Thursday, May 14, 2009

Elmont Road School

Elmont Road School is located a block from the house where I grew up and it was there that I attended kindergarten through the fourth grade. It was built around 1915 and, if my memory is correct, had eight classrooms and a cafeteria/auditorium/gym in the basement. There was one kindergarten classroom, two each for first, second and third grade, and one fourth grade room. Because the school was small, we moved on to the much larger Belmont Boulevard School for fifth and sixth grade.

Kindergarten was only a half-day back then and I was in the afternoon class. My teacher was Mrs. Welch and I remember almost nothing about her other than the impression that she was short. Given how short I was at age 5, she must have been very short. The one thing I do remember is misunderstanding something we were told while waiting for class to start. Every so often, we would be standing in the hallway outside the classroom waiting for Mrs. Welch to come and let us in. On those occasions, one of the other teachers would appear at the top of the stairs and tell us to wait quietly for her, that she would be there in a few minutes because she was "on duty." Well, I thought this was some "teacher talk" that meant she was sitting on the toilet.

My first grade teacher was Mrs. Lynch. She was tall (at least by comparison to Mrs. Welch) and she used to tell us about her daughter a lot. We thought she must be very old, like our grandparents, to have a grown-up daughter.
In second grade, I was in Mrs. Drew's class. We were all happy to be her class because Mrs. McGwire, the other second grade teacher, was "the mean teacher." (My brother Richie also had Mrs. Drew, but Jimmy got Mrs. McGwire. According to him, she wasn't mean at all.)
Miss Garde was my third grade teacher. There was much ado among the teachers through the year because Miss Garde was engaged. At some point, she became Mrs. Raynor but I can't remember whether that was while I was in her class or if it happened in the summer afterwards. Our class put on the Christmas play that year. It was called "Mr. Wuggleby's Toy Shop" and I had the title role.
I think it was in third grade that we started having air raid drills in addition to fire drills. The Elmont Road variation of "Duck and Cover" had us sitting on the floor in the hallway with our coats over our heads. I remember that we always had to pull down the window shades before we left the classroom in one of these drills. I never understood how those canvas shades were going to protect us from an atomic bomb.

Mrs. Fox was the fourth grade teacher and she was the first of the very few teachers who had Richie, Jimmy, and me in a class. In fact, she had us in three successive years. Mine was the last fourth grade class in Elmont Road School, so the following year Mrs. Fox became a third grade teacher and had Richie. Jimmy, who skipped from first grade to second mid-year, was in her class the year after Richie.
I was in Mrs. Fox's class in the fall of 1960, when John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon ran for President. And though the election had already been decided when Christmas rolled around, we presented the play "Santa Claus for President." I again had the title role. Not long before the play, I had a major mishap on my bicycle and scraped one side of my face pretty badly. A combination of make-up and Santa's beard covered up the large scab, as I recall.
It was also in Mrs. Fox's class that I did my first creative writing. Each week we had a new set of spelling words and one of the regular assignments was to use each of them in a sentence. Rather than write a series of unrelated sentences, I started writing little stories about Silly Billy, most of which revolved around a joke of some sort. Mrs. Fox liked one of them so much that she told the other teachers about it. That afternoon, she sent me to the second and third grade classrooms to read my story aloud.
Naturally, after that it became a challenge for me to write an amusing Silly Billy adventure using the spelling words, because I knew I would be reading it aloud. One of my classmates started imitating me and wrote a story about Silly Tommy. When I got upset that he was stealing my idea, Mrs. Fox said to me, "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." At the time, I had no idea what that meant, but since she didn't let him read his stories to the class, it was okay.

There were a few other people of note at Elmont Road School. Mr. Mino was the gym teacher and Mr. York was the music teacher. Both of them worked only part time in our school and spent the rest of their day at the aforementioned Belmont Boulevard School. (I was surprised when I got there in fifth grade and found both of them had come along with me.)
As I recall, Mr. Mino was big on having us do squat thrusts and jumping jacks. And we played a lot of dodgeball.
Mr. York was my teacher when I played the song flute (a.k.a. the recorder) in second and third grade and then took up the clarinet in fourth grade. One of the first songs we learned on the song flute was called "Far, Far Away." There was a joke that whenever a child with an instrument was going to play and asked for requests, the adults would say, "Play far, far away." Clearly, someone putting together the song flute music book had a sense of humor.
I only played the clarinet for one year. I remember that it cost $20 to rent it from the music store. I had expected to be in the "Christmas concert" but wasn't because I was starring as Santa Claus in the play. I think my parents and I decided that I was not destined to be a clarinet virtuoso.

Finally, there was the principal, Miss Clara H. Carlson. I remember talking to her a few times and one of those conversations I'll discuss in another posting. She had been a teacher and an administrator in the district for many years and they renamed Belmont Boulevard School after her. In retrospect, she must have had quite an impact because she is the only person the district has ever honored in that way; all the rest of the schools retain the names of the streets on which they are located.

Not long after my brothers and I passed through, Elmont Road School was converted into the district office. From the outside, it still looks like it did in 1956. Inside, well, perhaps if you listen really closely you can still hear someone playing a song flute or reading a story about Silly Billy...

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