Tag: school

Back To School

I have to admit, back in “the day” I kind of looked forward to the first day of school. Sure, it was the end of summer, but it was also the time for a fresh start and new beginnings. A chance to see many of the people I hadn’t seen in a long, long time (hey, two months is a lifetime to a kid).

But this coming school year is extra special. For this year marks the first year that I was officially out of K-12 program and began “college life”. Looking back on it now and thinking about the feelings I had at that point in my life is surreal to say the least.

I’m sure some of my fellow classmates will probably tell you that at this point they already had their post high school lives planned out to the finest detail. Everything from which college they were going to attend to what fraternity or sorority they would pledge.

But me? Well, I hadn’t even had given a thought about it. I was more concerned about when my grandmother was going to make her famous sausage casserole for dinner again.

Yes sir, frequent readers of this blog are already well aware of my procrastination and laziness post high-school. In fact, I didn’t take my SAT tests until the very last-minute, and even then just waddled my way through them. I sure as hell wasn’t going to stress myself about studying. I think that the only thing that I was even the slightest bit concerned about was making sure that I registered with Selective Service before I turned eighteen (does anyone else remember that)? Somehow though, I wound up getting accepted into Penn State.

Looking back now, I really lament not taking it more seriously. I spent the first two months at Penn State Allentown and quickly decided to drop out to become a working musician. The extra money I received from Pell Grants and student loans I used for personal things and not for tuition or books. Heck, I figured I had six months from the time I left school to start paying it back, and by then I’d be RICH; or so I thought.

Over the next several years, I was in an out of bands (and becoming a transient college student) before finally coming to the realization that I had made a mistake and needed to enter the work force. Having now started to find “my place” (and with a steady paycheck), I was eventually able to obtain a post high school degree thirteen years after I had graduated and, in 2005 FINALLY paid off the last of my student loans. Better late than never.

Which leads me to this: next week my little girl will start seventh grade and once again I am left to ask the question, “Where does the time go?”. I know it won’t be long before she’ll be faced with the same uncertainty and stress about what lies ahead for the next phase of her life that most high school graduates face. The feeling of needing to find her place.

I think one day I’ll have to sit her down and tell her my story and why its important for her to forge her own path and take her education seriously. Maybe we’ll discuss it at dinner one night over Nan’s sausage casserole. I think I have the recipe for it somewhere…

School Daze

The last time I roamed the halls at the current Easton Area Middle School it was still called Shawnee Intermediate School. Although additions were made structurally and the grade levels and names may have changed the building itself is still pretty much the way I remember it to be from when I was a student in the early 1980’s.

Today was a special chance for me to spend the entire day with my daughter at her school and see what a typical day for her is like. Suffice to say, it had an impact on me.

First off let just say that there are several things that I’ll always remember from my time spent at Shawnee:

1. The Planetarium. The absolute coolest place in the school. The only time where if a visit to the planetarium was included as part of an assembly kids got excited.  Sadly, today it’s just a normal room now.

2. Shawnee was the place where I first heard of the band Duran Duran.

3. Reading the book 1984 by George Orwell in Mr. Pfister’s English class in the year, yep you guessed it, 1984.

4. Going to Mr. Heath’s Earth Science class where every morning began with him literally giving us the weather forecast. Mr. Heath would have a map of the US taped on the board complete with approaching cold/warm fronts and “H” and “L” letters representing the respective pressure systems.

5. Dale Wilson carrying around a briefcase and self-publishing his own newspaper. Why this one sticks out is a mystery to me.

Regardless, I thought of all of these things as my daughter and I walked through the doors this morning. Although I felt safe and secure, seeing the levels of security on campus reminded me that about the only thing still relevant in these hallowed halls was that big brother was now watching more than ever.

After spending the morning having breakfast we made our way to her homeroom. Once there I was quickly introduced to one of her classmates named Eric. Upon meeting me he immediately asked Jillian, “Does he know about David?”. “SHUT UP!” Jillian replied as Eric just chuckled. Later I would ask her what that was all about and Jillian told me that Eric thinks she likes David, another student in her class (one which she is quick to say she doesn’t)… Ah, young love.

