Friday, December 17, 2010

Going Back

The last time I was in the Brooklyn Elementary School in Brooklyn, PA was back in July of 1985. I had just resigned from my teaching position in order to move my family to North Carolina, and I went back to my classroom for about 30 minutes to gather up my personal belongings. While I’ve driven by the building every time I visit the area, I have never had the opportunity to go inside. However, during a recent visit to northeastern Pennsylvania, I had the opportunity to spend a little time in the classroom where I taught sixth grade from 1975-1985. What a thrill to be able to ‘go back’ to the place where I have so many happy memories of working with students who were 11 and 12 years old when I knew them, and are now…well, much older!

The Brooklyn School was built in 1924, so it was over 50 years old before I ever set foot inside. It is a two story brick building…3 stories if you count the basement level. The interior, typical of the era, was constructed of plaster and lath. It had old cast iron radiators and large window panes with iron sashes. These windows, which have since been replaced, covered the entire width of the outside wall, and could be opened in, with chains supporting them in the open position. There were hardwood floors throughout, and though they were not always smooth and even, the wood itself was beautiful. Located in a rural school district, the school housed (during my tenure) one classroom for each grade K through 6. There were a couple of small offices on the top level, and a cafeteria, bathrooms, and boiler room took up most of the basement level. It was a simple building, but very functional for roughly 150 students.

The building remained an active elementary school until 1992, when the district opened a brand new consolidated elementary school across from the existing Jr./Sr. High School. Since then it has been used intermittently as a township building. The cafeteria has been turned into a municipal office, and part of the playground is now home to trucks, snow plows, and other road equipment used by the township. The remainder of the playground is now a town park.

The first floor classrooms are still being used occasionally by the township, so they have had some modifications made and are in good repair. The building serves as a polling place, and is where monthly township meetings take place. The local historical society also holds their annual meetings here. As I stood in the hallway, I was amazed at how familiar it seemed.

The second floor, where my classroom was located, is a different story. While all but one room still has electricity, this floor is only used for storage, and is no longer heated or cooled. Because of the extreme temperature fluctuations, the plaster is curling away from the lath and falling in chunks to the floor. Aside from that, however, I was quite surprised to see how little it had changed. The replacement windows made it look different, but otherwise, it was almost as I had left it. A sign that I had made and placed on the door 35 years ago that said “Fire Exit Left” was still there. My classroom bookcase was still there. And while the bulletin boards and blackboards had been removed, the floors and walls and closets remained just as I remembered them.

It was a chilly day, so I didn’t stay long. But while I was there, I could almost hear the chatter of a busy classroom full of students. If walls could talk, there would be stories I could listen to for hours. It was a wonderful experience to remember the happy times spent there. Among the happiest were the 15 minutes after lunch recess when I read aloud a chapter from the Narnian Chronicles. Ringing in my ears are the words that start the series…”Once upon a time there were four children named Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy.” Those words still give me the chills.

We can’t always go back like I just did. Buildings get torn down and replaced. I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to revisit, for just a few short minutes, a place that has such meaning to me, and also to share a cup of coffee with 3 former students while I was in town…one of whom was a member of my very first class.

Funny how they've gotten older, but I haven't!

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