The day before yesterday, I told stories from my youth and school days at Roosevelt #10 School in Passaic, New Jersey. By the way, if there are any fellow Passaic natives reading this, if you have the fond memories of Passaic that I do and would like to read more about days growing up in Passaic, be sure to visit the Wonderful Passaic website by Bob Rosenthal.
September 1961 saw me become a member of Miss (Dena) Guttman’s class 4-2. #10 School had some interesting combinations of surnames among the teachers when I was there. One had to pay attention if sent to a room on an errand because you didn’t want to end up knocking at the classroom door of Mrs. Goodwin, Mrs. Goodman or Mrs. Gootman if you were supposed to go to Miss Guttman’s room!
Fourth grade wasn’t my favorite grade. If I thought Miss Ferraro could be curt, Miss Guttman was downright sharp. In spite of that, I apparently continued to be an excellent student based on the comments on my report card for that year. However, my mother had one question for Miss Guttman and those were the days when teachers weren’t questioned. I had never gotten below 90% on any spelling test, yet my report card grade was “2.” (Passaic Schools used numbers 1-5 as the equivalent to A-F – there’s that number thing, again.) Actually, all my grades were 2’s even though I was reading a year above grade level. My mother politely inquired as to why I didn’t at least have a “1” in Spelling. Miss Guttman told her that, in her opinion, “1” meant perfect. No one was perfect so she never gave a “1” to anyone. Again, back in those days, teachers weren’t questioned. Today, I doubt any teacher could successfully use that as an excuse for not giving “A” students “A” grades for top quality work.
Our math books were actually Laidlaw’s Lennes arithmetic series. The front side of each page in the workbook was computation practice, while the reverse side had word problems.
4th Grade Arithmetic
My Magic Carpet reader:
Taking Me to Far Away Places
Interestingly, I have no memories of what Mrs. Teninbaum, Mrs. Fine or Mrs. Gootman looked like. I think I only remember Miss Ferraro because I can still see her picture in the society pages announcing her upcoming marriage to Mr. Gatto. I can vaguely remember Mrs. Bremer because when I was in fifth grade and my little brother started kindergarten, and who should appear in my old kindergarten room but new teacher Mrs. Bremer. I think Mrs. Teninbaum must have retired that year.
However, I can remember the faces of Miss Guttman, followed by Mrs. (Mary) Wallace in fifth grade and Mrs. (Esther) Wachs in sixth grade.
I also have many more memories of school friends and happy times on the school playground. We had no recess during the day, probably because we had the long lunch break when we all went home, but before the morning and afternoon bells, we played out hearts out. The girls mostly played jump rope with multiple games happening all over the girls’ side. Regular jump rope was mainly for beginners. After mastering both the jumping and the race to circle around and get back in without missing a turn of the rope, we moved on to double dutch with two ropes. Another popular game, which involved jumping of sorts, was Chinese jump rope, which wasn’t jump rope at all. Instead, simple and then more intricate steps were employed to stretch and move the elastic in various ways. Today, there are large stretchy bands available, but back then, we hooked a number of rubber bands together to create our own.
Mrs. (Mary) Wallace and class 5-3 became my home for the 1962-1963 school year. Mrs.Wallace had a reputation as a very strict teacher. She was strict, but she had high standards and I very much enjoyed being in her class. I have three memories of fifth grade. First, Mrs. Wallace’s reputation, I think, came from the fact that the book shelves in the back of the room contained about two rows of books on “manners” and etiquette. Whenever a student was spoken to more than once in class for talking, fooling around, or generally being off task, they were presented with the opportunity to pick a “manners’ book of their own choosing and then recopy by hand the number of pages assigned. That number was usually ten unless the offense was particularly egregious. A classroom helper kept a notebook with the name of each student in it and how many times he/she was assigned “manners” work. I think I got through the entire year with only receiving that punishment once. Several of my classmates weren’t so lucky and I have no idea how they got all their other school work done because they were constantly working on ten pages at a time.
My second memory is the Washington’s Birthday play we put on for the entire school. I was only a sentinel so I didn’t have a very big part (which was fine because we had to memorize everything), but we did have costumes.
#10 School had a beautiful old auditorium with fancy wooden seats that moved up and down. Assemblies, plays and the like were always held in the auditorium.
Auditorium, jutting off the back of the school
Here is the boys’ side of the playground again. The section jutting off the back of the main school building was the very back of the auditorium.
