Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Friday, March 23, 2012

Vets Leave, Rookies Suffer, Part IIIa

A few more thoughts and stories before I leave--for now--these visits to the dawn of my career.  First, another excerpt from Schoolboy, another moment from the fall of 1966 when the Aurora (Ohio) Middle School found itself with a minor crisis on its hands ... and what those amazing teachers decided to do about it.  At the moment, we were sharing our building with the high school, whose students would not move into their new facility until about six weeks after the opening of the school year.  The high school had the building in the morning; we, in the afternoon ...

September 1966.  Aurora Middle School.  Aurora, Ohio.     

At one of our first faculty meetings of the year, our principal, Mr. Clough (I never, ever, called him Ray, always Mr. Clough), surprises us with this announcement.  There’s a problem with the buses.  (I will learn in the ensuing years that bus-schedule problems are endemic to schools.)  When the high school moves out, Mr. Clough continues, we’re going to have to keep our kids thirty minutes beyond the end of the regular school day.  There is perfect quiet now in the room.  I’d rather not just try to supervise them during that time, he says.  Or have study halls.  I think we should get together and plan some activities for them.

Now here is the real surprise.  Just about all of us (and maybe, indeed, every single one of us) think Mr. Clough’s idea is a great one.  Most of us are young—still in our early twenties.  A handful of us are beginning our first jobs.  We have no idea that this proposal is an outrageous one.  We’re already teaching five to six periods a day.  Forty kids per class.  Supervising lunch periods.  Supervising kids as they arrive and depart.  And now we have another thirty-minute period to plan and teach?  For no extra money?

But no one—not a single person—objects or complains or suggests a salary adjustment.  Instead, we are eagerly writing down our ideas for Mr. Clough, who has passed around some slips of paper for that purpose.  I am writing newspaper and drama and student council.

We call this extended time from 3:00–3:30 “Activity Period.”  Some activities meet only once a week, some two or three times.  But all of us are doing something: leather craft, reading, tutoring, debating, photography, newspaper, science, cooking, knitting, fencing (yes, with foils), riflery (yes, with .22 rifles donated by parents), chess, science club, woodworking, drawing.  The kids sign up; we lead the activities; and for many of us, students and teachers, Activity Period will be the most fun we have all day. 

That year, the Drama Club and I wrote a comedy called The Founding of Aurora; or, The Grapes of Wrath.  Patently similar in style to my old collegiate Follies-Alamo script, it tells a satirical story about how our community was founded.  In the spring of 1967 my students and I produced the play for the school and for the parents.

One of the seventh-grade students who wrote that script with me, John Mlinek, has become a life-long friend.  Now well into his fifties, John has been involved with local and educational and professional theater groups his entire adult life.  The Founding of Aurora was his first performance.  A couple of years ago, John found his copy of the script, duplicated it, and brought it over to our house during Christmas break.  He, his wife, Joyce, and I read it aloud, taking parts.  As we sat there, we could not imagine what we could have thought was so funny back in 1966–1967.


My friend Jim Wright--whom I wrote about yesterday, the ex-Marine--supervised the Rifle Club.  Kids brought in .22 rifles (he stored them in the faculty lounge!), and after classes ended, he took the kids down to the lowest level in the building, by the gymnasium.  There was a crawlspace below the floor there (for some kind of maintenance access?), and he and some kids would, well, crawl down in there, set up their targets, and fire away ...  Jim taught them firearm safety, proper (Marine!) technique, the gravity and responsibility of holding a deadly weapon in your hands.

Jim Wright with Rifle Club, 1966 Yearbook, Aurora Middle School
I'm trying to imagine this today.  But can't.  It's far beyond unthinkable in most (all?) public schools today ... though Western Reserve Academy and any number of other schools field riflery teams ...

TOMORROW: one final entry about Jim Wright: his creation of--and devotion to--the 8th Grade Washington Trip--still occurring, I think, with Aurora 8th graders ...

1 comment:

  1. The 8th Grade Washington Trip is still occurring each year at Harmon. My son went this school year. The organization and execution of the trip is absolutely amazing compared to when I went back in 1977.