Thursday, October 31, 2013

Little Red School House (not)

Last week blogging buddy Vee posted a post about her memories of going to school in a little red school house. 
 I confess that a long held jealousy about red school house attendees reared up in my heart and once again I was irked that I had no such sweet school days images to savor.
Growing up just blocks for the beach in Southern California, I would see "back to school" ads and September calendar pages and illustrations in children's books of little red school houses, with bright fall colored trees and children wearing sweaters and wool skirts skipping up the school house path.
 
Last weekend I was back in my home town and decided to revisit my own elementary school.
I drive past it every time I go to my parents house, and yet I have not set foot on the school grounds since the day that I graduated in 1966.
Back then it was named "Ellen Browning Scripps Elementary School".
The same Scripps family as Scripps-Howard news service and Scripps institute of Oceanography.
I suppose I should have been proud to have attended a school named after a woman...
Back then such feminist empowering details were not driven home as they are now days.
The school was built in the early 1950s to house the baby boom that followed WWII.
Articles have been written about how five years after the war ended small school houses were suddenly bursting at the seams with kids. New schools were quickly built and the most modern architectural style-low, long flat roofed building-were most economical to build rapidly.
The photo above is what the path leading up to my school looks like now.
The path and the building are the same.
In my day, the door was not red...it was a distinctive shade of turquoise that La Jolla is well known for.
And later it was painted a grey-ish black.


(My brother Carl and me, ready to go to school, I was about age 5.)
When I went to me elementary school in autumn, wearing a short sleeved cotton plaid dress was about as "autumn" as one could be.
Now days, shorts are fine too.
At the top of the path, one took a right turn to reach a stand alone building that was fenced separately and was made to house the Kindergarten classes.
One class in the morning, another in the afternoon.
Kindergarten was a half day event.

I kind of liked the Kindergarten building as it had floor to ceiling windows and trees grew outside around the sand playground with swings, jungle gym and slides.
Inside there was an area to play house with mostly naked dolls, an area for building blocks and my most favorite area, the art easels with the cut off milk cartons full of poster paint already mixed and ready to go.
The smell of poster paint, mixed with a bit of liquid starch is one of my most favorite memories scents in my life.
Being chosen to demonstrate my artistic skills at a district event is still one of my proudest school memories!
A green rug was on the floor just inside the door and we were all expected to sit along the edge of the rug for story and song time.
 One song, about the Merry-go-round, had us mimicking the up and down of merry-go-round animals as we marched around the rugs perimeter.
We also sang a ditty about "Red leaves falling down, yellow leaves falling down, all over town, all over town."
(Outside the palm trees had no leaves falling down at all...)
We faced the teacher in a U shape and behind the teacher was two bathrooms each consisting of a single toilets, one for the boys and one for the girls.
We had a snack time each day outside. I recall having carrot sticks and raisins mostly.
Then we were lined up and expected to use the toilet, then to go undo a blanket or towel from home, and to take a nap.
Some kids amazingly did go to sleep.
I recall never going to sleep, but watching flies occasionally crawl across the faces of my sleeping classmates.
I made the mistake once going to use the bathroom not during the "line up and use" time and finding my teacher seated inside.
She screamed horribly.
(The poor slightly older woman was committed to a mental hospital right after school let out in June. I still feel bad for her knowing about that.)

A year later I found myself going to the almost all day first grade class in one of the rooms that faced the "little big kid" playground.
The playground had asphalt and painted white lines for dodge ball and four square games.
Fourth graders monitored our recess times, and no one monitored them!
Having been brought up in a gentle household, I was quite shocked at age six to have a fourth grader pull my hair and scream in my face for missing a ball in foursquare!
(It was after that that I decided I was going home for lunch on my bike instead of undergoing that kind of treatment.)
We didn't have trash cans or recycling bins or house plants on the walk way outside our room back then. I do remember heavy silver grey trashcans with lids at the end of each hallway, and in the far corner of the playground, a black "thing" where the trash was burned at semi regular intervals.
The smell of burning paper let us know the janitor was burning trash again.
The white picket fence is a new addition as well.

This was my first grade class room with Mrs. Hawkenbrack.
I learned to read in that room and for the most part had a pretty good time with my friends.

I sort of remember the tree...it was quite little over fifty years ago.
We never set foot on the wee bit of grass around it.

