It all starts for us somewhere. Our first day of school. Where we leave behind everything familiar and enter a world that at times, can be challenging, cruel, fun, exciting, annoying, heartbreaking and every other emotion mixed in between.
Looking back on my 7 years at Public School # 30 in Yonkers, it was probably the most fun I ever had in school, as is probably the case in most people’s lives when looking back to Elementary School.
The stakes were low, girls did not even enter the picture until perhaps the 5th grade in Ms. Beberman’s class but who knows and most importantly, it was a time for me in my education when nothing in life ever seemed to get in the way.
None of the usual life distractions ever held me back. So what if I couldn’t sleep the night before, so what if I had not had my coffee, so what if there was traffic, if my Mom was mad at me, if the heat went out the night before, if the guy at the deli forgot to put cheese on my bacon and egg…nothing seemed to faze me.
Thinking back to my first few days in Ms. Lega’s Kindergarten class, I honestly don’t remember much other than a few awkward moments in class and my father being my father.
On most children’s first day of school, parents can be seen parading their young charges to class, some eager to experience the adventure of school and others clinging to their parent’s pant legs like Whitney Houston to a crack pipe.
I spent the final moments in my house being encouraged to “have a great day”, “knock em’ dead” and one of the more inspirational messages of my childhood, “dare to fail”!
Mind you however that all of these messages from my Dad were heartfelt, passionate and being communicated through a small opening in the bathroom door while my Dad was, how can I put this…”dropping the kids off at the pool”, “baking brownies”, or the timeless saying of, “indisposed”
Obviously in no shape to make the 10 minute trek, my Mom escorted me to PS 30 and once there, I was met by a bewildering array of kids, all of which were just like me in some ways and in other ways, very different. This routine would continue for the next 6 years pretty much and each year, while socially I began to be more and more familiar with my classmates, I also felt as though I was a real part of a community among my peers.
Twenty years later, the place doesn’t seem all that different, perhaps only smaller, probably because I got bigger. While I was studying to become a teacher, I got to intern a few times here which was a whole lot of fun and I’ve always taken time out of my schedule to visit the campus when possible, to make sure the old place is still holding up, that the foundation looks good, the gutters are clean and the windows are intact.
Who the hell I am kidding? I go for the nostalgia.
One of the largest changes to the campus cosmetically are the giant portable classrooms that they plopped down between the school and the school yard. Who knew you could fit a classroom there as it used to simply be a walkway, but I guess that’s Yonkers Public School for you, leave it to them to come up with the really great ideas.
Some signage has seen better days. I mean can we please replace the rusted out no parking anytime signs with new ones? I’ll pay!
Same goes for the sorry excuse for a basketball rim in the upper school yard. Children in Bedford Stuyvesant probably have better equipment.
Also, while I’m complaining, can we please update or take down the “rules” sign on the upper playground since it was probably authored back in the 1970’s when 6th grade teacher of legend Mr. Brown began his tenure at PS 30? More about him later…
There are some fun changes to the landscape as well, like this giant map of the U.S. created in the early 2000’s.
Sure the state of Louisiana has some prime waterfront property based on this map that would make the City of New Orleans even more susceptible I suppose to completely flooding out.
And one final observation…Texas…what’s up with the scribbles and even more alarming, much of it on this map resides in Mexican territory.
Despite the markings on the black top, many memories were created on top of it, both during school and for me, after school as well. Late Afternoons like this one, playing baseball, basketball, football the occasional soccer game and much more.
When you’re in grades Pre-K thru 1st, your recess time is spent here, on the lower playground where a rubberized surface has intelligently replaced the old, black top/gravel playground that existed when I was playing here. Man that surface made for some skinned knees and deep bruises.
I like this picture because it’s like a dividing line of time. This fence was a new addition that kind of cut the playground in half for the kids, since we were allowed to play all the way to where you would find the rusted out No Parking Anytime signs on the fence that lines the walkway.
Another really cool feature of the building is the bat cave entrance to your kindergarten classroom. Kind of like a back porch door to the classroom, I always liked using it as often as possible as while the rest of the kids were squirming their way through the other 2 main door ways, we civilized kindergarteners could stroll out comfortably into our parent’s loving arms.
To end this post though, I wanted to pay homage to one of the best teachers I ever had in my long and storied scholastic career, 6th Grade Teacher Mr. Paul Brown. And just as a side note, ALL of my teachers were excellent at PS 30. Call me the luckiest kid in the world but ALL of them were creative, passionate and really left me with fond memories from our time together.
Whether it was the booming voice of 1st Grade teacher Mrs. Goldstein and the way she would never let you off the hook for anything, but at the same rate, she never let you fail either.
Mrs. Burke in 3rd grade, who really for the first time taught me how to write, so much so that I won an essay contest that year and got my picture in the paper, nice job on the butchering of my last name Herald Statesman…
Everything from spending whole days of school with my desk outside of the classroom in the hallway, where I could really get some thinking done and definitely, oh definitely, could not disrupt the learning of other students.
I believe that my disruptions may have literally taken a few years off of 2nd grade teacher Mrs. Powers’ life and in 5th Grade, I probably racked up more “homework notes” from Ms. Beberman than any other student before or since.
Still though, there can only be one #1 and in my book and the books of many former students, that #1 hands down was 6th grade teacher Mr. Brown, the consummate professional who wore western ties, had a goofy smile and like all great men, spoke softly but carried a big stick.
You knew school was in session from the very first moment you walked into his classroom and even more than that, you also knew that this year was going to be different from all the rest. You just knew it.
From book reports and quotes that we were challenged to memorize each week to enrichment activities and lesson extensions, the likes of which we had never seen before, those 180 days spent in his class were treasures that sadly some of us, would never experience again inside of a traditional classroom.
The man hated wasting time and even worse, hated it when you wasted his time. He was a treasure trove of information, google before there was google and like all great philosophers and men of enlightenment, he never ever ever ever ever gave us the answers.
“Those”, he would softly say, “are for you to find out”.
Sadly, Mr. Brown passed away a few years ago.
I guess nothing lasts forever, despite how much we would like them to. To me, he was like the Sphinx or Stonehenge or whatever other object you can think of that has been on the earth for thousands of years and when he died, well try to imagine the Grand Canyon disappearing and you’ll understand the loss that I genuinely felt.
This was a man who demanded execution out of his students and got it.
This was a guy who quite often, would dismiss us for recess one by one, rather than as a class, so you literally, either through behavior or otherwise, had to earn the right to go to recess. Kind of like in life. Which unbeknownst to all of us, was what his greatest lessons were all about.
One time he said to me,
“you know Josh, life is a scale of privileges and responsibilities and you have to keep them balanced…you want all the privileges, but you can’t handle the responsibilities”.
Another time together, this time when I was in college studying to be a teacher, he talked about what makes a great educator.
“Josh, I know I was never the best teacher in the world, I know that many students did not enjoy their time in my classroom, but I was always fair. You have to be fair as an educator. If you are disciplining a student, is it deserved and does it serve a purpose for learning? If you give a student an A, is that deserved and truly earned based on the assignment and objectives?”
As with Mr. Brown, my time at PS 30 came and went. Fast.
Not too fast because I had plenty more roads to travel and good times to be had but you know what I mean. While many people look back in anger at all the things they did not get from their education, I only look at the things I did get.
Mostly because I’ve never been at a loss for the things I still take with me to this day on my journey through life and that alone is proof, that everything I ever needed to know, I learned at PS 30.