Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Earth Day

Tomorrow is the 45th anniversary of the first Earth Day celebration, which took place on April 22, 1970. I was a sixth grader at Park Elementary School at that time, which was a pivotal year for me. After five years at a small single-story school in a bucolic setting along a dirt road in Murphytown, the “country kids” were bussed into town to spend our sixth grade year in a big old two story (plus basement as well as a separate gymnasium) school at a major intersection in town.

Life was different going to school in town. Whereas rural Murphytown had acres of green grass playground along Stillwell Creek, Park School had no grass on its small gravel playground in the back of the building. Also, the first few times a fire engine or ambulance screamed by on the busy street outside, it was the country kids who just couldn’t keep themselves from jumping up to look out the window. During my time at Murphytown from first to fifth grade, I don’t think we ever had an emergency vehicle pass by on the dirt road that ran in front of our school.

Murphytown had one classroom for each grade, and so I had always been together with all my classmates—until we went to Park School. It was so large, there were three different sections of sixth grade! Many of my friends were assigned to the other two teachers instead of being in my class.

However, I ended up enjoying my year at Park School. I made many new friends that year, some of whom I’m still friends with after all these years. My principal, Mr. Hasbargen, was still a principal with Wood County Schools when I served on the school board from 1992 to 2000. My homeroom teacher was Mrs. Kellow, who was a wonderful teacher (even if she did criticize me about the creative flourishes I added to my cursive writing—she wanted our cursive writing to be exactly as she taught it!). Our classroom was on the front left corner of the school’s top floor. All six classrooms on this upper floor were devoted to fifth and sixth graders.

While most of our time was spent learning from our homeroom teachers, we also rotated to other classrooms for certain topics. Mrs. Prince taught us science in her room on the left side of the building’s back end. In between on the left side was Mrs. Armstrong (another sixth grade teacher), who ran the library that occupied the center of the upper floor. Miss Downey taught us art in the classroom on the right corner in the front of the building. Miss Barr (also a sixth grade teacher) taught us music in her classroom on the back right side. Mrs. Boso was the designated gym teacher, and had the classroom in the middle of the right side. [At least, this is how I remember things after all these years.]

I am very grateful to the teachers at Park School who decided that we should join in this newfangled “Earth Day” holiday. Concerns about the environment were rapidly coming to the forefront at that time. The space program had provided incredible pictures of the planet earth, looking like a fragile blue marble against the dark black void of space (earlier that school year, I can remember watching the launch of Apollo 12 on TV in the auditorium at the center of the first floor at Park School). Air and water pollution were becoming accepted as major menaces. Even our national symbol, the bald eagle, was thought to be disappearing due to DDT pesticides.

It is against that backdrop that our teachers decided to do something to observe Earth Day, and I’m glad that I took part in the very first one. Every Earth Day since then, I think back to that sunny spring day when our teachers sent us out to clean up the school grounds. I can still remember reaching my hands into the prickly shrubbery that formed a perimeter along Seventh Street and Park Avenue, separating the children from the sidewalks and the busy streets. I remember we were normally required to stay within the shrubbery on the school grounds, but for this special day we were allowed to pick up trash along the street sidewalks as well. We may have done other activities beyond litter clean-up, but my most vivid memory is tearing up my hands and arms reaching for trash in the hedges.

We helped to beautify our school grounds that afternoon, just eight days before the big May Day celebration, when we would weave our way around the maypole in the school’s front yard (do any schoolchildren today even know what I’m talking about when I mention the maypole?).

Sadly, just like maypoles, both Murphytown and Park Schools have died off, too. Both were closed in the wave of school consolidations shortly before I was elected to the Board of Education. Park School was torn down and replaced on that busy street corner with a CVS Pharmacy and a Wendy’s Restaurant.

Park School may be gone, but I have one picture of it taken shortly before it was closed (see below). Plus, I have many good memories from my one year there! And each year when Earth Day is commemorated, I always think of reaching my hands into those prickly hedges to pick out discarded papers on the very first Earth Day.

My classroom was at the top left. If you look close, maybe you can see a country kid peering out the window at the passing fire engine.

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