Public school. August 1996 meant the beginning of public school.
Farewell to school uniforms, now nearly anything was allowed. I went from a small school of about 300 for K-8 to more than 800 for 6-8. That’s a big difference! It meant taking the bus to school, being around a wide range of students, new hallways to navigate. A school full of students I didn’t know. The first time I needed to wear an ID badge.
And yet, there was hope.
One of my aunts learned of my school change and knew of a girl who would be in my grade. She had Sarah keep an eye out for me.
On the day of school registration, I got my schedule and learned about my homeroom situation. Mom and I toured the halls to find my homeroom. The student names were listed on the wall outside the classroom, and I saw my name and Sarah listed. This school was set up in teacher clusters, so that the same group of students attend core classes of math, science, English and social studies together. At least I could go to school and know at least one person in the majority of my classes for that first year.
But it got better. Sarah invited me to her house for a little party before school started. I got to meet a few other girls who would be in our core classes. That certainly helped ease the transition.
And another amazing thing was that I actually recognized more students than I thought I would. Some were familiar because I knew them through church. Some my mom had taught in kindergarten and their names at least sounded familiar. And some I had actually gone to school with before when I repeated year for 4K. So maybe this wasn’t so bad after all.
No one knew of my past. I got a chance to start over, a chance to introduce myself on my own terms.
I remember Mom dropping me off at school for that first day. We had to be dropped off at a side street and then walk around one of the buildings on campus to reach the courtyard where students waited for the bell. I remember thinking I landed in a sea of denim. We hadn’t been allowed to wear jeans on a regular basis at my previous school, but here it was basically universal. And there were so many different varieties!
There were kids with unusual hair styles, some with baggy pants, some with colored hair. It was a whole different world.
This year meant repeating a lot of information in English and math classes. But it was good to have more exposure to these things, so that it made more sense. And while the math principles might have been heavily duplicated, we still had different projects and assignments. So the ideas were applied in new ways. The same with English. It primarily seemed like new material because we read different books. Although diagramming sentences began to make more sense! So I wasn’t to the point where I felt bored in class. Science and social studies were always challenging courses, so that hadn’t changed. Although, I somehow managed to earn Honorable Mention for the Science Fair. I have no idea how that happened.
I wasn’t a leper in class! Kids talked to me and joked around with me. Usually the kids who sat near me, but that was much better than before.
I wasn’t the most awkward person
This year I also had a computer class. We were introduced to some elements of programming, but it was very basic stuff. This particular class required walking to another building on campus. There was a girl in my core classes who also shared this class with me. She would call out my name as I walked through the breezeway to the other building, a plea to let her catch up. Yet, instead of walking with me once she reached me, she kept going. I guess she wanted to be first? I don’t know. I didn’t like her in the beginning because of that. But eventually we started talking and hanging out and became friends.
Not completely free of bullying
So this year’s P.E. course meant doing the Presidential Physical Fitness test in front of everyone in the whole class. One by one we were on display. Could you do a pull up? How many sit-ups could you do? It was crazy. I guess having us lined up, sitting at attention and then one-by-one responding to the specific drill was efficient. It was just the P.E. coach writing down our results, so there couldn’t have been multiple groups going at once. But it makes those prone to anxiety even more self-conscious as everyone watches. Yes, I may be tall, but my upper body strength sucks, and I have more weight to balance, so that pull up attempt was a joke.
But I also didn’t like that we had to go to a locker room to change into appropriate clothes for the class. Or maybe it was just a place to put our book bags and we could change shoes if needed. Whatever the case, it was awkward. There were a few girls in there who just made me feel uncomfortable. I don’t remember if they ever said anything to me directly, but there were some looks. I remember one day returning to get my book bag after class and seeing that several keychains were gone. There was a big craze that year to put keychains on your book bag. Mine was covered in them, mostly the results of raiding Claire’s at the mall but I also had a few that were gifts from friends. Among the ones taken was a keychain that had been given to me from a friend’s visit overseas. It didn’t take much to realize some were gone because in some spots the ring part remained on the zipper without the pretty object attached.
Also, one of the boys who made 6th grade such a bad experience for me also transferred to this school. I’m grateful that we never shared any classes and I never had to really interact with him. But I would occasionally see him around.
We had the freedom to choose a few electives each year. I think they only lasted a semester. But one I chose that I really liked was an industrial technology course, or something like that. There was some general instruction in the beginning and we had to pass a basic test before being allowed to dive into the modules of activity. I think the test was mostly about safety procedures but also fundamental knowledge. Students had to retake the test until they passed. There were stations for drafting, computer aided drafting, screen printing, woodworking to build race cars and learn about aerodynamics and a few other stations. I really enjoyed that class. It was very hands-on; it wasn’t all theory, but immediate application. It didn’t hurt that the girls basketball coach taught this class. I didn’t get a free pass on anything, but it was nice to have another adult in my life that I could talk to and trust.