It wasn’t long before the class clown/troublemaker made his presence known. Chad (name changed to protect the innocent), a ten year old boy who looked more like a linebacker was literally dancing around making “beat-box” sounds when the teacher’s back was turned. I think the level of commotion going on and students asking questions made her oblivious to his actions. Other kids were cracking up at his antics and as soon as the teacher turned back around he immediately would stop. Then sure enough, as soon as the teacher went back to work in a small group he’d act up again.

I had to laugh when I thought what the odds would be if I came back five years from now and Chad was still in the same class beat boxing?

BRRRING….School bell rang and it’s off to music class. My favorite. Usually there would be two periods of math but since she was signed up for band  I got to sit with Jillian in a small group for clarinet lesson.

When the bell rang again we made our way to Math class. As we arrived the teacher, who was working out a problem on the board asked “Were you at music?”. When Jillian responded in the affirmative the teacher replied, “Oh, too bad. You missed some really great problems here”. It was all I could do to keep from saying: “Uhm, yeah…right…SURE she did!”..

Before I knew it lunch had arrived. We scurried our way into the lunch line. A smile appeared on my face when I discovered the tater tots were exactly as I remembered. Memories of the second period lunch at the high school flooded my senses.

About the only thing I lamented about lunch was that there were no green beans. Oh how I missed stabbing the green veggies with my straw. Trying to see how high I could fill the plastic straw before squeezing it’s contents back out on to the cardboard tray.

As we ate I asked Jillian what was next. “Science Class”, she replied. “But our normal teacher is not here today. We have a substitute”.

Substitute. That word triggered the memory of Mr. Stone, the universal substitute teacher in school. Mr. Stone worked as a substitute in pretty much every subject and to this day I’m not even sure what he was experienced to teach. When he was in for a sick teacher it was like study hall because nothing was about the only thing accomplished.

After Science, we made our way back to homeroom and then the funniest thing ever happened.  The teacher wanted to take attendance again and she asked students to please acknowledge with a “Here” when their name was called. Now. most well behaved students would simply give the “here” as their name was called, although some thought to give more cool responses like “Yo” or “Hi There”. But when the teacher called out Chad’s name, he decided to answer with the “beat box”. The teacher asked him to answer properly, but the damage to me was already done.

I laughed…and I laughed…and I laughed. For some reason, him doing the beat box at that particular moment in time hit my funny bone. I was covering my face looking down at the desk with tears started coming from my eyes. I don’t know what it was that was so damn funny when he did that, but I almost had to leave the room. All the kids, including my own Jillian sat there laughing at me laughing. I don’t know how I was able to pull it together, but class continued.

The day ended with of all things an assembly. We entered the auditorium to watch The Bach Choir of Bethlehem perform a few selections. Maybe its because I’m in a choir myself or perhaps because I’m well beyond the middle school years but in either case I found them to be very entertaining.

As we walked out of school and headed home I had a new found appreciation for my daughter. Seeing her interact with others, openly raising her hand to ask questions and actively participate in school is quite the opposite of the way I was. I thought about all the memories she would now be making in these halls over the next four years.

And I couldn’t be more proud.

Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’

WBSSinstigator (noun) – someone who deliberately foments trouble

It was a warm day in June when I was finishing up mowing the lawn. A chore I seem to have been relegated to do every week. Even though this day also coincided with Father’s Day it made no matter. As a father, it is my sworn duty to uphold the length of the lawn. And I would not fail in my duty.

The neighborhood was alive with the sound of picnics and reverie. Boys and girls giving their fathers home made art work proclaiming their love. Families gathering together to pay honor and celebrate Dad with steak, rib and beer. If you have children, it is indeed a good time to be one of those people with the Y chromosome.

As John Deere and I made our final pass on the now trimmed lawn I noticed a car pull up outside the neighbor’s house across the street. A tan, late-model Cadillac CTS with tinted windows came to a stop and out he stepped: a tall, well-respected African-American man. I guessed he must be in his mid to late 60’s by now. Still looked very much the same as I remember though, no worse for wear. The only difference being he was a little more gray than normal but age will have a tendency to do that do you. But Bill Houston took age in style. Much like everything else from what I remember about him.

Bill had come to visit his daughter. She’s lived across the street from me since I moved in eight years ago. I’ve seen him there on occasion, but as usual, this time seeing Bill (or Mr. Houston as I know him) emerge from the car had me thinking about the time our paths crossed thirty years ago. Back when I was a bad ass.

