Shared from the 2016-07-27 Woodman Edition eEdition

New year can mean new places, faces in classroom

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Heading back to school after summer break is a lot of fun for most kids because they get to reconnect with friends. That’s not the case for kids going to a new school for the first time. I went to many schools — so many they blend together — and I remember bits and pieces from each one. At Beach Street School in Rhode Island, a one-room schoolhouse with an old-fashioned bell tower, we had little glass bottles of milk to drink. At Tower Street School my teacher used to take the boys into the “cloakroom” to paddle them. I remember the poor little kids coming out of that room with red, tear-stained faces. At Dunn’s Corners School I played tether ball during recess, and there were earthquake drills at Merit Trace School in California. I learned to play Chinese jump rope at Deans Mill School in Connecticut and finished grammar school at Buckingham Elementary. Then I went on to Kelly Junior High and Norwich Free Academy. I had many first days of school where I didn’t know anyone or anything, and I can tell you that being the new kid is a bewildering experience. Everyone ignores you at the bus stop, and you stare at your lap on the long ride to school. You’re the last one off the bus, and you follow everyone else and hope you go in the right door. I had big Coke bottle-bottom glasses that fogged up when I went inside, but if I took them off I couldn’t see so I always bumped into kids in the hallway. It was rough. I always started school in the wrong group. School district standards varied greatly back then, and I could be in one school reading Shakespeare and end up in another school where the kids were at a third-grade reading level. After a few days the teacher would figure this out and move me into a new group and then I would start all over again. I don’t remember any friends from school or any teachers either, for that matter. The people I remember are the kids who were kind. They were few and far between, not because kids are inherently mean, but they tend to gravitate toward their friends and away from the kids they don’t know, the strange new kids. I looked different. My clothes weren’t like theirs, and I talked different. I didn’t play the same games or read the same books. I didn’t know the music they liked. I was strange to them, but they were all strange to me, too. I remember Paul Clark. Paul was tall and thin, with thick brown hair and fine features. He was the smartest boy in my fifth-grade class, and so cute that all the sixth-grade girls had a crush on him. Paul always smiled at me and said, “Hello.” At first I thought he was talking to someone else, but eventually I got used to it and I said hello back. Paul was the brightest part of my day. I remember Harrison Charles, too. When we had square dancing I was always the last one picked. Harrison always picked me. He was the only black boy in sixth grade, and I was the girl no one wanted to dance with, and we just ended up together. I was so grateful for Harrison because I knew that as long as he was in school that day I would be picked. In high school I wasn’t very athletic and nobody picked me for teams. Softball was the worst because I knew at some point I was going to have to get up and have a turn at bat. Sometimes I got up and just walked off the field because it was easier to get detention than stand up there in front of all those kids. I flunked gym that year. The next year I was in gym class with Ellen Hemingway. Ellen had crooked teeth and dark aviator glasses, but she was very athletic and for some reason she always picked me for her team. Maybe she felt sorry for me. Maybe she liked me because I had crooked teeth, too. I will probably never know why she was nice to me, or why Paul said hello or Harrison picked me for square dancing. I don’t remember the captain of the football team or the head cheerleader. I don’t remember the class president or the valedictorian or the prom king or queen. I never knew their names and can’t recall their faces. Those people weren’t my heroes in school; they didn’t make a difference in my life. I do remember Paul Clark, Harrison Charles and Ellen Hemingway. They were my heroes. When you start school this year, look outside your comfortable group of friends, the cool kids, the rich kids, the popular kids, the kids who look and act and talk just like you. Look for that kid who’s not like anyone else, the new kid. Be nice to that kid. You don’t have to be the smartest kid in school to be a hero. You don’t have to be the best looking or most athletic, either. You just have to be nice to a kid who needs a hero.

Susan Joy Paul is an author, editor, and freelance writer. She has lived on Colorado Springs’ northwest side for nearly 20 years. Contact Susan with comments and suggestions for her column at woodmennotes@gazettecommunitynews.com.

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