It was like going from the warm little world someone had created for you to kindergarten for the first day. It was like being yanked from a room full of friends and dropped off at a busy intersection of a large city and having no clue what any of the signs meant. We had heard that this would be difficult from kids who had older brothers and sisters at Lincoln Junior High. The building itself was right next door to our old familiar John Hay. Viewed from our vantage point it looked like a three-story prison, a big rectangular structure that covered much of a city block and surrounded a central court-yard (we guessed that court-yard was where they let the prisoners out for exercise).
Nothing, however, prepared us for what lay ahead of us. The fact that we all had “home rooms” did nothing to ease our discomfort. That was where they gathered you to take attendance, listen to the “orders of the day” from the home room teacher, salute the flag and exit to your schedule of classes. That was one big difference. Instead of staying in the same room with the same teacher and the same classmates for a whole day we had to go from classroom to classroom, remembering each of them, and it was not always the same schedule each day. Another difference was the regimentation. The hallways were “one-way” thoroughfares, so if your next class was one room to the left as you exited you had to go to the right and all the way around this big rectangle to get back to the room which was 10 feet from where you started. In addition, all the stairways were “one-way” stairways, either “UP” or “DOWN” and yes, they had hall and stairway “police” (they were never just hall monitors in our minds).
Another significant difference was the “required” classes. We got to choose between “Wood Shop” and “Metal Shop.” I chose Wood Shop in which the only thing I remember learning was how to use a wood lathe and turn a block of wood into a table leg or something. I guess someone thought we needed to learn a trade in case we didn’t make it to college.
The most shocking and humiliating difference was PE. We were all expected to “climb the rope” in order to make our grade. I struggled with that and never did make it more than a couple of feet off the floor. Worse than that was “swimming” day. The girls all got to wear tank suits, but the boys had to swim NAKED. For kids at various stages of dealing with their physical development this had to be the one most embarrassing thing that could be required of them.
Then there was the day that the PE warden, I mean teacher, blew the whistle and yelled “Everybody out!” Someone had done his business in the pool, which required that it had to be totally drained, cleaned, and refilled before anyone was allowed back in. As I remember, it was a couple of weeks before we had swimming period again. A brief respite!