The Mountain Times

°F Thu, April 24, 2014

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Another school year begins, albeit a bit differently than in the past

School's out for summer. Actually, it's not. But it seems like yesterday I was singing along with Alice Cooper as another school year came to a close. I didn't realize school was back in session, but I was wondering why my usual 15 minute commute to work had been extended. I remember thinking, "Where did all these cars come from?" And that night I saw a news story about the start of the new school year - then it made sense. For the next nine months I need to leave ten minutes earlier in order to beat the school crowd to the drive-thru at McDonalds. Nothing like starting the day with a large sweet tea.

I knew the school year was approaching because my extremely altruistic employer was awash in community service projects gathering school supplies and stuffing backpacks with nutritional snacks. I must admit I had fun scouring the stores for bargains on pencils, rulers, notebooks and binders. It's been more years than I care to remember that I did this for my girls, but in a few short years I will be back at it for my grandchildren.

School sure has changed since the days I roamed the hallowed halls of St. Anne's School.

Blackboards - do classrooms even have these anymore? I know they have white boards and smart boards (whatever those are). The blackboards in the classrooms of St. Anne's covered two walls. When we arrived in the morning, one section would be filled with our assignments for the day. A small box was drawn on the upper corner of another. Inside the box were the words "girls" and "boys". This is where attendance was recorded. The remaining sections were used throughout the day for teaching. You would wait to be called upon to come to the blackboard to work a math problem or diagram a sentence. If you knew the answer, this was fun. If you didn't, it could be mortifying.

At the end of the day, two students would be called upon to erase the blackboards. This was a privilege, not a punishment. After the boards were completely erased, you would take the erasers outside to clap them clean. Today, I am sure this would lead to lawsuits claiming lung diseases caused by the inhalation of chalk dust. I can visualize the attorney infomercials. On Fridays, the blackboards were washed clean to ready them for Monday morning.

Classroom cleaning jobs were expected of every student. At the end of the year, we would scrub the tops of our desks, removing all the pencil marks that had accumulated over the school year. We would also strip the bulletin boards of their decorations and pull out nine months of staples. Again, I see lawsuit opportunity if this task were performed by students in schools today.

On Fridays, every student was required to clean out their desk and bring home every book. This was before the invention of rolling books bags and back packs. Books were stacked with the largest ones on the bottom, and the pile was secured by a rubber book strap which proved quite useless if the stack became wobbly and toppled. This typically happened as you were entering or exiting the school bus, causing a jam up in the line. Books all had to be covered in brown Kraft paper, and you didn't dare create graffiti drawings on them.

Students today come home on the first day of school with a supply list to be purchased. I understand the pens, pencils, markers, composition books, filler paper and assorted measuring devices like rulers, protractors, compasses and calculators. What I don't understand is why parents are also expected to supply the classroom with a year's worth of Kleenex and hand sanitizer. Back in our day, we were sent to school with a hankie and if your hands got dirty, you licked them if it wasn't time for a bathroom break. The entire class went to the lavatories at the same time, lined up in size order. You went once in the morning and again after lunch. Other than those times, you needed a really good reason to be allowed to visit the bathroom.

Lunches have certainly changed since my days at school. My mom sent me off each morning with a brown paper bag containing a bologna sandwich, a bag of potato chips and a cookie. Milk was purchased for two cents a day and delivered to the classroom. After lunch, the upper classmen visited each room selling ice cream bars that could be had for ten cents. If you forgot your lunch, you were sent to see Inez, a member of our custodial staff who would create a lavish PBJ so you didn't starve. Today, school cafeterias offer a variety of hot lunches, vending machines and even some concessions of Chick-Fil-A and McDonalds.

I'm sure there will be additional changes by the time my grandchildren start school. The supply lists will be longer, the lunch options more chic and bathroom breaks unlimited. But there are some traditions that need to be passed down to the future generations. So when school lets out for the summer, I'll teach them the traditional end-of-school celebration song - no more pencils, no more books, no more teacher dirty looks. And we'll play Alice Cooper too.

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