For this In-Depth post, follow along with this map of the Elementary School.
The Main Building
The school area shown in the map has changed a lot since I attended in the late 1970s, but is still easy to recognize. In the middle is the main dark-roofed building, which I actually don’t remember much about since most of my years were spent in an outlying building I’ll cover in a bit. The center of this building was the gymnasium, which doubled as the lunch room and had a stage for special presentations. I remember being thoroughly embarrassed in this room when our class had to show our parents how we’d learned to belly dance. My lunch every day included a pouch of Capri-Sonne, which doubled as a rocket launcher once you’d emptied it of juice. Just blow into the straw to inflate, position the straw so that it’s only barely inside the pouch, and then slam your fist down to start the cafeteria mayhem. After returning to the States I was shocked to find this same drink called Capri Sun and that Americans pronounced “Capri” with the emphasis on the second syllable instead of the first, and “Sun” didn’t seem right because it only had one syllable. To this day, my brain still thinks “CAPree SONnah” when I see Capri Sun on the store shelf. In hunting an image for this post, I learned that Capri-Sonne actually originated in Germany in 1969 and came to America in 1981.
My 4th grade class was near the northwest corner of this main building, on the first floor. I think the teacher’s name was Mrs. Klar, or maybe Klarr. Oddly, I don’t recall much about this large building other than the gym and that particular classroom.
The Outlying Classrooms
My 1st and 2nd grade years were spent in the T-shaped building with a green roof, in the upper left of the map. There was probably a special name for this building, but nothing that I can conjure up. There were exactly three classes in this building: Ms. Stasovich’s 1st grade class in the north wing, Mr. Moore’s 2nd grade in the south wing, and then a 3rd grade class in the east wing. I never knew much about that 3rd grade classroom since I lived in Texas for 3rd grade, but that’s a story outside the scope of this blog. Now, these surely weren’t the only classes for those particular grades within the school system. I don’t know exactly why we were separated out, but at some point I got the impression that it was part of an experiment to see if children would learn better in a smaller environment. Perhaps I was a lab rat?
In 1st grade, at least once our classroom was visited by health professionals bearing the most foul toothpaste I ever recall coming in contact with. If memory serves, it was a dark gray color and very gritty as if it were mixed with sand. Right there in class, we were all required to brush our teeth with it. It was probably the most traumatic experience of that year, and I remember much wailing and gnashing of teeth until one by one we kids would finally just get it over with. I remember the stuff being so gritty that it felt like you were scraping the enamel off your teeth. I can only assume this was part of some health program to ensure proper fluoride protection or something similar.
On some regular schedule, a special teacher would come in for an hour or so to teach us the German language. I also remember doing some traditional German dances and similar cultural things during that time. Alas, all that really remains of that language schooling is the ability to count to 12 before I have to stop and think about what comes next. Once I’ve thought about it, I can count to around 100 close enough to be understood, although I’d probably still confuse “und” with the “y” I learned later during high school Spanish. In fact, consulting this page on counting in German I’ve just discovered that I’ve completely mixed German and Spanish and would probably get some confused looks from native German speakers.
Another tradition in this outlying building was to bring all three classes together for a singalong. I’m not sure how often this happened, perhaps monthly, but it was a great honor to be chosen as the person who stands at the front and flips the large pieces of paper containing the lyrics. Among others, we used to sing Debby Boone’s You Light Up My Life and what we always referred to as The Coke Song. And yes, those selections sound as strange to me as they probably do to you.
The Old Playground
On the map there’s an area in between the main building and the outlying building with some gray-roofed buildings and what looks like some temporary classrooms. In my day, this area was a giant sand pit full of playground equipment. There was a tall metal slide which always got too hot to touch in the sun, and we kids were more interested in sliding down the support poles like firemen than in using the slide itself. There was also a large set of metal monkey bars which I’m sure were the origin of many bumps and bruises; I think such equipment is frowned upon these days? On the sidewalks connecting the sand area to the main building, girls would be jumping rope and comparing their binders full of Scratch-n-Sniff stickers. This was the era of the original Battlestar Galactica television series, and a friend and I used to run around this general area making up our own stories as Apollo and Starbuck, and arguing over who got to have Cassiopeia as his girlfriend.
To the east of this area is an odd paved section which I’m guessing is for loading and unloading school buses. Back then, it was just a grassy area where kids would play soccer or do whatever else. For some reason I remember having deep conversations about various Atari 2600 games in this area, perhaps while we were supposed to be playing soccer in gym class.
Behind the main building was a large paved area which served as basketball courts; it looks like nothing has changed in that regard. However, I distinctly remember there was a large map of the United States painted on part of this concrete slab, and it used to be fun to go find the State you were born in and stand on it. In fact, that might have actually been a class activity so that we could see where everyone hailed from. That map may have disappeared under one of the many additional buildings that exist back there now. Further south from this paved area was a second playground which my classes never visited much; it looks like it has been greatly expanded and now serves as the only playground for the school.
The Other Building
The only other building I remember much about is the one in the south close to South Gettysburg Avenue…it has a gray roof with what looks like a yellow outline. My kindergarten class was somewhere in this building. All I recall about that class was that each table of 5 or 6 kids got to choose a name for their group, and ours was the Cookie Monster group. What interests me more about this area of the campus is the crosswalk out front. If you were lucky, you could be chosen to serve as a crosswalk guard for a week, and I got chosen once! You get to leave class a little early to get ready for the rush of kids walking home, and you wore this brightly colored belt-and-shoulder-strap contraption. You also got a handheld sign with a green Go on one side and red Stop on the other. I don’t remember receiving any actual instruction on how to control traffic, but somehow we managed and it was an exciting duty. This special duty also included something related to raising and lowering the American flag on the big pole outside of the main building, but I think an adult had to help with that.
A Few Miscellaneous Notes
On the other side of the crosswalk you can see a small patch of grass with a V-shaped hedge. This is where I got into my first and really my only fist fight. It wasn’t much of a fight really, hardly any contact at all, but I vividly remember the ring of spectators chanting for blood. What were we fighting about? I mentioned it already — it was to determine who got to have Cassiopeia as their girlfriend while playing Battlestar Galactica!
At the southern edge of the map selection you can see part of the track, which looks largely unchanged. I think weekly, our class would come out to this track and run laps. The teacher had a magic marker and she would put a dot on the back of your hand each time you came around, and I always took it as a personal challenge to get the most dots in class. Then we’d go back to the classroom and record these dots on a big chart. If what I hear about modern schooling is true, I’m guessing such a thing wouldn’t happen anymore because it would promote winners and losers. Another great honor in those years was to be chosen to hold the marker and give everyone dots, although it was a double-edged sword because you didn’t accumulate any dots yourself that day.