The beginning of fourth grade was something I dreaded. Third grade had been a disaster – our happy world of the Open Classroom had been disrupted and our teacher tore our class apart. Not to mention the fact that my parent’s oldest daughter had graduated high school in June but wasn’t going to college as expected because she was having a baby. So things were super tense at home and it was only going to get worse.
It was gonna be a new year, in a new part of school, with new kids who I didn’t know, I was dreading this new school year. But in the end, I actually had a lot of fun at school in fourth grade.
We had a new teacher. A young teacher fresh out of college. But we didn’t have to stay with her all day. This year. For the first time, we’d be able to change classes. So I had four different teachers.
This was also my first year to start being called “nigger” or “coon” or “zebra” by some of my classmates. One day, in line to go somewhere, one kid was picking on me and I took a swing at him. He ducked and I hit the boy behind him squarely in the eye. It knocked him over a desk. This boy and I later went on to be good friends. But after that, people really stopped picking on me.
Recess was always fun because we could play flag football. My social studies teacher would take us out after lunch and I would join the boys playing football. I think this was another reason I stopped being picked on by these boys – because I knew football. (But it could also be that they knew I could kick their butts). Anyway, I knew all the teams and the stats and the plays. So I guess color didn’t matter when it came to sports.
During fourth grade at home was pretty crazy. My parent’s oldest daughter was pregnant and my mom was really mad. Their oldest and youngest sons were doing things they ought not and my parents were constantly putting out fires with them. There was a lot of arguing and turmoil. My parent’s youngest daughter and I were the only ones who made it out of fourth grade still living in the house.
By fifth grade, I was pretty happy with being downstairs in the school. Our Open Classroom friends joined us down there and we went back to being divided by academic grades, so I was basically back with the kids I grew up with and some new friends I had made in fourth grade. We all started playing soccer together, which deepened our friendships.
My parent’s two oldest kids got married.
I got to be a flower girl.
Ironically, at school in the fourth grade, when I was placed downstairs, I still qualified for the “gifted and talented” program. So I had to go back to the Open Classroom for a period to do my enrichment courses. I was in the Enrichment Program throughout the rest of elementary school.
I still loved to read and write. My best friend and I would spend hours hanging out reading and listening to music. We would read a book and then switch and read the other one’s book. We have been lifelong friends and still both love to read.
After fifth grade and once my parent’s two older kids got married and one went off to the Army, things became quiet at home. My parent’s other son had also moved out and so it was just me and their other daughter who was now about to graduate high school.
One thing about Rushford is that there is one central school. So leaving elementary school after 6th grade and going to Jr. High only meant going upstairs. I had now made it through 7 years at this school as the only Black kid. I had many friends and was well known there. Aside from a bunch of othering and one short message with my fists, life seemed pretty normal.
Puberty would start to change that. I couldn’t just be one of the boys anymore. About fifth and sixth grade, all of my girl friends started going steady with these boys that I could never date. This would erode at my self-identity a bit more. Having to change from the “cute kid” to the awkward teenager was not an easy thing, especially as the only mixed race kid. Those years challenge anyone, but to stand out then is not easy at all. As Pink Floyd says, it all just became “another brick in the wall.”
Rushford Central School Tiger 1988.