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Friday, January 6, 2012

No. 94 "Grade School on the Island"

From "Livin' & Learnin', the 25th Anniversary of Harkers Island Elementary School," remarks given by me in 1982

Entering the first grade in 1958, for as of then there was no public kindergarten, I was a member of only the second class to spend all of my elementary years at Harkers Island School. [That was its name and the curtain that draped the stage in the dining hall showed the initials “HIS”.] Though the basic learning processes may have been fundamentally the same, there were a few things that were noticeably different. Extra-curricular activities and learning aids were-at a minimum. The library was still just that, and called that rather than  a “media center.” What we learned we learned either from books or from what our teachers told us. The idea of computers for the classroom was still relegated to science fiction — and science fiction was not a part of the curriculum.

But we did learn and many, if not most of us enjoyed it. Memorization was still an important part of the learn1ng process. At various times we were required to memorize everything from the poetry of Robert Frost to the periodic tables and the Pythagorean theorem. One of life's greatest pleasures was being able confidently to recite the multiplication tables. Reading was portrayed as an adventure. It became my gateway to that vast world that lay beyond the bridge. My favorite pastime was thumbing through a set of World Books. In fact, to us, World Book and encyclopedia meant the same thing for they were the only encyclopedias available. Somewhere in that school today there still may be a set of World Books that has my fingerprints on every page.

Spelling "bees" were still the primary form of intra-school competition. And one stayed in the same classroom with the same teacher all day long, regardless of how you might have placed on a standardized achievement test.

The fun and games of my elementary years, physical education we now call it, had to be spontaneous or not at all. Until the final two years, I cannot recall any organized outdoor recreation. In the primary grades we lined up on Friday afternoons and were allowed to march outside to a slide, the shell of which was still in evidence in the school yard for another thirty years. Once there we proceeded in an orderly fashion up the steps and down the slide and then to the back of the line. After no more than a couple of these sequences we proceeded to march back to class and that was it for another week.

In the middle grades we must have been allowed some more liberal outdoor time because I can recall playing in pickup games of baseball, football and "ring-around-the-roses", but my first experience at organized physical training came when Mr. David Willis came to our school as the seventh grade teacher. He began to divide the upper class boys, (the girls were someone else's responsibility) into several teams for intramural games and calisthenics. At about that same time a large concrete slab, maybe 50 X 100 feet, was placed at the east end of the school yard and had four wooden backboards and goals placed at opposite ends. That was our “outdoor” gym and basketball court.

Finally, in what seemed like an answer to prayers, while I was in the eighth grade there began a league of county-wide and school sponsored basketball teams for seventh and eighth graders. One of the driving forces behind the idea was our school's new principal, Mr. Walker Gillikin. He arranged for us to have physicals at the school from Dr. Fulcher, who was then the County Doctor, and worked out a schedule whereby we played every other elementary school in the county. We were issued the oversized, but still very beautiful, uniforms of Smyrna High School that had been discarded after the consolidation of the County's High Schools.

Henry Brooks, a former All-County performer at the erstwhile Harkers Island High School, agreed to be our coach and we practiced and played in the gym of the Mormon Church. To the surprise of many, but not us, we had a very successful year and lost only two games. That preparation and experience paid some dividends later as during my senior year at East Carteret four members of that team were the varsity starters. Some of the school's supporters loved to call us the "Four Loons" (a reference to the reputed culinary appetite of Harkers Islanders for that protected fowl).

Something else beyond our scholarly and athletic skills must have come out of that time we spent together at HIS, even though we didn't realize it as much at the time. For many of us also took with us a special sensitivity relative to that "two-lane blacktop" we call the Harkers Island Bridge. Specifically this ---it is far better to cross it heading south than to cross it heading north!