It was ninth grade at Shawnee Intermediate School. I was sitting in the cafeteria breaking bread with my homies and that’s when HE sat down next to me. That “he” was Jeff, or the Jersey Bomber as he was known. How he got that name I have no idea. But he was a hard-nosed kid that hung out with the dudes that were in detention all the time. Most of the time he was joining them there for a variety of incidents he was involved with.

I think he must have flunked ninth grade a hundred times and I heard rumors that he even smoked cigarettes. I’m sure he could’ve kicked my ass at will but for some reason I wasn’t afraid. At least not that day.

As I gulped down the last of my quarter pint of milk that’s when the opportunity began to present itself. I noticed Tom emerging from the lunch line carrying a tray with a slice of rectangular pizza and tossed salad. Tom was a bit of a geek who always seemed to be getting into fights with other kids for no apparent reason. He didn’t even care if he would win or lose. I think he just liked to fight for the sheer enjoyment of it and didn’t care what the consequences might be.

I began to laugh to myself when I thought of some of the battles he waged over the course of the school year. Silly “fights” if you want to call them that consisted of noogies, hair pulling and the literal kicking of asses. Suddenly, the little devil on my shoulder popped up and whispered into my ear. What happened next became a blur.

I quietly leaned over and told the Bomber that Tom had been talking about his Mom and saying all kinds of bad things. I’ve never seen a kid get up as quick as Bomber did. It takes a lot to just leave a slice of school pizza sitting on the tray. School pizza is the pen-ultimate of meals. I would have at least finished it first.

But the next thing I know Bomber and Tom are doing battle in the middle of the cafeteria. Tossed salad is covering the floor and the two are slipping and sliding on the lettuce while the other kids cheer them on.

Within seconds the lunch duty teachers had separated the boys and dragged them out to parts unknown. Well, by unknown, I mean Principal Houston’s office. That’s where all malcontents go to face the judge and be punished for their actions. I thought nothing more of the battle that had just been waged. I disposed of my garbage and headed back to class an extra slice of pizza fuller than usual.

While sitting in English class a short while later the teacher got word that my attendance was required at the ninth grade office. “Me?”, I thought. “Surely they must be honoring me with a Coolness Award or something. Maybe Mom and Dad were picking me up to go get the Atari 2600 I was asking for”. But when I walked into Mr. Houston’s office my dreams of playing Combat and Missile Command were gone as I saw Tom and The Bomber sitting there. Uh-Oh.

In a nutshell, Mr. Houston put the bad boys in detention. Then he told me for instigating the fight I would also be getting three days detention after school. I was shocked as I left the office. What the heck does “instigating” mean anyway? Why should I get detention for something I’m not even sure I am guilty of?

When the first day of detention came I decided I wasn’t going to go. I would fight this. Take it to the Supreme Court if I have to. I am not guilty of this charge. I couldn’t wait to confront Mr. Houston again and tell him so. Heck, he might even forget about it and I’d be off the hook. But sure enough, the very next afternoon he called me in to his office again. This time it was one on one. Mano-a-mano.

Mr. Houston asked me why I didn’t go to detention and that my punishment for not showing up was now five days detention. I told him that there was no way I was going to go. He then informed me that if I did not show up next time I would be suspended for three days.

Suspended??? The thought of me being in the same category as the Jersey Bomber was most definitely NOT appealing. I saw myself standing on the street corner while the other kids were in school. Maybe even attempting to light up a cigarette and then choking on it. Yeah, I’d be REAL cool.

I pleaded with Mr. Houston and asked him why he would do this to me. “I’m innocent of this thing called instigating” I told him. That’s when he handed me a dictionary and showed me the definition of instigator and asked me “Was this you?”.  I was silent. He had me, guilty as charged. I HAD started the fight and needed to accept my punishment. James Wood in detention? Who’d have thunk it?

Those five 90 minute detention periods after school were some of the longest of my life. As a kid, coming home from school on the bus at 5:30 is not something you look forward to. But I accepted it.

As reality came back I noticed I was still day dreaming and forgot to turn off the lawn mower.  Mr. Houston, now long retired from doling out advice and detention, was already inside celebrating Father’s Day with his daughter.  I wanted to go over there and knock on the door but thought it might be kind of strange to thank a man thirty years later for the life lesson and teaching me the meaning of a new word.

One that will always stick with me.