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You’re Getting a New School – But First-

 

Richard A. Stender

The original Camp Hill High School, briefly described in other chapters, was built in 1907.   It was a red brick, two-story structure of perhaps twelve to fifteen classrooms, administrative offices and an old gym in the basement.   An addition, completed about 1938, housed a larger and more modern gym, a 400-seat auditorium and stage, and the industrial arts shop, the domain of Emory Edmonds.  His classroom, beside the shop, was the infamous 7B homeroom, where Emory made believers of newly ascended seventh graders.

It really was a dismal place and sadly outdated.  The chemistry classroom, for example, was very much like those you see in pictures of the labs of Curie and Edison.  I almost included Pasteur, but it was slightly better than that.  And that gym in the basement, infamously labeled the “Old Gym” was good only for “noon dances,” a likely subject for another chapter.  The girls’ gym classes used it sometimes and also for girls’ basketball practices.

Here I go again, departing from the story, but the subject of girls and gym, brings to mind the godawful uniform that the girls were made to wear.  It was a baggy, blue, one-piece suit, with flappy shorts.  They weren’t really shorts because they were designed as “thigh concealers.”  I remember the first time I saw Ann Barnard in one of those things, hiding every bit of her abundant femininity.  I often wonder if it was some spirit of rebellion against the blue drapes, that made those girls in the Class of ’50, wear short shorts for class day.

Getting back to the main idea, in 1951 or so, a movement sprung up to build a new high school.  I cannot recall the estimated cost of the project, but nevertheless, any funds had to be approved by the borough voters; there had to be a ballot authorized bond issue.   Being young, I was not aware of the community attitude about going into debt, but my grandfather railed and fussed, issuing comments like, “Hell, I went to school in a six room school and it didn’t hurt me!”  Maybe, just maybe, there were other taxpayers that agreed with him and the new school project was in jeopardy. 

This doubt in the success of the bond issue was most apparent to members of the faculty and administration.  Don Enders walked around with a very worried look as the Election Day approached.  I guess he got together and talked to Doc Shope, our band director and they hatched the ultimate community guilt trip.  If the quest were not as honorable as it was, you might say they “conspired” to pry the money from the electorate.

Just days before the bond issue election, it was announced in school that we were going to have a RALLY!  Yep, we students were going to raise our voices and the
full crescendo of the band while parading through town, asking for votes for the new school.   We were going to march in a body, carrying signs to evoke generosity,
while the band played stirring music, fronted by all those great legs of the cheerleaders, majorettes and color guard.  Oliver Twist, pleadingly asking for more gruel, had nothing on us!

It must have been the OOMPF that was needed, because the issue was approved by a significant plurality.   We were going to get a new school.  The old ’07 building would be demolished and a state-of-the-art structure erected in its place.  The architects renderings became blue prints and construction was to start with the end of the 1951 school year, when we were jumping from eighth grade and the punishing ten o’clock expulsion from the Youth Center dances.

Now came the other half of the story, a kind of good news-bad news saga.  The faculty, administration, school board and probably a gadfly parent or three, all sat down and decided that next year’s high school classes would be held in the three grade schools, in the mornings.   The elementary classes would be convened in the afternoons.   I guess it sounded good on paper, but walking to Lincoln School from my house to study algebra, was not appealing.  Further, each major subject would be taught for four continuous hours, once a week.  You got it- four hours of Algebra, English, History, Foreign Languages and Science- each of them in one sitting!   The minor courses, like hygiene, gym class, shop and the like, were held in the afternoons in several unlikely locations.  The only good thing about it was that there were some afternoons that included perhaps one class and then we were on our own time.

There were even classes conducted in the Borough Hall.  I think Biology and Chemistry were two of them.  I know I attended a class called GBT with Mr. Danner, in the hall.

That sort of schedule imparted some real hardships, aside from the longer walks to school.  It meant a week’s worth of homework and also a week to lose some of what you learned in the previous class.  I think that was the year of the damnable sentence diagramming with Miss Newton.  In seven days, a predicate became a predicament for me, but the experiment seemed, on the whole, to work pretty well.

The long walks were often eliminated by carpools and cooperative upperclassmen who gave us rides to and from the different schools.   I suspect that the teacher’s lives were made easier with only one big lesson plan to prepare, but I shudder to think about correcting a week’s worth of homework.

A habit or maybe better, an inhabitation began with this crazy schedule and varied locations.  Fickel’s was on the route to and from Lincoln School and just across the street from Borough Hall.  It was about then, that we started to spend time in that
wonderful seat of future adventures.  Let’s face it, when your school day is over at two in the afternoon, why go home when you could gather with friends at Fickel’s.
It probably would have become our hangout anyway, but the introduction was made in the ninth grade, thanks to the crazy quilt schooling.

Because we had at least one class in the 1938 building, now joined with the new structure, we could see the progress being made on our new school.  Brick by brick, it began to take shape and by early spring, the shell was complete and weathered in, as the interior work began.  The contractor, Lambert and Intreri, was bent on seeing us in the new school by September.

The summer saw painting and landscaping being done, while faculty and custodial staff moved furniture into finished classrooms. The worn and scratched arm-chair desks were now wonderfully refurbished, thanks to the labors of Mr. Edmund’s shop classes. The old grassy campus was gone and so were the many of the trees.  Now there was a square, red brick building with gleaming glass windows and a fancy main entrance with a portico of sorts. 

We were welcomed into tenth grade by shiny asphalt tile floors and built-in lockers.  My homeroom that year was the Chemistry Lab and Mr. Bulota.  It was modern and clean as a pin.  It wasn’t long before the familiar acrid odors of sulphur and acids became permanent, as it is in all high school chemistry labs.

There was a big open house for the community to come and see what they had provided to our generation.  Even my grandfather was impressed, but he never could understand why, with all the facilites and equipment, I could not learn, “The damned sign changes when you clear the parentheses!” 

 The old school was quickly forgotten as we endeavored to give the new one a personality, a spirit of its own.   In the three years we had, we put our mark up there for those who followed.   At our fiftieth reunion, I sensed that there were other marks that will never be eclipsed, other spirits of Bulota, Weaver, Wilt, Newnton, Edmonds, Schecter and even old Kitzy, just to name a few.  It wasn’t the bricks that made it special, it was our teachers, Don Enders, “The Fifties” and Fickels and football and so many other people, places and events that we can’t forget.  At least I can’t.

Copyright 2006 by Richard A. Stender

Editor's Note: This story if from chapter sixteen of Mr. Stender's Camp Hill Memories. You can read another excerpt from tbe book here: The Toboggan Slide.

 

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