Everything about this year is different, and school is the most different of all. Some schools have gone completely digital, some schools alternate which students can attend in person, some schools spread and shield their desks and diligently clean their surfaces. The newness of schooling during COVID-19 was made especially clear to me during last week's session when Kian shared the story of his first day in first grade. He's going into second grade, so I can't imagine how different his first day back will be. Will he play with any friends in person. How will Phys. Ed. be done over Zoom? Will he miss cupcakes during his classmates' birthdays and Halloween parades? How much of school will change once everyone can go back in person again?
We've all taken our experiences with school for granted, but school has changed a lot over the years. Certain practices have fallen out of favor (like corporal punishment and the dunce cap), certain practices are coming back in unusual ways (like correspondence courses), and certain practices only took hold outside of the United States (like having students clean and sweep the classrooms at the end the day.) Even preschool was once a new and exciting concept to our older buds. In honor of beginning of the new school year, I want to dedicate this post to stories about school and schooling.
Ann Von Dehsen
Caught up in the excitement of the US Women’s Soccer Team’s victory, I realized how greatly and positively things have changed for girls and women in sports. When I was in elementary school, long before Title 9 leveled the playing field, we had co-ed gym once a week. It was more like a structured recess than gym – we played a lot of dodgeball and had a lot of relay races. In 6th grade, however, we had separate girl/boy gym classes. Already the lines were drawn as boys had gym 3x a week and the girls had it twice a week. The boys were given t-shirts and gym shorts with the school’s initials on them and we girls were told to wear a shirt with shorts underneath on gym days. We were also given a very new, very young, very male gym teacher, known as Mr. B. I [doubt] if Mr. B’s dream job was teaching a group of 6th and 7th-grade hormonal girls, but it did mean certain advantages for us. For example, we had to “change” into our gym clothes behind the curtain on the stage in the gym. Now, remember “hanging” meant whipping off our shirts to expose our shorts, a move which should take less than 10 seconds. But given the fact that Mr. B was not allowed to step behind the curtain, we stretched the time out until we heard, “Girls, please come out,” then “Let’s go,” and finally, “Girls, NOW!” On days when one just didn’t feel like participating, she would go up to Mr. B and use the universal female excuse of “I have cramps.” After his blush faded, Mr. B would stammer, “Uh OK, uh just go over there and observe.”
Mr. B loved softball and we pretty much played it whenever the weather cooperated. Two of my friends and I often volunteered to play outfield because we enjoyed the peace and quiet, could talk about it, and even look for 4 leaf clovers since it was extremely rare for a ball to get past shortstop. Unless, unless, unless, Muriel stepped up to the plate. Muriel consistently hit over the fence homers (meaning we outfielders still didn’t have to work) and when she pitched, it was inevitably a “no-hitter.” Muriel was a very nice girl who was told “no” time after time when she asked to try out for little league. So finally, Muriel tucked her hair under a baseball cap, borrowed her brother’s clothes and went down to the field for little league tryouts, registering under a false name. No surprise, she hit 3 homers at her 3 at-bats and pitched a perfect inning. When the winning player’s names were announced at the end of tryouts, Muriel’s pseudo mane was of course amongst them. Having a flair for the dramatic, she walked up to home plate, pulled off her cap and shook her long mane of churls as the adults gasped and the kids cheered. In fairness, the adults got in touch with some little league executives but were told the bylaws strictly forbade females in a male sport.
Things improved for us girls in high school as we were exposed to a wider variety of sports. I really liked tennis and archery. There was a tennis team – for boys only – and an archery club for boys only. The only all-girl teams were gymnastics and cheerleading. But over the years, things did change and when my own girls were in high school, they played on the lacrosse team and field hockey team and the tennis team.
Slowly, the women’s tennis championship became more popular than men’s. Upon Women’s basketball team won 11 championships and 13 years own Mo’ne Davis propelled her Philadelphia team to the Little League World Championship.
During the victory parade for this year’s women’s soccer team, co-captain Megan Rapinoe popped the cork on a bottle of champagne trouncing, “I deserve this – we all deserve this!” Yes, they do, but they also deserve to win their next battle – equal pay.
Grades in My Life
Society needs grades to attach privileges or losses and I believe that they have a purpose but do I need them? Well it depends on the stage of my life.
