After my first three years at Ross Elementary, I switched schools and school districts. My new school was Garrison Elementary School in Shickshinny, PA. The town at the time literally had only one stop-light. Prior to consolidation of school districts by the state, the building had been the high school for the borough. It was not far from both of the main thoroughfares and fronted on Shickshinny Creek which several blocks away joined the flow of the Susquehanna River.
The building had four floors, if you count the basement and you had to count the basement; the school lunch room was in the basement. It was a cafeteria. You would pick up your milk at the bottom of the stairwell. Lunches were basic American fare: hamburgers, hot dogs, meatloaf, fried chicken, fish sticks and pizza. To avoid overcrowding in the lunch room, some of the children would have recess while others had lunch period. It was one of three breaks during the day to go outside and run off the “fidgets”.
The administrative offices and auditorium were on the first floor and the classrooms were on the second and third floors.
My fourth grade teacher complained about my chicken-scratch handwriting. She insisted that it would have to improve if I were to pass fourth grade. I was hurt by her appraisal of my best efforts, but I was also determined to improve my handwriting. I would practice nightly in addition to doing my regular homework. By the end of the school year my handwriting was legible.
I don’t remember anything about fifth grade. I am not sure if this is because it was an uneventful year or because something awful happened. Nothing seems to stand out from that time.
In sixth grade, I did map projects which helped me learn to research and write reports as well as learning Geography. I made tracings of maps of South American countries and outlines of their history and resources, but stopped short of actually writing a report on them. Later, I wrote a report about Yosemite National Park in California that included maps and outlines as well as the report on the park. Much of what I learned then is no longer true as the world has changed a great deal.
After sixth grade, I went to Northwest Area High School for seventh and eighth grades. The school district did not have a middle school because of it was small. The high school housed grades 7 through 12 in a single sprawling building in the middle of nowhere. It was so isolated that if an alien spaceship landed and vaporized the school, no one would notice until the busses arrived to take the students back home.
Seventh and eight grades were split into sections based on academic ability to avoid boring the brighter students. I was in the top section in both years.
My favorite class was art. My art teacher was into tie-dye and leather working. If your painting looked like a chimp had painted it, that was fine as long as you made the effort and could tell him the technique you were attempting to use. If your piece of clay ended up looking like it came from the back-end of a chimp, he was more than willing to fire your chimp poo ashtray if you wanted to keep it. At the end of two years, I had two tie-dye t-shirts and a leather bracelet, a suede purse and a suede butterfly hair tie.
My least favorite class was gym class, named not for what it taught but for where it was held. The gym uniforms were ugly and that is being polite about it. Gym classes were still dangerous then. The balance beam, uneven parallel bars and trampoline were still in use then. Accidents at school would be covered by an inexpensive policy that the parents could buy at the beginning of the school year.
I tended to wander between classes in a bit of a daze. Once I nearly walked into the boy’s bathroom; and another time I picked up a nickname as I startled out of a daze by someone yelling “Teddy”. The voice belonged to one of a set of twins who, being nearly identical, enjoyed confusing people about who was who. I irritated them at times because I could always tell one from the other. I don’t exactly know how, I just could always tell them apart.
Eight grade was a year of change for me. In November, my foster-father died in a farming accident. My foster-mother decided that I should change schools again as I seemed bored where I was. I took a test for admission to a “local” prep school. Long bus rides would be replaced with long car rides and a whole new set of expectations.