, and no dramatics before high school, so she instigated special “assembly programs” that gave us the opportunity to perform skits, read original poems, recite memorized passages from literature, sing or play a musical instrument. She conducted monthly “art classes” during study hall time where we were offered the motivation and materials to produce some original work of art. And, Miss McGowan had a personal interview with each and every student in her school every year where she made us feel as though she took a special interest in each of us and that she truly cared about our problems, our dreams and our futures. It was no surprise when, later, several generations of her former students insisted on naming the new school for her.