There were three buildings with four class rooms in a row.
The last door in this picture was the doorway to my 6th grade class, beyond that were the double doors to the auditorium and cafeteria.
 
In sixth grade we had square dance lessons in there and danced to the catchy new song "Itsy Bitsy Tiny Weenie Yellow Polk a Dot Bikini"...which I found vaguely in appropriate.
Bikinis were a pretty new idea and we early maturing sixth graders had a pretty good idea what all the excitement was all about.
 
First-Second graders were in the lower first building  row, Third-Fourth  were in the second row, and the Fifth-Six graders had the last row.
Usually there were two classrooms per grade, or sometimes we had a mixed grade class.
 
It was a hideous surprise to find myself stuck in the mixed Fifth-Sixth classroom as a Sixth grader as those in the Sixth Graders classrooms were treated with "Big Man On Campus" awe.
The twelve of us who were squeezed into the mixed class were viewed as really just fifth graders...again.


Oddly, we were some of the tallest and physically mature of all the sixth graders.
(That's me with my hands clasped in front, and I was the same age as the other girls.)
I often wondered how the placement decision was made.
 
Our teacher was unforgettable.
He was a man, of mixed raced, and he wore blue eye shadow, eye liner and mascara.
His hair was piled high like Little Richard.
Um huh.
Why the parents didn't scream about this get up in 1966 I have NO idea.
We were expected to line up by height and in two lines, boys in one, girls in the other, and wait outside in the hallway until he arrived each morning, usually late.
He would unlock the door while hanging on to a full coffee cup and his newspaper.
He looked at each of us through blurry eyes as we passed by him.
Role was taken, and then four students (two from each grade) were expected to give a "current events" report on a newspaper article.
He himself was in the back of the room reading his own newspaper as this went on.
About 45 minutes into the day he would slouch up to the chalk board and give us our assignments.
And select a student to go stand outside until recess...which was about two hours away.
Guess who got selected a lot?
Uh huh.
Richard, or Fred, or Jill (and some times all three of us) spent hours leaning against the pole outside, required to stay where he could see us.
Our feet ached from standing on the concrete.
No one ever mentioned this.
We never knew why we were routinely kicked out of the classroom.
Really.
(below: me at my age 12, in 6th grade birthday party.)

 
And I got straight A's on my report card that year.

The view from the windows in the front of the room was to the tiny windows of the back of the building below.
The hedge below never bloomed or turned color.
It remained unceasingly green year around, and especially seemed un-festive at Christmas time.


Inside the classrooms, which we now know had asbestos tile flooring, we were seated at tables, two to a table, with cubbies built in under the desk top.
Rocking back in our chairs would get us in trouble...the tall boys always seemed to be getting busted for doing that.
It wasn't until years later that I realized that the tall boys legs were scrunched into the "one size fits all" hard chairs and rocking back was the only way to relieve the ache of sitting in a too small chair.
Our chalk boards were green...another nostalgic insult as all the "Little Red School House" images included a smart looking black chalk board with lines already drawn.
Green just lacked a traditional academic style to me.

The walk from the top building down.
We did have skateboards back then. I wonder how they kept us from riding the slope on the boards back then?

The lower playground, as I mentioned, was asphalt.
There was an upper playground as well, which was plain decomposed granite.
Chalk marked playing fields for kick ball and sox ball were up there and several tether ball courts as well.
We played outside year around.
Having scrapes with bits of gravel embedded from the playground mishaps were part of every day life.
When I was there, there was no grass growing up there at all.
The chain link fence closed around our field with dusty bushes that had little botanical interest just beyond our finger tips.
A good memory of the upper field:
For awhile we had a Principal named Mr. Upp who drove his own fire truck!
Each year there would be a school carnival and the kids could get rides around the upper playground on the fire truck.
I just learned this past week that Mr. Upp also owned a private day camp and would pick up kids from their curbs in the fire truck and drive them to the camp in the summer time.
How fun was that!
He also is remembered for coming to each classroom with a birthday child to administrate the traditional birthday spanking across his knee.
I got spanked in Kindergarten.
It didn't hurt...it was kind of neat being the center of attention while he lightly spanked and counted out the new age and then added "and one to grow on" with the final spank.
All of us who remember this tradition are agog at the thought of  what law suits would occur from such harmless spanking now days!

The landscaping has improved over time and I do not recall any houses in view back then.
La Jolla used to not be so densely populated.
Even then it was a wealthy area.
My family was not in the same financial league as most of my classmate's families.