The third memory I have of fifth grade is very much a part of Passaic’s musical history. Remember the Shirelles?
They grew up in Passaic and lived in the Jackson Street area. Jackson Street was part of the attendance area of #10 School. As far as I can figure, they would have been in fifth or sixth grade when I started kindergarten so I never personally knew them.
The Shirelles weren’t nearly as exciting in early 1963, though, as Joey Dee and the Starliters. Joey Dee also went to #10 School, more in the Shirelles’ time than mine. However, the excitement couldn’t be contained when the principal announced that Joey Dee and his band were coming to #10 School to do a show for us! During school! And for free! Their big hit was the Peppermint Twist and they played at the Peppermint Lounge in New York City.
Now, I don’t remember hearing this special show announced beforehand. I think we were all just told we would be seeing a show in the auditorium that afternoon. Everyone loved it, except Mrs. Wallace. Joey invited a couple of the teachers on stage to do the Twist with him. Mrs. Wallace was asked, but politely declined!
Before I move on to sixth grade, I would like to include a few more observations about my education at #10 School. Yes, Passaic was a working class town, but the education I received was superb. The government had instituted the FLES program in the 1950’s likely in response to Sputnik and the push to elevate the level of American education. FLES was “Foreign Language in the Elementary Schools.” Beginning in first grade, Miss Meyers came around to every class (maybe every other week or once a month, I don’t remember) to teach us spoken Spanish. When I started Spanish 1 in high school, I already had more than a working vocabulary and I could hold simple conversations in Spanish.
We had regular art lessons provided by our classroom teachers. I remember easel painting (and not just in kindergarten), working with clay and drawing. Mrs. Tiessen came around to each class when Miss Meyers wasn’t there teaching Spanish to teach music. We learned all the American classics and even had a chance to learn to play the autoharp. Band lessons were available. I badly wanted to play clarinet like my friend, Sharon, but my parents said no because they didn’t think I would stick with the practice needed.
I don’t remember “Gym” in grades K-3, but beginning in fourth grade, we took gym with Mr. Westerfield and Mr. Zurichin. Boys wore tee shirts and blue shorts, while girls wore the blue bloomer style gym uniforms that snapped up the front. Our surnames were hand sewn across the back and we bought them at Nadler’s or Ginsberg’s shops downtown.
I think we had gym three or four days a week. It was often enough that we received demerits if we didn’t remember to take our sweaty clothes to be washed over the weekend!
We played dodgeball, kickball and suicide. There were ropes to climb (we all had to try, but I never got more than a couple of hand grips up them) and this was all in a two floor beautiful gym. Look back up at the photo of the boys’ playground. That lighter tan-colored building set in the back of the playground was the gym. There is a long indoor corridor from the middle of the second floor of the school that attaches to the upper floor of the gym. That is how we entered and left the gym. The girls’ locker room was downstairs and, theoretically, the downstairs area was the girls’ gym, but I don’t even remember using it. We always all met up on the second floor and gym was completely co-educational. You either got good at evading the boys’ throws in dodgeball or you got hit, a LOT. Some of the girls were pretty good, too, and generally, we held our own in all the games. Teams were never grouped by boys and girls, though, they were always mixed so both sides had a fair chance.
For an inner city school system, Passaic provided an excellent education.
Well, it is time to talk about sixth grade. I was placed in the class of the teacher I most wanted to be with – Mrs. Wachs in class 6-3. I remember mostly many academic lessons, as she was preparing us for the move to junior high school. However, the junior high was far from where I lived and my parents hadn’t heard many good things about that area of town. They had decided to look for a new house and found one in Wayne.
During my last days at #10 School, I remember we were learning about Mexico City and the floating gardens there.
We were actually building a small display and making our own individual gardens for it. I never finished mine because we moved to Wayne a couple of weeks before the project was finished.
I have one other memory of Mrs. Wachs. Thankfully, I was an excellent student and I found her ideas a bit comical. There was still some remaining stigma about being left-handed, which I am. There were three other students in my 6th grade class who were also leftys. Our desks were arranged in blocks of four so that we created squares around the room. The four lefties were seated together and when we had to practice cursive lessons, Mrs. Wachs announced that because our brains were in backwards, we could create the letters however we needed to, but all the right handed kids had to follow directions!
I hope you’ve enjoyed my Passaic memories as much as I’ve enjoyed writing about them. Writing actually made me remember some things that I had long forgotten. Some other day, I will share stories about all the kids on my block and the fun we had.