No More Pencils, No More Books. . . Passaic School Days

The “When I Was Young” genea-meme created by Alona Tester back in April started me thinking about family stories and, more specifically, about my own stories. The stories of many of my ancestors are being told, but somehow my own memories haven’t made it onto my idea list for future blog posts until now. I guess I thought they wouldn’t be nearly as interesting as those of long ago so more modern memories weren’t nearly as important to share.

However, I grew up in a great place – Passaic, New Jersey – in the 1950’s and early 1960’s until we moved to Wayne, New Jersey on Pearl Harbor Day, 7 December 1963. It was just a couple of weeks after the assassination of President Kennedy.

As a little kid, life revolves around your family, friends and your job in life at the time – school! It isn’t until one is older and you step back to take another look that you can see life from a different perspective.

Passaic is and always has been a working class city. It is a city that has existed and grown due to the waves of immigrants who arrived to work in the factories at the turn of the 20th century. Of course, I didn’t realize that back then.

I attended Roosevelt #10 School. Most of the schools were named for U.S. presidents or important figures in American history and each school was assigned a number, like Franklin #3, Grant #7 and Lincoln #4 Schools.

#10 School was built in 1908 and named for President Theodore Roosevelt. It was originally a two story building.

Passaic’s population had skyrocketed in the early 1900’s so a third floor was added to the school in 1918:

This is how I remember the school. The trees in front, small in 1908 and bigger a decade later, were quite huge by the time I started there in 1957. There was a lot of shade along the street in front of the school.

Although Passaic had waves of immigrants passing through, my family remained settled there for quite some time. One set of great grandparents lived there by 1892 and my grandmother, their oldest daughter, lived in Passaic until we moved in 1963. That meant that my father went to #10 School before me and there were even a handful of teachers still there who remembered him when I was a student, like Miss Hobday!

One big regret, but one over which I had no control, is that I do not have a single photo of any activity, teacher, friend or class at #10 School. Families didn’t have a lot of spare change, I guess, so there were no class pictures or yearbooks.

Now for the walk down Memory Lane. . .

My earliest memory of #10 School was the day in May 1957 when Mom and I walked to school so she could register me for kindergarten. She was seven months pregnant, with my brother due at the end of July. I remember one of the teachers, either Mrs. (Sadye) Teninbaum or Mrs. (Ruth) Adams asking me my name, birth date, address and family information. I proudly told them that my brother (I guess I had my heart set on a brother) would be born in July.

I began school in September and was placed in Mrs. Tanenbaum’s morning kindergarten. My first classroom can be seen in the bottom right corner on the first floor in the second picture above.  (The windows along the ground were actually for rooms in the basement of the school.)

RooseveltPlaygroundGirls’ Playground

This side of the school was the girls’ playground. The steps that can been seen were used by the kindergarteners who lined up next to the wall in front of the steps when the bell rang. Girls in grades 1-6 lined up by grades with Grade 1 closest to the front gate. Classes would face the school building with lines beginning about where the blue line with the car on it is. When I was there, the playground was not blacktop, it was scored cement, like out on the sidewalk. I have to say it looked a lot more attractive than this beat up pavement.

Anyway, back to kindergarten. The bell rang and the kindergarteners marched up the steps. Right inside the door were the student cubbies where jackets, boots, etc. were neatly hung in their spots. There were three long tables, I think, shaped like a “U” where we sat for lessons. They were right by the cubbies.

This classroom was actually a double-sized classroom because the other part of the room housed the play center, reading nook, a painting area with easels, etc. Mrs. Adams also had a kindergarten classroom right across the hall. Her room was just a standard sized room. Half way through the morning, we would clean up, line up at the door and change rooms. I only remember drawing circus pictures with crayons in that room. We must have done something else – maybe arithmetic and music.

Half way through the year, the kindergarteners also switched morning and afternoon sessions so I finished the second half of the year in the PM class.

I remember Mrs. Teninbaum and Mrs. Adams being old. There are a couple of Ruth Adams in the 1940 census who were teachers. Either could be her and both were in their 50’s. I don’t know why, but Mrs. Adams scared me a bit. I loved Mrs. Teninbaum. I looked for her in records a few years ago and contacted her daughter. Mrs. Teninbaum was born in 1896, so she was 61 years old when I entered her class. Amazingly, she passed away a few weeks before her 101st birthday in 1997!

The Passaic school year ran on the old traditional school year, beginning on the Tuesday after Labor Day in September and ending sometime during the third week of June, typically very close to the first day of summer.

I loved school from the very first day and, as kindergarten ended in June 1958, I was already looking forward to being one of the “big” kids on the playground who didn’t have to line up next to the wall. Labor Day 1958 rolled around and Alice, a next door neighbor who was in fifth or sixth grade, came knocking on the door to collect me for the walk to school.

