Coming full circle, after 50 years
By Stephen Harris
My last day in school felt much like my first. In both instances, as soon as I passed the school entrance’s double doors I stood in the crowd wide-eyed and felt a bit intimidated by all the newness engulfing me.
I don’t remember much beyond that first impression on my first day in school here in the hometown more than 50 years ago. My last day came on a Sunday afternoon just last month when folks were invited back for a first-ever school homecoming and open house.
This has been a season of heart-stirring nostalgia for me, starting with a church reunion out of town that I described on this page in August and followed by a pleasant high school class reunion, our first in more than 15 years.
I thought it fitting that it came full circle back to the reunion at the old elementary schoolhouse just up the road here. I got to stand again on the very spot where, on my first day of school, the process of my growing into a big boy had begun.
As I stepped inside and began trying to absorb the finely renovated yet still vaguely familiar school surroundings, I again felt the thrill and awe that I felt as a little kid.
It’s a charter school now under new management and with classrooms with flat-screen TVs, computers and other items (sinks and running water in classrooms!) that I and my schoolmates could never dream of in the old days.
We found the old, squeaky wooden stairs that we once knew so well covered now by silent linoleum. We found enough student projects and teaching posters and other bells and whistles to stuff the classrooms that were so big and open and Spartan by comparison when we were kids. Wow, we had nowhere near so much stuff.
The reunion allowed me an opportunity search out and stand in the very spot where I first heard of the assassination of President Kennedy 50 years ago. I described that on this page in September.
In another classroom, a young student stood and piddled at a modern whiteboard in the very spot where second-grade teacher the late Zola Phillips of Red Paddle fame stood so many times. I told the Red Paddle story on this page in 2011 and in my “State Road” book.
Miss Phillips would stand on that spot and draw on an old-style blackboard the circles that she liked to use to teach multiplication.
I found much new at the old schoolhouse, but two familiar items drew my attention and appreciation: the familiar list of the alphabet, in lower case and in capitals, and a poster with the numerals 1 through 100. Just as we had. I glad some things don’t change.
They brought back my old school principal, Walter Holcomb, now 93 years old. And in a touching gesture they invited him to sit one more time at the principal’s desk in the very spot where I remember he had sat so many years before.
Without kids of my own, I’ve become distanced from school over the years.
But in September I was summoned to my stepgranddaughter’s side to assist with some high school freshman English homework. I got a reminder of how out of touch I have become.
They were teaching her to compose a paper by some formula that was over my head, and I quickly surmised I could offer little help. And that’s how much help I gave.
It took me back to a scene the summer before I started first grade. I asked Mom to show me how to draw the numeral 8 on my blackboard at home but she similarly hesitated. Should I draw two circles to make an 8 or draw a figure 8 in one motion, I wanted to know.
Mom wouldn’t tell me, deferring to my upcoming teacher at school in a couple of months.
My granddaughter’s report was on the controversial 20th Century author and philosopher Ayn Rand. It took me aback. When I was a freshman here none of us had even heard of Ayn Rand.
I guess you can call that progress.
Sure, they teach more these days and they should. But I and my fellow alumni who filled the old neighborhood schoolhouse and smiled and chatted (a contrast to the Black Friday shoppers at Walmart) and reminisced are proud of our old school days nevertheless.
In particular, we appreciated the nod Bridges Academy gave to our past, most notably hanging giant photo collage posters of the old days over the entrance to the gym. “The Tribune” showed a photo of one on a front page last month.
For although we didn’t have computers and were clueless about Ayn Rand, we old timers still enjoyed good schools and received good educations. And the memories we cherish of those times will live on for as long as we - and beyond, if the Bridges continues its course.
After all, a truly solid education builds upon the foundation laid by those who came before.
Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.
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