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2007 09 04
The First Day of School

On the fifth day of September in 1978, my father walked me to school for the first day of grade one. The sun rose that morning over a mackerel sky, all daylight and shadows at the end of summer. The city glimmered and pulsed in the background, its mass reflected in the megalithic structure of Roden Public School, its cadences ebbing against the play apparatus and monkey bars. Ascending the stairs to the classrooms ringing a big open area on the second floor, we turned to the left and entered Area 25 where Mrs. Bradley waited in a polyester pantsuit to greet my father and welcome me to school.

"You can sit with the other children," she told me, motioning toward the rustling, uneven circle of six year-olds gathered near a blackboard and row of low bookcases. There was a single chair at the apex of the circle, and so I sat upon it, not knowing that the chair was special, reserved only for our teacher who bustled over at once to move me to the floor with the other children, strangers I had never met. By the time I looked up my father had vanished, and I was alone in school for the first time.

Here we are a few weeks later, a microcosm of late 1970s Leslieville, dressed neatly and smiling for picture day. I am sitting in the middle of the front row, wearing a green corduroy jumper and smiling enigmatically, believing verily even then that although the camera might steal something of my soul, my thoughts would remain my own. And in an important way they have, because while I vividly remember being displaced from the teacher's chair, and even the day of the month and the weather, I cannot remember exactly what it was like to begin school in September of 1978.

Because my parents had refused to enroll us in kindergarten I was unfamiliar with the classroom routines of personalized tote boxes and structured play. I knew the alphabet but, like most of my classmates, did not read until I was introduced to the adventures of Mr. Mugs. I loved the Fisher Price dollhouses and the furniture and little people in them, and the plastic castles and wooden blocks, but preferred solitary storytelling to communal play except in the gymnasium, where we played floor hockey and murder ball, and where a boy was supposed to have split his head right open falling down the concrete stairs. Because Roden was an experimental 'open concept' school, I soon learned it was possible simply to drift away from the classroom over to the painting table and cut & paste centre in the big open area connecting the classrooms.

I cannot remember exactly what it was like to begin school in the fall of 1978, but those days have marked me nonetheless. I never grew much more socially focused, and prefer even now to play by myself. I like to sit at the front of things, but vanish like a Cheshire Cat when they become boring. I retain a warm affection for Mr. Mugs, and pick up used copies of these grade one primers whenever I see them at book sales. And even now, whenever my picture must be taken, I brace myself and stare directly into the camera.

[Former students may be interested to learn that Roden is holding a 100th anniversary open house on Saturday 29 September 2007. Further information is available here.]

Image: Mrs. Bradley's grade one students at Roden Public School Jr. in the fall of 1978. Names as I inscribed them in 1978:
[back row] Talol, Mallinda, Kearen, Andrea, Bessy, Crista, Tony, Ernelo, Mrs. Bradley, Oone [Owen?]
[middle row] Tammy, Sharen, Kelly, Cris, Jimmy, Cris, Dayzan, Jeef [Jeff?]
[front row] Denes [Denise], Velvit, Kimberly, Jeane, Amy, Brase, Sean, Gerle

Recognize yourself here? Comment below or contact Amy Lavender Harris at alharris@yorku.ca.
[email this story] Posted by Amy Lavender Harris on 09/04 at 09:23 AM

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