Thursday, August 25, 2011

First Day of School

Today's the first day of school for the 2011-2012 year here in the county where I live. It should be a pretty nice day. The weather sounds perfect with no rain predicted, at least not until the students will be safe at home from their bus rides and the afternoon thunder showers set in. (Hurrican Irene is still a blip on this morning's radar.) The teachers are waiting, and I'm sure the students are as ready as they will ever be. I'd bet most of them woke up early this morning, even those who dreaded the day. There's a certain air of expectation around the first day.

In 1942 Pilot Mountain School had its first, first day of school. I've tried to imagine what that day was like and how it compares with this morning. School opened a little later in the year back then because there were only eight calendar months of school, one hundred-sixty days, on the schedule. There was a war going on, with rationing. To save precious gasoline and rubber tires, the bus routes were as abbreviated as possible. Any child living within a mile and a half radius of the school could not ride the bus and those who could were required to walk to designated central pick-up spots.

Since the entire nation was on year-round, war time daylight savings, the school system adapted by scheduling the morning bell for after nine AM. Students had plenty of time to milk the cows, gather the eggs and finish whatever other home chores they were required to perform before they headed off to their first day of school.

Just like today many children came wearing new shoes, except that for the most part, this one new pair in the fall (usually brogan boots) was the only pair and had to last the entire year. Growing was frowned upon, I'm sure, wartime rationing, remember. A child wore the same pair of shoes until the soles came apart and then the mamas fashioned new soles out of cardboard, slid them down deep inside the brogans. Going barefoot was a lot more simple, and certainly permitted.

Waiting for the children at the door were four teachers, six grades, but only four teachers. That was it. No lunchroom ladies because there was no cafeteria with vegetable soup temptations announcing what was for lunch. The children either packed a pail or hurried home for a quick meal. The lunchroom had not been built yet, and neither had the bathrooms. The students (and the teachers as well) used the outdoor facilities. No custodian. No one to sweep the floors other than the teacher. No librarian and no library. No music teacher, PE teacher, nurse. Nothing but the four teachers, one of whom was designated principal.

The green sign out front didn't say Pilot Mountain School. Instead it said, in big block letters, "Constructed by the WPA." That's the Works Progress Administration, a Great Depression era government stimulus program through which this school was funded. The sign was still there because construction was not completed and on that first, first day of school back then, not only did the children arrive, so did the construction workers.

The sounds on that first day of school in 1942 were hammering and sawing as much as the voices of excited children settling down to a world of wonder in a brand new school. Settle down, they did. The noises from the construction became secondary. The pressures from war time America became secondary, too. After all, this was the first day of school where children came for sanctuary as much as for "learning."

Not all that different from today.

Catch of the day,


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