NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

November 12, 2013

Memories of the way school used to be

As I See It
Robert 'Boots' Chouinard

---- — This can be considered an extension of my previous article on schools. The passing of Keith Packard brought back many memories.

Keith was the manual training teacher in our Salisbury Memorial School. He came here as a young man right out of college. His program consisted of many useful skills.

We had quite the nice school system back then. We still have a fine school today. Our system went from grades K to 8. Our kindergarten pupils were in a separate building all by themselves up in the Plains area. The rest of the grades were in the Salisbury Memorial School right near the town square.

We had all the necessary school subjects as all schools had. There was home economics for the girls. Fortunately, there was a well-qualified teacher who had a nice program. There was also art and music.

In physical education we had a very competent teacher in Henry Sheldon. He too was a young man who loved to work with kids. He had just the right disposition for the job. He was always a laid-back person. Besides the regular gym program, he coached the after-school sports. There was football, basketball, baseball and track. The participation was tremendous. In football, he would dress 100 boys in full uniforms. They would all travel to games on a bus or two.

Helping out with the sports was Nick Vovos and Keith Packard. Nick was a science teacher and the assistant principal. He was terrific with kids too.

In those days, other towns had junior high school sports. Newburyport, Amesbury and also Rowley had teams. During each season they would play each other twice. It made for a fine schedule.

I was on the School Committee back then and I served for 30 years. Because of that and being a parent whose kiddos were in all the sports, I would attend all the games. Many parents would come to watch the games. Henry would be on the side lines, remaining calm as he always did.

The high school students from Salisbury continued to play sports at Newburyport or Amesbury high schools. Unfortunately, all this changed. Newburyport and Amesbury decided they couldn’t handle that many students much longer. A committee was formed to make a study and purchase land for a school. Of course the state got involved for we needed their financial assistance. They loved to have big schools. They recommended we have a junior and senior regional school. The committee went along with it and voted it so. Much to my displeasure, I wanted to continue what we had in the towns. I wasn’t an advocate of putting junior high students with high school students. If they couldn’t be by themselves, they should remain in their elementary schools.

Having a regional school meant much more traveling. Some students would be on a bus a half hour or so each way. Because of this, many of them would return home right after school. The participation in extra school activities dropped considerably. Having young students on a bus for this amount of time isn’t such a pleasant ride all the time. It’s difficult for many young ones to feel comfortable being with older students. Also, it could cause them to get involved in some things that may not be too good for them.

When I look at that Memorial School just off the town’s square, I shudder. Here’s a building with all the necessary facilities for a separate junior high school. If only we could get those students back home! In my mind, things would be much better for them.

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Robert “Boots” Chouinard lives in Salisbury.