At the elementary school I was like a scared mouse and saw my teachers as powerful and merciless authorities. That little paper they gave us with our evaluation was almost always a certification of our ignorance and irresponsibility. At the end when I finished I did not know how I was promoted. At the secondary level I noticed that I had learned some study skills so I had a good domain of my language and was not afraid of mortify myself with long hours of study. My grades came easily and I was recovering from the bruises of my self-esteem. High school was the same as at the secondary level and my good grades helped me to socialize and to be curious about reading and people but they never represented me
At bachelor degree each course was an adventure and learned to suck books and have a presence in the oral exams. It was almost impossible to fake in those oral exams but I managed to do it at that stage I was a professional to obtain decent grades. Obviously my knowledge did not match my grades but I did not mind.
At the master degree I loved to study most of my courses and I was under pressure to obtain a good average score so for the first time in my life grades represented some true knowledge in me. I don’t have time to talk about more of my studies that I did but at this stage of my life, I can say that grades are not important. I believe that tests and evaluation have to be an opportunity of learning and enjoyment.
Norman Cain8.24.2017My College Years at Bluefield StateWhen I arrived on the campus of Bluefield State College, a small Historical Black College and University, located in the city of Bluefield, West Virginia during the semester break in January 1961, I was highly disappointed for several reasons. First, I expected a larger campus, certainly nowhere as large as Temple, Penn or Drexel; but nevertheless, a campus more vast, a campus with more buildings. Secondly, I expected to see students dressed in the ivy league mode (loafers, recreational bucks, newsboys hats, khakis, rain coats, button down shirts) opposed to fashionable party wear. Truth be told, I was equating my initial impression of the campus with what I had seen of the large Philadelphia campuses.As I stated earlier, I arrived on campus during the semester break. There were no females present. There were around 30 males, some of whom where Korean era veterans. As the only true freshman on campus, I was subjected to light silly hazing, a custom on campuses during the period, which I found to be entertaining, until the students who had spent semester break off-campus returned. For me, freshmen hazing was over. I let the upper-classmen know that fact. They reluctantly left me alone. There was no way that I was going to be embarrassed in front of those lovely coeds whose presence had me forget about what I thought the short comings of the campus were. My college life had begun. Four years of study, dances, love affairs, pranks, highs, lows, camaraderie, dormitory life, civil rights demonstrations.During my first semester, I did well in my history class, I struggled with remedial English, a class taught by a young professor who took me under her wing. Once, after reading my essay that I had written, she informed the class that while I needed to gain a mastery of grammar, I, nonetheless, had an idea about the nuances of creative writing. I was surprised when I received my first college transcript. While I thought I was going to be placed on academic probation, I received a grade point average of 2.17. I was elated. I felt that, perhaps, I could manage to navigate my way through college. During the second semester of my freshman year, I again, did well in history and received an “A” in sociology, English Literature, and Public Speaking, a class in which, I was amongst a few who were selevted to participate in a workshop designed for those that showed an aptitude for oration.In order to increase my grade point average, I enrolled in a summer accelerated constitution class at Cheyney State College in Cheyney Pennsylvania (which had turned me down for admission) and received an “A”. By the time I was a second semester sophomore, my grade point average was 2.38. That average allowed me to become eligible to pledge for the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. I became president of the pledge club and secretary and Dean of pledges for the fraternity. I was always the master of ceremonies when the fraternity held academic functions. During my senior year I became vice president of the inter-fraternal counsel.In addition to having become a visible fraternity leader, I also became a civil rights organizer and president and founder of the poetry society. In my senior year, I received an “A” in Advanced English Grammar. I accomplished this feat without purchasing the text. Evidently, I had come a long way from being chronically shy, learning disabled, and low self-esteemed individual.I can truly say that my sophomore year in college was the year that convinced me that I could overcome all obstacles if I persevered, believed in myself and worked hard. I realized that I was not stupid. I began to verbalize. I began to assume campus leadership positions. Attending a HBCU, which in the early sixties were institutions where the students’ administrators and faculty were close knit – like an extended family, was a plus. Some instructors realized that I was not equipped for college study, but because they saw that I was trying heard, they helped me. They would have me do chores for them: rake leaves, shovel snow, paint, clean house, run errands, etc. After completing shores, they would give me a meal, private tutoring for several hours and pay.On the