I grew up in Binghamton, NY, and when it was time for me to go to kindergarten, I was supposed to go to Oak Street Elementary School, based on where I lived. But both of my parents worked outside the home, and there would be no one home at lunchtime.
It was determined that we would instead go to Daniel S. Dickinson School so that we could go to my maternal grandmother’s house at lunchtime. She was only a half dozen blocks from my home. Incidentally, I don’t think Oak Street was any closer to MY house than Dickinson. The school was named for a 19th Century US Senator, as well as the first president of the city of Binghamton in 1834.
One of the peculiar things about schools in Binghamton at the time was that they would start in September AND February. Those of us born in December to March, maybe a month earlier or later, began school in February. The February class was always far smaller than the September class. One’s first semester was the B semester, the second the A semester. So when I went to school in February, I’d be in kindergarten B, e.g.
Dickinson was a K-9 (kindergarten through 9th grade) school, located on Starr Avenue at the west end of Dickinson Street, appropriately. The K-6 kids entered on the south side of the building, and the 7-9 children on the north side. It had clocks with Roman numerals, including the 4 shown as IIII, rather than IV.
Kindergarten: my teacher was Miss Cady. She was my mother’s teacher as well, which should indicate her vintage. I remember taking naps on a yellow rug; on one occasion, I actually fell asleep, and woke up to an empty room!
First through fourth grade: I don’t remember this stretch as well, because every single teacher we had in the B semester was gone by the A semester in September. I don’t know if they moved away or what, though at least one had gone on maternity leave, since she came back and taught my sister Leslie.
Fifth grade: Miss Marie Oberlik. She was of a certain age. She lived only three short blocks from the school and I walked by it almost every day. She taught us to count to 10 in Russian, which I can still do. I got 100 in the spelling final.
Sixth grade: Mr. Paul Peca. I’ve written about him. By that year, we had only 16 students in that class.
Additionally, we had:
Music: Mrs. Joseph from grades 3-9. We had these ancient blue books, which I was quite fond of. I loved them so much, in fact, that I found a book with a similar roster of songs a couple of years ago called America Sings, and bought copies for Leslie and me. Her husband was our 9th-grade biology teacher.
Gym: Mr. Lewis from grades 3-8. Every semester we had to do marching around the gym until it met his high expectations. (Column left march!) Then we could do something fun like softball or volleyball. Later on, perhaps as a result of a presidential fitness initiative, we were supposed to do certain activities, such as climbing ropes, which I was particularly bad at.
In 7th grade, kids from Oak Street, and from the Catholic school next door, entered our school. Mr. John Frenchko was the English teacher in 7B, 7A, and 9B; he was also the school’s assistant principal. Miss Gertrude Kane, who has the same first name as my mother, taught English 8B, 8A, and 9A. She had blue hair. She liked doing accents, and I foolishly let her know that I didn’t think she was particularly good at it. In the three marking periods, my grade went from A to B (after I made my comment) to C. I got a 90 on the final, yet got a C as a final grade.
By the end of 9th grade, we somehow had, again, only 16 students in the class. Nine of us went from K-9 together: Carol, Lois, Karen, Diane, Irene, Bill, Bernie, David, and me; if I had gone to Oak Street, obviously that would be untrue. Indeed, all of us except David, who stayed an extra semester so he could play basketball, graduated from high school together. They’ll all be turning 60 soon, and I’m likely to mention two or three of them in the coming months.
The school song:
Hail, Daniel Dickinson
Pride of our fair Binghamton
May we ‘ere our praises sing
With loyal hearts and true
May all our words and deeds
‘ere uphold thy glory
Guide us our whole lives through
Hail, Daniel Dickinson.