My first three years of school, 1963-1967, I attended Ross Elementary School in Sweet Valley, PA. It was a typical rural elementary school, teaching grades 1 through 6, in the lake-Lehman School District. There were six classrooms, a Principal’s office, a nurse’s office and a combination auditorium/gymnasium/lunch room. The playground outside consisted of a paved area and a large grassy field.
My first grade teacher was Mrs. Smart. I remember her name for obvious reasons, but have forgotten everything else about her. I had already learned to read and to count before arrival at school but I was still struggling with learning to write. I remember reading all the first grade books before the end of the school year and being sent next door to the second grade room for more advanced books. Because the school lacked a central library, the library books had been divided among the classrooms.
Thanks to my uncles, I came to school well versed in playground games, mostly boys games like marbles. I was a killer marbles player and after a while the boys did not want me playing marbles with them. It was getting expensive replacing all those lost marbles and embarrassing to lose them to a first grade girl. It took a year of so for some of the girls to warm up to me as I was a bit of a tomboy. Eventually the girls allowed me to play tag and jacks with them.
In addition to letters and numbers, followed by spelling, reading and arithmetic, we learned about safety, citizenship and flag etiquette. None of these subjects are part of today’s curriculum. Simple safety rules about crossing streets, walking against traffic and biking with traffic are no longer covered. Lessons about keeping America clean and about showing respect for others are left out in favor of teaching competitiveness and test-taking skills. Flag protocols were a short lesson on not walking on the flag, not letting it get dirty and never flying it at night or in bad weather.
In the years after the JFK assassination, Cold War paranoia peaked. Suspecting that the USSR might be involved in his death, duck and cover drills were held out of fear of a nuclear attack. The sounding of the siren would signal the students to duck under their desks and cover their faces until given the all-clear by their teacher.
My third grade teacher hated me before I started third grade. She started to hate me that day I first showed up at her door to ask for a book to read from her shelves. “What’s wrong with the second grade books?” she demanded to know. “I’ve read them all,” I replied. “Harrumph. Okay come in, but be quick about it.” “Yes, ma’am,” I said as I hurried into the room to get a book to keep me from bothering the second grade class which was still hard at work on a test that I had finished quickly. My second grade teacher took it in stride, but my third grade teacher made an effort to make my life hard. She refused to send me out of the room when I had finished reading the third grade books. If I complained, she made me sit out in the hall. I would often end up talking to the principal, but not at first.
She wouldn’t let me compete in spelling bees in the classroom, always giving me a word not in the lesson plan to knock me out early. I got into the habit of working ahead as the words were in the book, just in lessons that we hadn’t covered at the time. But I had no friends and her dislike of me was making me miserable.
While visiting with my father over Christmas, I told him how things were bad at school and home. He promised me that things would change, that I could go to a new school in the new year. My father wasn’t very good at following through with his promises, but his blundering attempt did eventually lead to my changing schools and getting a new home.