“School days, school days — good old Golden Rule days?” I remember that song from years past — growing up in New England, Pennsylvania and then Oklahoma.
I’ve recently had the privilege of visiting several Norman schools — and like what I’ve seen. Let me tell you a story....
My story begins after World War II. My father, a Navy veteran, got a job in the garment industry in Lowell, Massachusetts.
The first school I attended was the Dracut Centre School (Dracut is a Lowell suburb).
In those days, and in that place, regimentation was the order of the day.
Boys and girls sat on opposite sides of the room. At recess, that same demarcation was enforced: girls on one side of the playground, boys on the other.
In the first grade, we were known by a number (I was B-16). Bathroom breaks were scheduled, and we lined up, by number.
The teachers were nice enough but aloof from students (or so it seemed to me).
When I was in the fourth grade, we moved to Montgomeryville, Pennsylvania (in Montgomery County, near Valley Forge, just outside of Philadelphia).
It was a shock — girls and boys sat together, and the playground was not divided territory.
It took me a while to cope. The teacher was nice enough, though not necessarily approachable.
By the time I entered the fifth grade, we’d moved again — to McAlester — where I attended Washington School. Much better — more freedom; friendlier teachers.
The company my father worked for made women’s clothing and decided to open another factory in Holdenville, and we moved again. (Please don’t ask: how did your father get into women’s clothing? I’ve heard that dozens of times.)
I attended school in Holdenville through middle school.
The things I remember about school in Holdenville: interesting teachers — but a drab, institutional atmosphere (pale green or brown walls, little artwork other than pictures of previous school principals). My father took a new job in Southern California — where I attended Garden Grove High School.
As I was graduating, my father grew tired of the LA rat race, and moved back to Holdenville.
I gave up surfing beaches for Norman and enrolled at OU.
Fast forward a lot of years. After returning to Norman some 40 years after college graduation, I managed to find myself involved in civic activities and politics.
At a Chamber of Commerce sponsored presentation on the “State-of-Our-Schools,” I had a conversation with Dr Nick Migliorino, NPS superintendent.
He invited me to visit several schools in Norman.
If you’ve read these columns with any frequency, you’ve read about my visits to Norman High, Norman North, Dimensions Academy and the Oklahoma Flight Academy.
You’ve read how impressed I am with what I’ve seen at these schools.
More recently, I visited Kennedy Elementary — and reported on the great job Principal Amber Bui is doing in working with a diverse student body — kids from broken homes, or from families living on the edge of poverty.
I called Bui a “rock star,” and meant it. (This rock star was/is assisted by an all-star staff — credit is due to all.)
I’ve since been privileged to visit Monroe and Jefferson Elementary Schools.
Wow! I am impressed!
I visited Monroe at the invitation of Principal Andrea Crowe.
The occasion was a planning meeting for that school’s 60th Anniversary.
I was allowed to sit in during a session involving Crowe, school staff members, and involved parents. Plans for the celebration this Fall include both day (some activities in the school), and night (a “Party in the Park”).
It would be premature for me to talk details — which will evolve at future meetings — but I can tell you I’m enthusiastic, and I don’t have kids/grandkids here. I’m super-impressed with the positive attitude and support of all involved.
And just a couple of weeks ago, I visited Jefferson, and toured the school with Principal Carla Atkinson.
We talked about recent upgrades to the school: storm shelters, security enhancements) and the benefits to Jefferson as a result of recent bond issue passage: removal of a couple of temporary buildings, and a new Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math (STEAM) classroom facility.
STEAM classrooms are on tap for all Norman elementary schools. At both Monroe and Jefferson, I was impressed with how colorful and vibrant the facilities are — student and professional art cover the walls — helping to enhance a feeling that students belong.
Speaking of “belonging,” Jefferson has a bell tower — a vestige of the original Jefferson school, where the bell was rung to announce the beginning of classes. It’s a tradition at Jefferson that when students matriculate to middle school, they get to ring the bell.
When they graduate from high school, they’re invited to return — and ring the bell again. How cool is that? Principal Atkinson invited me to the next ceremony — and I can’t wait!
My experience back in the day is far removed from what kids enjoy today in school.
At Kennedy, Monroe and Jefferson, I could see the joy in kids’ eyes has they hugged their teachers, as they played together on the playground, as they enjoyed the learning experience.
I wrote a couple of weeks ago about a couple of women making history in Norman (their own contribution to National Women’s History Month).
I’ll add Amber Bui, Crowe and Atkinson (along with all of the women that support them) to that Pantheon.
Finally: Happy Saint Patrick’s Day, from B-16 to you and your families.
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