Growing Up In Waterford, PA


Waterford Schools - The middle years
by the late Herb Walden

Fort LeBoeuf Class of 1956

You often hear folks reminiscing about their elementary school days and even more frequently about high school. But no one seems to wax nostalgic about junior high. There is a reason for this. We all hated it! Well, most of us did. Some of us did. I did. Sort of.

In our day, junior high was comprised of 7th and 8th grade. Nowadays, 9th grade is often included. In writing about my junior high experiences, I also include 9th grade, because I want to be up to da.........that is, I'm trying to be mode.........I can't remember which grade was which.

My junior high career began in September, 1949, when I was still a member of the Class of 1955. Junior high was a tremendous change for us in many ways. For one thing, all the former 6th graders from the rural schools were bussed in to join us "town kids". My class size swelled from seven in 6th grade to thirty-six in 7th grade. I had never seen so many kids in one place!

Another change was that we now went from room to room for different classes. In grade school, we were stuck in one room all day. Now there were three or four rooms, and a different teacher in each one, too!

In 7th and 8th grade, Mrs. Ada Carter taught English, reading, and spelling. Mrs. Carter was very strict, and I must admit I was a little scared of her, but as I grew up some and entered high school and college, I found her to be one of the nicest people I've known.

Miss Ellen Johnson taught geography and arithmetic, and Miss Dorothy Edwards taught history and science. It was Miss Edwards' class that started me on the road to becoming a science teacher myself, although I didn't know it at the time.

Mr. Glenn McKinney also taught in junior high. Social studies, I think. I never had him for class, and about all remember about him is that he was HUGE!

For physical education, we had to go across the street to the high school gym. 7th grade was my first exposure to gym class. "Exposure" is the right word, too. I was shocked to find myself in a locker room full of my classmates in various stages of undress! Even more shocking was that I was expected to do the same!

We were all required to wear white gym shorts, white T-shirts, white sweat socks, and sneakers, which were mostly all black in those days.

I did not like gym class! In addition to the locker room and the "uniform", there was the gym itself. The temperature was always hovering around 50 degrees or less. At least, it felt like it. I wouldn't have been surprised to have seen frost on the basketball hoops!

The best thing about gym class was Coach Carmel Bonito. Coach Bonito was beginning his teaching/coaching career as we began our careers as almost-high-schoolers.

I have always been a well-established non-athlete, although I'll have to admit to playing a few games of croquet in my younger days. Nevertheless, Coach Bonito always treated me as well as if I were one of his team members. You know, like someone who actually knew the difference between a field goal and whatever you call that other thing.

The only error Coach Bonito ever made in my regard was assigning me to play "center" in the 7th grade gym class football game. I was probably still in the 80-pound weight class, while the kid opposing me on the other team was approximately the size of a Lincoln Towncar, although not nearly as elegant. Fortunately, he was a nice kid and only ran over me five or six times. From then on, he just flicked me aside. It was, however, a very long class.

Hmmmm! Maybe Coach didn't like as much as I thought!

I did learn one very important lesson in gym class. If you strictly adhere to the rule, "tags in clothing always go in the back", you will generate endless hysterical laughter in the locker room!

Some of my memories of those middle years are kind of blurred. It's not because it was so long ago; it was sort of fuzzy at the time. Exactly what we learned is a little out of focus, too.

I do recall art class which was called Industrial Arts. I don't know why. It didn't seem very industrial to me. Miss Esther McFayden taught our 7th grade class, and Miss Lois Byers took over when I was in 8th grade.

I started making a jewelry box in one of those years. Actually, it was already made. All I had to do was carve a design on it. I never quite got it completed. I still have it. I've been meaning to finish it, I will, too, just as soon as I have time.

Somewhere along the line, we studied ancient history. I disliked ancient history, and all I remember from that class are the three Greek columns: Ionic, Doric, and the other one.

It was during those middle years that I studied foreign languages. "Studied" is a rather strong word. Perhaps I should say "exposed to". The languages were Spanish, Latin, and Algebra.

Actually, what Spanish I learned came from music class. Among other things, we often sang La Cucaracha. I'm proud to say I still remember the translation. It means THE cucaracha!

They say Latin is a dead language. I'm not the one who killed it, but I'm reasonably sure I made it pretty sick. It wasn't really my fault. It was Tom's fault. Tom sat next to me. Having an I.Q. of five or six hundred, he really didn't have to study much. My I.Q., probably being in the double-digits, didn't allow me that luxury, especially in Latin. Tom was nuts for airplanes and would regale me with airplane specifications, complete with drawings and diagrams, while I should have been paying some attention to class work. As a result, I don't know any Latin at all.

But I can tell you how the Russian MiG got its name!

I never learned to speak Algebra. Too many X's, too many Y's.

We studies civics in one of those years. I always used to confuse civics with physics. Then I grew up and became a physics teacher. Now I know the difference. Civics is about American government. Physics isn't.

I remember learning about the three branches of government in civics class: executive, legislative, and the other one.

I have always been known for my spelling prowess. Give me a pencil and paper and I'll spell just about any words you can pronounce. Some will be correct, too. However, if I have to stand up in front of a class and spell aloud, my brain shuts down and my tongue moves independently of my residual thought processes. As a result, I end up mumbling, sputtering, sometimes gurgling letters of the alphabet at random. We had spelling bees in junior high. I was always one of the first to sit down.

Another thing I hated was working math problems on the blackboard. There's nothing worse than copying a problem from the textbook onto the blackboard and then standing and staring at it, not knowing any more than a clam about it. Sometimes there was time for a frantic search for an example in the textbook. But to no avail. The examples were never anything like the real problems. All the while, the rest of the class is snickering and whispering because they all know how to do it. This happened to me more than once, although I was ordinarily pretty good in math up to, but not including, square root.

There were lots of tough times in the middle years, but there were good times, too. Enough good times, in fact, that if my time machine were in working order, I'd happily go back and try it again.

On yeah --- the Russian airplane. MiG comes from the designers' names: Mikoyan and Gurevitch. And if you don't believe me, well, you can just ask Tom!

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