Looking Back

School days of yesteryear

Every year at this time I have a twinge of envy for students who go back to school. Fortunately for my parents, I loved school from day one. In fact, I loved it so much that I would have been a “professional student” after college if I could have earned a paycheck for learning!

My school days began in 1950 when I entered kindergarten at Dana School on East Center Street in Rutland. I would have attended parochial school at Christ the King but only public schools offered kindergarten back then.

In checking the Rutland City Report for 1950, I found that there were five public elementary schools: Dana, Lincoln, Park Street, Kingsley and Watkins. There were also three Catholic elementary schools: Christ the King, St. Peter, and Immaculate Heart of Mary. In the public elementary schools you were with the same classmates through sixth grade. In the parochial schools you were together through the eighth grade. Since the schools were scattered throughout the various neighborhoods, most of us could walk to and from school with our friends.

As I watch today’s children head off to school I see most of them carrying backpacks. Nobody did that in the 1950s. Even in my high school days we stacked up our books and carried them in front of us.

Our education may begin at age five but do we actually remember anything about kindergarten? According to my friends, very little! I can recall a large candy vending machine right as you came in the front door of Dana. I guess nobody was overly concerned about cavities back then! I also remember falling off a slide on the playground. I hurt my back and that prompted a call to my mother, who came to take me home for the day. Unfortunately, I remember nothing about the educational part of kindergarten!

Mrs. Helen Sargent was our kindergarten teacher. I had no fear on the first day of school, because she lived next door to my cousin, Betty Mumford, and I had met her long before becoming her student. My coworkers used to get a kick out of Mrs. Sargent mentioning that she was my kindergarten teacher every time she came into City Hall to pay her taxes.

When it was time for first grade I was enrolled in Christ the King (CKS). Having a nun for a teacher was an entirely different experience. You could see only the faces and hands of the nuns as their headpieces, veils and long black tunics covered everything else. Sister Gerard quickly won over all of us with her caring manner. Of course, the chocolate milk and potato chips at recess time made school a lot more fun.

“Back in the day” there was no physical education class. We had a volleyball net in the playground and one of the nuns used to play kickball with us in Main Street park. That was not an easy task with the cumbersome habit that nuns wore.

By the time you reached eighth grade you could ask to be on “patrol.” If selected, it was your duty to tell students when it was safe to cross the streets near the school. I don’t recall actually standing in the middle of the road as the adult crossing guards of today do. Of course, the streets were pretty quiet back then.

Every student who attended CKS probably has fond memories of Charlie and Gerry Young, who owned a small grocery store just down the street from school. On your left as you came in the door there was a penny candy counter. The Youngs had the patience of a saint when we all piled in after school and couldn’t decide what we wanted.

Leaving elementary school and entering high school, whether public or parochial, meant making new friends from the other city schools. I went to Mount Saint Joseph Academy (MSJ) and most of my new classmates were from Immaculate Heart or St. Peter. On the first day we felt quite grown up when we were assigned lockers for our books and coats. When classes began we had the challenge of getting from one classroom to another in a timely manner. That was never a worry at CKS, as we stayed in the same classroom all day.

When you spend as much time together as students do, you develop a closeness that lasts a lifetime. I am often told that my 1962 class from MSJ is unique in that respect. We frequently have class breakfasts, lunches and dinners. When classmates come back to Rutland in the summer to visit family and friends, we see even more of each other. It’s interesting that in spite of the different paths our lives have taken, we have managed to somehow stay the same for over 50 years.

Just writing this makes me want to be a student again. I noticed that CCV offers free tuition for Vermont residents age 65 and older who are not seeking a degree. Since I already have two bachelor’s degrees I don’t need another! But I bet I could find a course that interests me and my dream of being a perpetual student could come to fruition.

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