I look into the frame of this picture. I’m wearing a dress. In elementary school the best I could do was shorts under my dress. There were so many times while on the jungle gym on the playground that I would realize I’d forgotten to put on shorts and that boys could look up and see my underpants. I always had to remember before swinging on the monkey bars, and tuck the hem of my dress into my shorts so that while hanging upside down my stomach didn’t show. It wouldn’t be until middle school that we were allowed to wear slacks, dress pants. Though certain girls wore jeans.
Hithergreen Middle School was a whole other animal compared to elementary school. I attended an open school, meaning there were no classroom walls. We’d meet in pods to go over lessons. Sixth, seventh, and eighth grades fuzzily blended together. There weren’t textbooks per se, but packets that we worked on at our own pace.
I was a self-motivated learner and was allowed to explore subjects according to my own curiosity. The school librarian recommended I read A Separate Peace. I loved the more realistic “problem” novels. Young adult as a genre was still coming into its own.
This is what I remember: For a unit on the justice system (I can’t imagine why else) there was an incident acted out in the middle of the day in the middle of middle school that would seem to characterize that period in time. Meaning—no way could this happen today. A kid ran into a pod with a fake gun and “shot” a fellow student and then ran off. A teacher came forward to ask for witnesses. What at first seemed like a crime quickly turned into an object lesson. We spent a week looking into the rhetoric of debate and how to build a defense. We improvised a courtroom, selected a jury, and held a trial. A point I’ve always carried with me is how memory shifts according to where we stand in a scene. There were many interpretations of what happened that afternoon and who did it. It taught me the importance of detail, for someone’s innocence could rest upon the color of their eyes or hair.
I’d love to connect with other students of the open classroom system. Soon after I graduated from high school they put up permanent walls and/or repurposed the schools. For example, Hithergreen is now a senior center.