Changed Schools, Changed Rules
Moving from the modern school building and small community feel of Goodwin to the big, old, institutional school on Route 1 in Clinton was a huge change in my life. Not only were the kids and the teachers all different, but the philosophy of teaching seemed different.
They sandwiched the school property between the main road and the railroad tracks, which added to the industrial feel. The three-story brick building was cold and echoing. The lunchroom was in the basement and had little natural light.
On the playground there was a different feel, too. There seemed to be less equipment and more children. The monitors were not our teachers. To me it felt more like a prison yard than a play area. We usually had fun, but there seemed to be more fights.
I joined a third grade year already in progress and, rather than compete to befriend the new kids, I was a curiosity they ridiculed. My neighbor, Paul, was in the same grade, but not in my class. My home room and reading classes were in the same room with Mrs. French. And we didn’t hit it off.
Mrs. French seemed to expect that I would be a trouble-maker. I had a hard time fitting in, but I made one friend right away. A round-faced boy named Tom, who loved to laugh, gave me an audience. Sure enough, I became much more disruptive, living up to (or down to) the teacher’s expectation.
This new school seemed to be behind my old classes in math and reading. They were still using sight reading out of books they programmed for the words the kids had learned. One thing that was fun was that the teacher still read to us and the book they were already reading was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I had missed the early part of the story, but I was there for the entry into the factory.
My academics were good, but my behavior deteriorated. I spent a lot of time cutting up with Tom and his friend Chuck. We based our friendship on jokes and pranks, so we weren’t favorites with the teachers.
At the end of the school year the teachers recommended summer school to my mother. They didn’t require it, but they were trying out some new classes in subjects that weren’t offered during the year. My mother showed me the flier, and I was interested in one class, Creative Writing.
What is creative writing to a nine-year-old? I don’t know what I expected. But the class was eye-opening for me. We wrote some poetry and learned about characters and adjectives. The teacher read some stories, which were about two or three paragraphs long, and asked us to come up with ideas. Kids poked fun at me on the bus a few times for being in summer school, but I never regretted going.
Pearson had an extra grade compared to Goodwin school. Fourth grade brought me head-to-head with the toughest teacher in the school. She was a war bride from Spain, a veteran teacher, and very strict. Tom and I were in the same class, along with other “troublemakers”. I can’t remember the teacher’s name, but I remember learning Spanish words and numbers.
And I met a girl I liked. Her name was Heather, and she was from a family of five girls. All of their names began with H. Heather was in the middle of the five. She took gymnastics classes in town and practiced on the playground. But there was a problem, and his name was Howard. He took gymnastics, too. And he hung out with Heather a lot. So I signed up for gymnastics. But that just made me a novice in their world. It was hopeless.
From Pearson it was a short walk to my Cub Scout den mother’s house. I only managed a year in scouting, but it was a good experience. I earned badges and learn pledges. I even learned a little more responsibility by working on projects and sections in my book regularly. Unfortunately, there was something going on behind the scenes that soured the experience so I did not continue. I didn’t understand then, but years later my mother told me that the den mother was carrying a relationship with a father of one boy while she was supervising us. Oops.
The school was also close to town. My mother worked at the Hull Agency in town. I could walk to her office on days when there was no one to meet me at home or at school. Hanging out waiting for her was an opportunity to explore the village stores and sidewalks, but also to run down to the train tracks if a freight train was coming through. I enjoyed counting the number of cars in the train and reporting back to the office about it.
On Fridays my grandmother would pick me up after school. I’d stay overnight with her and we would visit our favorite haunts in Old Saybrook before she dropped me back home on Saturday afternoon. In that way, Old Saybrook remained home for most of the 7 years I lived in Clinton.
I made some good friends at Pearson. Tom and Chuck were closer to each other than to me, but they accepted me into their circle. There was a boy named George who was perpetually behind in his studies. When my teacher got frustrated trying to keep me out of trouble she learned that she could pair me up to help George with his spelling words. I enjoyed seeing him improve, and it helped me to study, as well.
In fourth grade we had a gym activity, and I’m not sure where it fit into the curriculum. We learned to square dance. It was awkward being paired with a girl for the activity, though I might have been happy if they paired me with Heather, but no such luck. They paired me a girl named Jody who wore cat’s-eye glasses and who boys made fun of for dressing kind of “dorky”.
My friends had a good laugh when I got paired with Jody, but she turned out to be a very sweet girl and we were a good team. For all the weirdness, I wound up enjoying square dancing more than gymnastics. But nothing at Pearson ever got me over missing my friends and the environs back “home” in Old Saybrook. I never found a fit.
I noticed last summer that they finally shut Pearson down. Hard to believe an old place like that lasted so long. They replaced the high school, which was much newer, before finally giving up on Pearson. Maybe it will become condos or “affordable” housing. Maybe they will tear it down. Either way, I can’t seem to work up a tear. Does that make me callous?