Academic journal article Middle School Journal

A Visit to My Junior High School 50 Years Later

Academic journal article Middle School Journal

A Visit to My Junior High School 50 Years Later

Article excerpt

It is not unusual for people to attend their high school or college class reunions, but who would want to go back and visit their old junior high? After all, this is a time that most of us overlook or want to forget. However, for me it was a meaningful time in my life, and in many respects, laid the foundation for whom I have become. It was during my junior high years that I decided to follow in my parents' footsteps and make teaching my career, later becoming a teacher, a principal, and a professor of teacher education. It was also during my junior high years that I first began to participate in organized sports, which I went on to pursue in high school, college, and during my first years as a teacher and coach. [Editor's note: John Swaim is today a competitive master swimmer in his 60s.] Most important, I had my first date in junior high with the girl I eventually married, who became the mother of our two children and with whom I have spent the last 40 years of my life. So, for me, going back to my old junior high was not only a stroll down memory lane but also a chance to reconnect with the source of my beliefs about middle school education.

Planning for the visit

My visit did not just happen; it took some planning on my part. My wife, Sue Swaim, executive director emerita of National Middle School Association, and I were planning a trip to Kansas City where we had both grown up. She was attending a middle school meeting, and I had two days to myself. I was looking for a productive way to spend those two days when I realized I had been a seventh grader at Northwest Junior High School in Kansas City, Kansas, in 1957, 50 years ago. I thought to myself, "Would it not be interesting to visit my old junior high?" So I called the principal and made arrangements to spend a day at my old school.

The old neighborhood

Although I had made arrangements to meet Mr. Williams, the principal, at 8:00 a.m., I left the hotel an hour early so that I could drive through the old neighborhood to see how much it had changed in 50 years. I rationalized that a trip through my old neighborhood would give me a sense of where the current students from Northwest live; in actuality, it was probably more for nostalgic reasons. First, I drove by my old elementary school, which had been torn down and replaced by a new school. This was somewhat disorienting, but I managed to leave the school and find the route I had taken every day from school to my home. The houses along the way were basically the same, but 50 years had certainly taken their toll. As I approached my old block, I was hoping my childhood home was going to be just the same as I remembered it, knowing full well the chances of that were slim. However, to my surprise it was the best-looking house on the block, comparatively speaking. I wanted to stop the car, go knock on the door, and thank the current owners for taking such good care of my house.

I then followed the route that I walked to Northwest every day. Again, the neighborhood was not the same middle class, blue-collar neighborhood where I grew up. I did notice that the old laundromat where we used to hang out was gone. You might ask why young adolescents in the 1950s would hang out at the laundromat. We had dubbed it the "Dryer Olympics." We would crawl inside one of the large dryers and see how many spins you could make-of course, /never participated.

Arriving at school

I pulled into the school parking lot, and the school looked just as it did 50 years ago, with the exception of a new addition that had been added the year after I left Northwest. So, maybe it is not so new. I walked up to what I remember as the front door and found it locked. I went around the building to four other doors and found them also locked. I do not remember the doors ever being locked when I went to school. I went back to the front door and found Mr. Williams standing there waiting to greet me. He pointed to the doorbell beside the door that I could have used to gain entry. …

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