Monday, March 16, 2009

Elementary (Grammar) School Daze

This is a prelude to my last Blog concerning my High School days.

I entered the Chicago Public School system in the third grade. Prior to that time I was in the Parochial (Catholic) School system. I won’t go into the details, but the Dominican Sisters told my parents that I was an incorrigible child.

One of the greatest benefits in transferring schools was that the Public School (McCormick) was only two blocks away from our house; the nearest Catholic School was 5 blocks away. When you are a kid toting books (in the days before backpacks) to and from school, 3 less blocks made a big difference, especially during the Chicago winters.

In addition, the teachers in the Public Schools were much kinder to their students than the Sisters were. I was accustomed to being whacked on the knuckles (with a ruler) or slapped on the head for just smiling. Even worse punishment would ensue if I had made what was considered to be a “smart alec” remark. I recently told a Catholic friend that we should have sent the Dominican Sisters and Jesuit Brothers down to Gitmo.

The grading system in the Chicago Public school system was also different. Instead of ABCDF we had SEGFU (Superior, Excellent, Good, Fair and Unsatisfactory). Our report cards were graded 4 times per semester; the final period being your final grades for the semester. During my first two semesters at McCormick I had a consistent E average. My grade average would have been higher, but I consistently received F’s in deportment (I guess the Sisters were right – I was a smart alec).

Most of my friends in the neighborhood went to Parochial schools. When I boasted about my E average, they would shrug it off by saying that I was learning at a lower level. They had been told by their parents that the Chicago Public schools were substandard. That way they could readily accept the corporal punishment that they received in the Catholic school system. They were getting a better education; therefore they should endure the pain!

I can’t imagine that there were better teachers than I had during my 6 years at McCormick Elementary School. They worked with the slower students and pushed the brighter students. The bulk of them were old women that had been teaching most of their adult lives. Two (Mrs. Bowlen and Mrs. Garvey) finally retired when my class went on to High School. They were both in their 60’s and had taught some of my classmates parents at our school.

Mrs. Bowlen was my favorite teacher at McCormick. She was my seventh grade homeroom teacher and the senior science teacher. If you wanted to learn, she made learning easy by guiding you (not beating you) into the right direction. She was stern but fair. I (as well as my Mom) stayed in contact with her, until her passing in 1990.
When I was stationed in Africa, she would send me a weekly letter, detailing her life in Thermopolis, Wyoming. In return, I would write about the people that I met and the places that I had visited in Ethiopia (sans the sordid details).

In the second semester of the Eight Grade we took what were called High School Placement Tests (basically an IQ Test). I had always tested well and scored higher than I should have. Mrs. Garvey (my Eight Grade homeroom teacher) almost went into shock when she saw the test results; she realized that I had actually learned something while pulling my usual classroom shenanigans.

About 3 weeks before the school year was over we were visited by staff members of the local Public High Schools. Can you believe that you actually got to choose your High School? I had a choice of three schools; Harrison Tech, Farragut or Lane Tech (an all male school).

Farragut was just two blocks away from my house, but I chose Harrison (a mile away from home) because several of my friends were planning to attend that school and my Dad was an Alumnus. Lane was out of the question; nearly an hour away by bus and no girls.

The Harrison representatives touted me for the Honors (College Prep) classes (English, Science and Math). They told me that they were accelerated classes; however a G would count as an E and an E as an S towards my GPA. They neglected to mention that the homework was basically double than that of normal classes.

Near the end of my freshman year, I met with my Faculty Advisor Mr. Dyokas. Even with the extra credit I was maintaining less that an E average. He told me if I planned to go to College, I better get my grades up a notch. He also told me that it was important that I participated in as many extracurricular activities as possible; this looks good on a college application.

After 4 years of High School I had been a member of The Science Club, The Jazz Club, The Drama Club, The Debating Team and The Newspaper Staff. I had taken Mr. Dyokas’ advice.

The Beach Bum

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Anonymous Hardware Bob said...

Funny how are lives paralel each other. I too kept in touch with Edith Bolen until her passing. She taught my mother & father both. I was one of the slow learners of McCormick and to this day,not to sharp. Maybe that is why I have good friends. They were always told not to run with sharp objects,hence they ran with me.

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