NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

October 9, 2013

School days not like they were for me

As I See It
Robert 'Boots' Chouinard

---- — As I write this another school year has begun. Often when this occurs, I think back to the old days. Schools today aren’t what they were back in the ‘20s and ‘30s.

In those days we all went to the neighborhood schools. We walked there, no such thing as buses. If we lived close enough we went home for lunch. Those who didn’t brought their lunch to school. Milk was provided for those who wanted it.

The schools had large playgrounds. The girls were on one side of the school and the boys were on the other. We all got into various types of games waiting for school to open. With no gyms we had a recess where we’d all go out and run around. I don’t recall any bullying. Everyone felt safe and had fun.

The buildings were made of red bricks with large windows. We could open them in good weather. The floors were wooden with the wooden chairs and desks fastened to the floor.

Things were very simple, no frills. We attended school a full 180 days each year. There were no field trips or half days. Gosh, in those days, kids stayed in their neighborhoods all the time. We didn’t travel any place.

At school everyone knew one another. You knew who to play with or who to avoid. There wasn’t many discipline problems. If anyone was foolish enough to act out, he got taken care of. They didn’t spare the rod in those days.

Being of French descent, all my older sisters and brother went to the French School. That was a short walk to the lower end of Federal Street. The grades went from kindergarten to 8. French was spoken in my house all the while my grandmother was alive. She lived with us, which was common in those years. There were no nursing homes then. So my siblings all could speak the language. My grandmother passed away when I was an infant. That was unfortunate because I didn’t learn the language.

I went to the French School from kindergarten through grade 3. Learning the French pronunciation proved difficult. To me it didn’t seem masculine enough, speaking it. I persuaded my parents to allow me to transfer out. That proved to be a large mistake because in a few years I was a soldier in France. Since my school days, the French School closed.

My elementary education got mixed up. For one reason or another, I attended three different schools. The Brown School was just across the street from me on Prospect Street. As I recall, it was a great school with classes only to the sixth grade. We had a terrific large playground, the boys on one side and the girls on the other. When school wasn’t in session, we played many games on their grounds.

I spent a couple of years at the Immaculate Conception. Having some difficulty with English grammar I switched for grade 7.

The Jackman School wasn’t far from the Brown School. That worked out terrific for me. It didn’t have a cafeteria or a gym. We brought our lunch to school. We did have some sports and competed with other schools. One day a week we walked to the high school for manual training for the boys. The girls took home economics. I still remember the shop teacher, Charlie Pierce. When he spoke he whistled his s’s. He didn’t turn me on to woodworking.

We never realized back then how beneficial it was for us to attend small schools. We knew all the kids there and the teachers as well. We all got along just fine. If there was any bullying, I wasn’t aware of it. In the Brown School we could walk home for lunch if you lived nearby.

All this has changed since those days. The city built larger schools and closed the neighborhood ones. Consequently, they had to bus all the kids.

Being in a large setting like that isn’t suited for all children; so many have an inferiority complexes. Mixing in with kids they don’t know isn’t easy. Some kids have poor opinions of themselves, which causes a problem.

Along with the schools changing, so has society. Things are so different today than it was. Many kids suffer with this disorder or that one. It is proving to be very expensive to handle all the cases.

In the olden days, parents never used profanity with kids around. They watched what they said. The expression then was, “Watch out, little ears are around.” Today even little tots swear. Their language is something else.

What concerns me and many others is the amount of shootings in schools. You must ask, why? I wonder if it isn’t striking back, maybe a form of rebellion, who knows?

One thing is certain, things aren’t the same. I wonder if the kiddos have the happiness we had. We’ll never get back to having those nice neighborhood schools. Parents do have a couple of options for kids in the lower grades. Once kids finish the elementary grades it’s time enough then to put them into large high schools. That’s when they are better able to cope with it.

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Robert “Boots” Chouinard lives in Salisbury.