Thursday, February 5, 2009

Noxen Elementary

For many Noxen folks, our hometown holds the buildings where not only we attended school, but our mothers and fathers, and their mothers and fathers. // When I was a child, the Island Road where this historic building stands was dirt. Behind this building was the one-room school where both my gramma and my mother were educated.

But, by the time I began school, the little one-room had been boarded up. I attended the new, big school building that sat across the field. The playground was equipped with everything we needed to have a great time in the sun. Far out over the grass sat the big swingset with it's wooden seats. When the bell rang, it was always a race to see who got to the swings first. The winners of that race would grab a swing for a freind, and it was "halfway to the moon" for fifteen glorious minutes. Some even had the courage to stand on the wood slats and swing...daring for my time!

Near the swings was the long, steel slide---always so hot in the sun! And the merry-go-round. The girls would sit and the boys would grab a rung and push. It was fun going round and round, your hair and dress blowing wildly, until us girls discovered the boys were keeping that contraption going at top speed so we'd be late getting back to the classroom! Still, there was good-natured laughter as we all pounded for the door. We were usually in our seats before the last toll of the bell.

Under a big, spreading tree we had monkey bars---an apparatus of steel bars where we'd hang like possoms---or monkeys---and drop, willingly or otherwise, to the dirt below. It was fun unless rain had turned the dirt under the bars to mud.

There was a softball field and we played dodgeball against the side of the school. Teachers stood about, arms crossed, watching for anything that warranted an order to "Have a seat on the step and wait to go in. Your recess is over." Oh, the shame of that!

There were things I remember about this old building that still bring a smile to my face. Coming to school on Monday morning...the smell of fresh floor wax because Mr. Schenk has spent time polishing all the hardwood floors. It always smelled new to me. Hot summer days when our teachers would open the tops of the big windows and a warm, sweet-smelling breeze would waft through the classroom, drying the hair at the back of our necks. The scratch of real chalk over the blackboard and the feeling of pride when you were chosen to "dust the erasers" for the teacher. The wintergreen smell of snow-white paste from little tubs. Lead pencils and pencil tablets. The scent of wet wool and fresh mud as out mittens and coats dried near the coatroom. The mixture of heavenly scents that escaped our lunch pails and brown paper and peanut butter and yellow cupcakes. Cheese sandwiches wrapped in crisp waxed paper.

And we ate sitting out on the grass under a tree in the dappled shade. Laughing and talking, we traded goodies from our lunches and whispered secrets about boys and dolls and dreaded spelling tests. Funny how I didn't want to go to school back then. Today, I'd give anything to relive that time of innocence and relative purity. A time when you weren't just a student to your teacher, you and your entire family were friends of hers. A time when not only sportsmanship was taught, but the golden rule as well. When recieving an "F" wasn't glorified, it was a shame. When children shared candy and lunches, not drugs and guns. When discipline was the only method used to call forth the full potential of a child, and "positive reinforcement" and "redirection" weren't part of a teacher's agenda.

As a society, we don't need to return to the days of Mayberry, RFD but a return to the standards of that day would be nice. For big cities, it's too much to ask. But for the small towns across America, it's not too late. How about installing the computers in the classrooms, then teaching kids how to respect them. How about building cafeterias, then teaching kids how to eat properly. We could teach Yoga, but teach sportsmanship and fairplay too. Instead of using timeout and studyhalls for misbehavior, let kids run off that disobedience on the football field. After a few laps, they might be more willing to sit still and study instead of contriving ways to be mischievious.

Schoolmasters of old were rigid taskmaster. That's why some of the greatest inventions, ideas, and changes in the world were born in the minds of our ancestors. We need a few good, old schoolmasters today.