Off to School

            Before I headed off to school on the first day of third-grade, I stood in the backyard in front of a young pine tree. I grinned from ear to ear while pretending to pull on my ponytails while mom snapped my picture. I loved learning, freshly sharpened pencils, and books. I was nervous, but much more excited about learning to worry too much.

The school was shiny with polished floors and scrubbed windows. Posters and bulletin boards welcomed us back to school. Everyone had new math books, reading textbooks and school supplies. I wanted to try out my crayons and watercolor paints right away! 

            All of the teachers smiled warmly and greeted us. We basked in their attention. Soon we were in a routine of studying, and breaking for recesses and lunch. We nearly skipped to P.E. and adored our music teacher. 

For the first time ever, our school had a computer lab! We were coached on how to handle floppy discs. The computer teacher’s admonishments were so adamant, I can still hear them today: “Only touch the edge right here! Do not touch the middle or the other end! You will erase any saved information if you do! Anyone not following these directions will not get a disc!” Or something like that. 

We played a game called Oregon Trail, with oxen and people “drawn” with choppy green dashes. There was no scenery or background. At the time, it was fascinating to behold. We also were taught how to type in commands in order to make a “turtle” move around the screen. You had to type in the command on one screen, then switch back to another screen to watch the computer follow the given command. Everyone was talking about computers. If your family bought a computer for the home, you were the coolest kid on the block!

One day, there was a huge box of phones in the back of our classroom. They were the box-shaped plastic kind, with gray pushbuttons and a cord connected to the handheld ear and mouth piece. “Why are those phones here?” I asked my teacher. 

“I’m going to teach you how to use proper phone manners,” she replied. 

Those were the days we learned other practical skills like stop, drop and roll and stranger danger. 

In the spring, we put up cardboard around the edge of our desks so we could have private work stations during the California Achievement Test. We may have also taken the Iowa Basic Skills Assessment. “Hello? Who is asking the test question, please? Hold on. I’ll get my mom. I’m sorry, she can’t come to the test right now, may I take a message?”

On the playground we thought nothing of metal monkey bars built over cold, hard asphalt. Nor did we think anything of the asphalt under the swings. One day, a friend shoved me off the twirling bar. I was straddling it, sitting up on top with one leg bent and the other dangling. She shoved me in the back, and I landed face first. Thankfully, under that twirling bar there was bark-o-mulch. 

We had two librarians, and to my young eyes they seemed quite ancient, but probably were only in their fifties. They were sweet and kind. Each week, they had a special question for kids to answer using the library’s resources. If you answered it correctly you earned a prize. 

My teacher was wonderful. One night, she even came to my family’s home for dinner! Another time, she took my cousin and I out for ice cream. She treated all of her students with love and care. We knew we could trust her. We felt safe, and we learned a lot! My third-grade year was great.

            I hope current students are having a pleasant time at elementary school, as I did. . .

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