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Fort Smith
Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Timepiece: School Days

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By Dr. Curtis Varnell

The scent of yeast rolls baking rolled up the stairway and down the halls.  In a short time, my class would be escorted down the hall for lunch.  My hopes were for the fried chicken, mashed potato and gravy, rolls and, the best of all desserts, homemade cinnamon rolls.  With my extra nickel, I planned to purchase an extra bottle of chocolate milk and another cinnamon roll.  Food was prepared to be delicious, filling, and nutritious without regard to how much fats, butter, or sugar was used to make it tasty and wholesome.  

The lunchroom was in the basement of the old, three-storied brick building.  The walls were covered with paintings of Humpty-Dumpty, Jack and the beanstalk, and other folk tales.  Within minutes, lunch would be consumed and we would have the rest of the noon hour to play marbles, tops, or ride the rickety merry-go-round or walk the monkey bars. 

Mansfield High School

Virtually everyone outside of the town limits rode school buses, often for hours, to get to school.  The busses were packed, often with kids standing in the aisle shifting forward and back as the bus gained or lost speed.  Sounds echoed around the bus from all the excited kids, especially when the occasional argument or fight broke out.  Discipline was often immediate and, in today’s world, would probably get you fired. On one trip, one overactive, argumentative boy was put off the bus to walk home.  When his older sister objected, she was also put off the bus followed by an additional three siblings.  The bus driver shifted into gear and we drove off in a cloud of dust, all of us waving at the five vagrants who now had six miles to walk to get home.  Once during a heavy rain, the wooden bridge we were to cross was covered by water.  An older student volunteered to check the depth, walked about five steps onto the bridge, and all of him except his cap disappeared.  Swimming back to the bus, he was dried off and we turned to find another route to school.  Today, we would have twenty videos of either incident on line within minutes and the school board would be in immediate session to fire the driver, principal, and superintendent who hired him.

The high school looked like a Holiday Inn.  The aisles were outside and exposed to the elements.  When it rained or snowed, we received a bath just getting to class. On hot spring and summer days, the rooms became sweat boxes with temperatures reaching into the 90s.  Four fans circulated the sweltering air, carrying with it the unpleasant odor created by teenage boys just exiting physical education classes.  As a hoax, one of the practical jokers on staff left a box full of Styrofoam chips sitting on my desk.  When the box was lifted, Styrofoam chips joined the air stream circulating around the room which now resembled a snow globe.

Clothing was tightly regulated. Until 1970, all girls were required to wear dresses. The mini-skirt fad changed that tradition.  It was much more modest to allow long shorts than to continue with skirts made from two handkerchiefs!! The sixties for the boys were bell-bottom pants, bright colored shirts, and long hair.  

Integration of schools occurred in the late ’60s and, at our school, occurred without undue problems.  A few years later, I returned to teach and the school president and two of the cheerleaders were Afro-American. Progress in that realm is ongoing but the sixties integration got the process in gear.

Forty years later, school facilities have improved.  Teachers still go about the business of educating our kids and, by and large, do a good job.  Kids are much the same as when I attended school years ago and I have great faith in their ability to manage our world in the future.  Public education is not perfect but it continues to be the best venue available to give all kids the opportunity to prepare for life.

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Tammy Teague
Tammy is the heart behind the brand. Her tenacity to curate authentic journalism, supported by a genuine heart is one her many wholesome qualities.
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