I wore hand me downs from my cousins and with pigeon toes, I also wore saddle shoes fitted with corrective soles, with cotton socks until I went to middle school.
My classmates wore Keds, Keds with pointed toes no less, and nylon socks.
Or daringly, no socks at all.
I was dork...tall, gangly, pale, and very uncoordinated at sports.
Bullying...no one worried about it in the least.
And the upper playground was not monitored by adults.
It got pretty tough up there sometimes. One day I was grabbed by a group of girls from the other sixth grade class and they ripped off part of my dress and held me down in the dirt until I fought them off and slunk away.
Good times...not.

For many of my early school years I rode my bike home at lunch time, where I escaped the tedium of the classroom and the constant class warfare for a bit.
Donna Reed was on TV during lunch and I enjoyed that show over bowls of tomato soup and sandwiches.
Eventually I managed to stay at school and ate lunch outside year around, overlooking gravel topped flat roofs and foggy vistas.
The lunch court today looks just exactly as I remembered it.

I did smile to see the same old drinking fountain on the wall out in the lunch area.
For some reason, each drinking fountain at school had pecking orders.
No one would use the first, or maybe the third fountain.
If someone unpopular drank from the fountain, then the fountain they drank from was declared to have cooties and was to be avoided at all cost.
It was a tough crowd.
I still remember those declared to have cooties, who seem quite ordinary to me now, save for a bit of wardrobe variation and clues that wealth did not flow in their houses.
For those sins they were singled out for mockery.

The lower playground asphalt is now gone, and the chain link fence has been replaced with a more stylish black fence.  Basketball hoops are new too.

The school shut down after I was became an adult and sat vacant for many years.
The neighborhood demographics did not include many school age children after the 1970s and the few children who did live nearby were carefully chauffeured to private schools.
Then it became a private school.
"The Children's School" it is called now.
I laugh at that name...so sly, so tongue-in-cheek.
Saying "our children go to the Children's School" sounds redundant to me!

Now "Little Red School House" kids also were shown bouncing merrily along in yellow school buses with braids and pigtails flying.
We didn't have a school bus...we all walked or rode our bikes to school each day.

I crossed five streets before I came to this major intersection where one pushed a cross walk button and waited for the light to turn before crossing over five lanes of traffic, waiting right where the "No Ped Crossing" sign is now.
This was all navigated as a five year old!
Alone!
Each year the parents would say that *someday* some kid is gonna get killed crossing there.
No kid ever did get killed or even injured, but decades after I graduated an over pass was finally built so the kids could cross over the street safely.
I think it was right after that that the school was closed.
Hoo boy.

I can still remember how it felt to stand at that corner, lunch box gripped in my hand, feeling the breeze from the cars whizzing by just inches away.
And punching the crosswalk button a few more times, hoping it would turn faster and I could finally be on my way home.
 

4 comments:

Vee said...

I think I'm depressed. And I think I was blessed though I did attend a school like yours from grades three to nine. I also had a homosexual teacher who was a real piece of work. Fifth graders should not have to cope with such things. I learned a lot that year that did not involve reading, writing or arithmetic. However, playground duty was not assigned to children...talk about crazy! Though it does provide a good metaphor for what's going on these days.

You told your story very well! Oh and I can't imagine crossing that busy highway. Children who live a block away from school must ride the bus because of sexual predators or so their parents are told.

Lovella ♥ said...

Jill, I also found this depressing. There seems to be very few fond memories for you at school. It seems really harsh.
I'm wondering if I could find a photo of my old school house. It was torn down a number of years ago and I regret that I didn't got take some pictures for just this reason of blogging.

I really found this interesting. All of us can relate in someway and if nothing else it causes us to think about our own school days. Thanks for sharing.

Judy ~ My Front Porch said...

Wow...so many memories wrapped up in this post! How fun that you went back for a visit. And how interesting to see that many things had really not changed that much at all. Since my grands attend the same elementary school that I did...I have been back often. One of the biggest changes is that the bike racks are now empty (no one walks or rides bike to school these days...and the parking lot is five times the size it was then.

Sara said...

Wow, you have a lot of memories from those years. I doubt if I could come up with half so much information about my elementary school years. I do remember that entailed five different cities and of course, schools. Never ran into any bullying like you did. That is awful. I don't remember ever seeing any bullying either, but maybe I've blocked it out, who knows!