Times Past: Each room was a world of learning, excitement

  • The former Davis Street School and lot. Recorder file photo

  • The Davis Street School building, most recently used as the Superintendent’s offices, was torn down in April to make way for a community center, which is under construction. Recorder file photo

  • KEYES

Published: 12/1/2017 12:52:57 PM

At age 11, I faced the daunting prospect of starting junior high. Greenfield at that time had a good arrangement: All the public school seventh-graders went to the Davis Street School, isolated from the older students who were in the main junior high school building, which is now the north part of the Federal Street Elementary School.

It was good to be isolated from the older students. We seventh graders were immature, and boy-girl romance distractions were rare. Most seventh-grade girls were not “over-developed,” and it was good to have another year of late childhood to enjoy. I don’t think I even had a crush on any boys (maybe one kid with pretty blue eyes, but I don’t recall his name).

This seems like a good time to write about the Davis Street School, as it has recently been demolished to clear a location for the new John Zon Community Center. Nothing is left of the old school except memories and a large pile of bricks stored in an isolated spot in the north part of Greenfield.

As we entered the south end of the school, room 1 had Miss Wilcox — the stern acting principal. Her room was fun when the music teacher made one of her weekly visits. Miss Wilcox taught one class of English, where she was very attentive to the students who learned quickly. Other students got little attention. She also was the guidance counselor. I remember my group being in her room for our guidance period early in the year. Miss Wilcox was droning on about how some students were a little older, and some were a little younger, but all had to do the same work. Across the aisle from me a boy named Richard bragged, “I am one of the youngest in the class. I’m only twelve.”

I responded, “I am eleven.”

Richard bristled. “You can’t be; when will you turn twelve?”

I told him I had just turned eleven in August.

“What did you do, skip a grade?” Richard asked.

“No,” I replied. “In my school in Vermont, I took first and second grade in one year.”

Richard scowled. I think that was our first and last conversation.

Over in room 2, at the north end of the building, was Mr. Vigneault, who taught us social studies. He was a good teacher.

Room 3 was empty, and room 4 had a few restless elementary students who remained in that classroom.

Upstairs on the left was room 5, where Miss Congdon taught art, which was mostly water colors and messy. This nice lady also taught science. My most vivid memory in that room was the wonderful day when she introduced us to mercury. We were allowed to roll a small amount around on our desk, then sweep it into our hand to give to another student for more handling, until everyone had held it. No, the school was not evacuated, no Hazmat team was called, and none of us died. We just had fun with hands-on learning.

Miss Congdon also taught literature. All I remember of that class was the oral book reports every month — a terrorizing experience of red-faced stammering. Miss Congdon was a proper lady, and for a day or two before our first school dance, she spent part of her class time educating us on the finer points of school dance etiquette. A few years later we were happy to see her again at the high school, where she was the librarian.

Over in room 6 was a class of special needs students. Like the occupants of room 4, they remained in that room, while the rest of us moved from classroom to classroom after every period.

Miss Zatyrka taught English in room 7, or she tried to. She was young and pretty, and the boys tended to be unruly. However, she really sparkled when she was leading the drama club. We had to perform a one-act play in November. It was a spoof on classic melodrama, complete with a sweet young thing, a handsome hero, a couple of parents, an imposing grandmother (me) and a crafty villain.

David Osgood, the son of the junior high principal, played that role with a convincing flair. I have no recollection of the name of the play, nor of the playwright — only the acting experience. From that, I gained a slight insight into how to handle oral book reports. I just pretended to be fairly composed and confident after that.

Lastly, in room 8 was Miss Fuller, a capable, dignified, and fair math teacher. My best memory from that room was during a snowstorm. Miss Wilcox came into our classroom and instructed Miss Fuller not to mark a girl named Dorothy as tardy. As she put it, Dorothy had walked all the way down from upper Federal Street in eight inches of snow, and since she was only five minutes late, she should not be officially considered tardy. Wow. Miss Wilcox had a little sympathy.

A word of explanation is needed here. Back in the early fifties, Greefield had an odd approach to possible snow days. This policy was summed up in the standard no-school announcements on WHAI. “All Franklin County schools, public and private, are closed today due to snow, except for Greenfield public schools, which are open.” There were no long lists of school closings, just that simple twenty-one word announcement, all-inclusive and succinct.

Reflections on Davis Street School would be incomplete without mention of the long trek up Leonard Street to the junior high for our weekly assembly in the junior high auditorium. Davis Street School had no auditorium. We also had to walk to the junior high to get to the small buildings east of the junior high for our mandatory classes in Household Arts for the girls, and Shop for the boys. We girls learned a smattering of cooking and sewing skills, and the boys learned woodworking, metalwork, and printing. Mr. Douvadjian was probably the best-loved teacher in the whole junior high.

In spite of pre-teen issues, we had many interesting memories. Nothing can replace the Davis Street School.

Editor’s Note:The neighborhood school was built in 1902 and hasn’t been used as a classroom building in decades. Most recently, it was used as the central office for the Greenfield School Department’s administrative team. It was razed in April to make way for a community center, which is under construction.


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