two occasions when I was unable to pay for boarding, the administration did not send me a bill. When a local graduate sorority chapter, one whose members were overwhelmingly, alumnus of Bluefield State College, found out that I was financially strapped, they gave me a stipend. When I did not have $25.00 to purchase my teaching certificate, a group of female students made sure that I had the money I needed. My four year tenure at Bluefield State College taught me an important lesson: if one desired something badly enough, perseverance would deliver it. I spent four wonderful years there. My last night on the campus a Bluefield State College was a spontaneous time of ritualizing for a few of the students that had completed the summer session. I remember how on that pleasantly warm mid-August evening we gathered in front of the girls dormitory and commenced to sing all of our colleges fight songs, the school’s hymn, as well as an array of the sorority and fraternity songs.I recalled how I had entered the college as an unprepared freshman but had blossomed into a campus leader – a big fish in a small pond if you will. I thought of how my becoming the founder and president of the poetry society, secretary and designated master of ceremonies of my fraternity, vice president of the inter fraternal council, speech writer for the eventual schools student body president and civil rights designated chaplain and leader could not have been accomplished without the support of the administration, faculty, and student body. I was especially grateful for those faculty members who saw that I was trying and unselfishly extended themselves towards me. I thought about what the future had in store for me. Would I be drafted? Would I be able to get into grad school? Should I go to the Deep South and become a full time civil rights activist? Should I seek employment? The morning after the last night on campus, I moved into the future and never forgot my time as a mountaineer. In August 1964, I completed the requirements for Bachelors in Education. I majored in Social Studies and minored in English. While I entered Bluefield State as a student who was unprepared for the rigors of collegiate work: I nonetheless completed my course requirements a semester a head of time.I felt like a physical sensation in the form of stupendous school spirit had engulfed me. Exhausted, we spent several hours conversing. I spoke and heard about the past incidents that happened on the campus. I wanted to stay in the group forever. I do not know how long we were engaged in this ritual or when I retired to the men’s dormitory for the last time. I could not sleep. I thought about what had transpired in my life during the last four years that I matriculated at the college and what the future held for me.
A Southern Glance
The small town in South Carolina, Laurens, had a population at that time of approximately 10,000 people. Segregation was the rule. I to this date did not and still found it difficult to understand. Hard to imagine white and colored water faucets, fountains all the water from a common source. Black and colored bus stations. Everything that could be separated into white and colored, including restrooms at public places.
I attended school in the colored section of town. My high school was located outside the city. Each day I had to pass by a white high school, near where I lived to get to school.
My second year in high school, the building burned down. We attended school in a church until the school was rebuilt, this meant the new school was more modern than the white school with moveable seats, unlike the ones that was permanently anchored to the floor. The seats from the white high school were then forced to the new colored high school and the new seats were sent to the white high school. Other unbelievable occurrences happened like new uniforms for our high school was not bought and our old ones were from the high school (it didn’t matter that funds were siphoned off to the white high school and the colors were not the school colors of our school.
Living in the south had a lot of things that were positive, hospitality among the positive things. Neighbors were a very important part of my early life, which meant that we had to respect them as well as our parents.
At the end of legal segregation, one high school that everyone attends.If you want to transcribe for Best Day, then email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We've had high schoolers and college students volunteer with us before for their days of service, so please email us if you'd like to know more. You can also share our older buds's adventures by donating to Best Day, subscribing to our newsletter, sending a note to our older buds, or following us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. And if you know older buds with stories, then you or they can submit them through our portal right here. We're especially interested to stories from Black older buds, but we're always looking for stories from older buds of color, older buds with disabilities, LGBTQIA+ older buds, older buds of any gender or sex, older buds of any religion, and older buds who just plain break the mold.
And don't forget to maintain contact with the older buds in your life. If you can't be there in person, please call them, email them, or message them on social media. And if they're using teleconferencing or remote events for the first time, give them a call and help them set things up. Check in on them to see how well they're getting used to these programs. Buy them a computer or an internet package if they don't have one of their own. It's a human right, after all.
Curated by Caitlin Cieri