I lived about four blocks from school, which was only about a half mile. Distance was important, though, in first grade as #10 School had no cafeteria or lunch services. Actually, there weren’t any school bus rides either. Everyone walked to school in the morning. I think classes began around 8:30. We all walked home about 11:45, ate lunch, and then walked back to school for the afternoon session that began a little before 1:00, I think. We remained in school until close to 3:30 and then walked back home.

Daily Walk to School

A group of kids always walked together, down Summer Street, right turn on Lexington Avenue past Dr. DeBell’s house and office to the traffic lights at the intersection of Lexington Avenue and Harrison Street. There was always a crossing guard there even though there was also a four way light. We turned left, crossed the street and walked two more blocks to the school.

At the corner of Harrison Street and Hope Avenue, you can see a Google marker for “Hope Academy.” Holy Trinity Church is right on that corner and, back in the day, Hope Academy was Holy Trinity K-8 school. As we passed by each morning, we watched all the students in their navy blue uniforms walking up the steps into the church for morning Mass before they headed into the classrooms.

Passaic schools like to number everything. Besides the school names also being tagged with numbers, classes in grades 1-6 were also numbered. I was thrilled because for first grade, I was in class 1-1, which meant we were the very first line of “big” kids when we lined up with the school bell. Not only was I in that first line on the playground, but live got even more exciting as Mrs. Fine’s class was the only first grade class located on the SECOND floor of the school. The others shared the first floor with kindergarten, the office and the nurse’s office. I thought life couldn’t get any better, but Mrs. Fine was a very young teacher, 22 years old, when I had her and I think maybe a first year teacher – who was terrific. I remember basal readers from Ginn – the famous Dick and Jane books.

We learned new vocabulary by sight and she seemed to have an endless set of flashcards. When a reading group finished a book, we took turns reading the flashcard words as a review. If we read the word correctly, we got to KEEP the flashcard. Today, most kids wouldn’t get too excited about that, but those cards were visible badges of honor and success.

Mrs. (Doris) Fine did one very special project with us. We hand sewed Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy dolls, complete with yarn hair and clothing – yes, the boys made the dolls, too. However, the dolls were faceless and disappeared for a while. Then, one day, they reappeared in the classroom complete with faces painted on them in oil paint, done by a friend of Mrs. Fine. My mother said Mrs. Fine was one of the best teachers I ever had. Sadly, Mrs. Fine passed away at the age of only 48 in December 1984 of breast cancer. I remember Mom telling me she read her obituary in the newspaper.

Second grade brought more new experiences. I moved up to class 2-2 with Miss Ferraro. My report card also notes that it was in Room 28. I was always quiet, well-behaved and a good all-around student. However, I don’t remember why, but Miss Ferraro scared me. She was, like Mrs. Fine, a young teacher. In fact, she married Mr. Gatto the following year – likely during Easter vacation. I seem to remember she could be a bit curt, although the comment on my report card that she wrote says that it was a pleasure having me in her class.

I don’t remember anything in particular that stood out about second grade, except her classroom was at the opposite end of the school from the kindergarten room, but up on the second floor. That added a few more minutes to my walk time home because those classes exited out the doors around on Parker Avenue on the boys’ side of the playground.

2nd Grade Classroom, 2nd Floor, Back

September 1960 brought me to Mrs. Bremer’s class and the beginning of third grade. About a week into school, there were a lot of tears from both students and Mrs. Bremer, as she told us that she was being transferred to another school. For a class full of eight year olds, this was a catastrophic happening. All the other kids were in settled classrooms, into the routine of the new school year and we were faced with welcoming an unknown new teacher.

Thus, Mrs. (Ann) Gootman became our new teacher around the third week of school in September 1960. Thankfully, her classroom was back on the other side of the school, right above the afternoon kindergarten room on the second floor. I enjoyed third grade and especially loved the hula skirts we made when we learned about Hawaii. Our 50th state had entered the union the year before and either parents or grandparents of one of my classmates, Debbie, had traveled there. I think we even put on a small class play about Hawaii, but I mainly remembered cutting all the paper strips for the hula skirts.

In May 1961, third grade and my primary years came to a close. My memories of those years are a bit more limited than those of grades 4, 5 and 6, which I will share tomorrow.

One thought on “No More Pencils, No More Books. . . Passaic School Days”

  1. Good morning Linda, it was fun to read about your early school years. Made me think about mine. While I am here in Canada I think I am going to see if my primary schools are still there. The whole area has been demolished I think? I am going to have a look and see. I also have some graves to photograph.

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