Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Worst Public Schools in Oregon (ah, the memories)

People are probably going to read this post and think I had a horrible education. In truth, my formal education was anything but horrible. Thirteen years in Oregon's public school system--and in one of the lowest income districts--was not without its trials, but I came out well-prepared for college and the real world (or as prepared as an 18-year-old can be). My teachers were mostly good to excellent, and I felt challenged in nearly every class in one way or another. I look back on those years with good thoughts. For anyone who thinks I'm posting to bash public schools, stop reading now. Even though the things I'm about to say might shock some, I still support public schools.

Remember how I said those formative years weren't without trials? Growing up in a low-income school district is a rough experience. All three of my schools were condemned before I arrived, yet they still pushed children and teens through them. My grade school was built in the 1930s and operated until 2002. I remember the plumbing in the old building was awful, and sometimes the water pressure in the girls' bathroom sink was non-existent. By 2nd grade, the administration removed the merry-go-round, and by 4th grade the slide was gone. We couldn't afford safe replacements.

My middle school was beautiful... in that decrepit sort of way. Built in 1909 and remodeled in the 40s, 50s, and 70s, the building was literally falling apart with each passing day. I was the 4th generation in my family to attend school there. The main part of the building was three stories tall over a daylight basement. As a 6th grader, most of my classes were high up on the 3rd floor. There were stairs on either end of the main part of the building, but to prevent traffic from heaping on one end and causing the building to tip, the north stairs were the "up" stairs and the south stairs were only for going "down." [I can't say I never went the wrong way.] When 300 6th graders would crowd into the main hall after class, the floor would shake and buckle. I remember the first day of 6th grade in my history class when Mr. Cline told us we were going to die if the building ever caught fire. He said he'd throw as many of us out the 3rd-story window as he could and that we stood a better chance of surviving the fall than we did trying to get down the stairs the wrong way. Hype or not, we all listened. The middle school's chemistry labs were inadequate: we couldn't use the gas lines because they might catch on fire. The art rooms were too small, and the library was poorly planned and understocked. Our lockers closed most of the time... anyone who actually used their locker did so at their own risk. Even still, I love going into old buildings and feeling the chipping paint on the handrails at the stairs. I like having the linolium floor crackle with each step. Old buildings remind me of home.

My high school was better, kind of. The walls might have been an inch thick near the courtyards. We were never warm enough. Having a bucket or two in the classroom to catch leaks was common, and I don't remember a year we didn't run out of money to buy paper and basic supplies. Our gym floor rotted beneath or feet, and the showers in the locker rooms stopped working years before my time. [Imagine having PE at the beginning of the day with no chance to shower afterward. Yeah, we tried not to sweat. Ever.] The language arts wing was a cluster of windowless rooms in the center of what was probably a beautiful quad looking out to the football fields. Then, in the 70s, another wing effectively closed in that quad as modular classrooms became the fix-all to overflowing class sizes. I remember vividly how bad those rooms stunk when something died underneath one. I saw ceiling tiles fall on students, and it wasn't a big deal to have floor tiles simply missing.

For all the negative things I can say about my public school experiences, I can give you dozens of great things I had the opportunity to see and do. We had fantastic computers updated yearly or bi-yearly, and I went on neat field trips. I traveled with my marching band, worked with both OSSUM and Odyssey, participated in SMILE, and and learned more than I can possibly recount.

No matter what, every day was an adventure in school. Whether it was the buildings falling down around us or the teachers motivating us, we didn't sit still for long. I wouldn't trade that for anything.

1 comment:

Amanda said...

Ah...good times ;) One of my favorite memories was Crowell's black market school supplies cupboard - he was of the hoarding then doling out streak when it came to paper and post-its and paper clips.
I remember the shock when telling friends of the "extra credit" dry erase pen scheme in the math wing and how there was never paper at the end of the year...the shock for me when I realized that wasn't the norm! lol.
But you're right. Even though the h.s. was labeled a "drop out factory" at one point, there were a lot of good opportunities and good memories as well. I don't think I'd trade it either.
It's exciting Rachel's going to be working with you!