Wednesday, January 27, 2016
KIRK JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL
East Cleveland had six elementary schools. The one I attended was Prospect. The others were Chambers, Mayfair, Rozelle, Superior, and Caledonia. We attended elementary school for seven years (K -6). Graduation from elementary school was a major milestone in a student’s life. My graduation occurred in June of 1952. In September of 1952 I moved up to Kirk Junior High School, where I spent the next three years (grades 7 – 9).
A New Experience
I and my fellow elementary school graduates looked forward to attending Kirk with great anticipation and some anxiety. We, of course, had heard stories from our older peers, who had moved on before us. One thing we were told about was the social structure based upon grade level. Seventh graders were “Flats”, eighth graders were “Sharps” and ninth graders were “Big Wheels”. Based upon the talk from my peers, I fully anticipated a certain amount of hazing and was pleasantly surprised when it didn’t occur.
There were several significant differences between elementary and junior high school. The first was that Kirk was a bigger school with a larger student body. It included all 7th through 9th grade students from all six elementary schools. Instead of a class of 34 sixth graders, I had a 7th grade class of almost 200. This alone broadened my horizons.
Since there was only one junior high in East Cleveland, most of us had a longer walk to and from school. All the elementary schools were neighborhood schools to which students could easily walk. I lived only one block from Prospect School. I walked to Kirk from my home on Shaw Avenue during my first year at Kirk. We moved to Nela View in the Caledonia area for grades eight and nine. Both of those homes were one mile from Kirk. I think most students walked to Kirk. Some rode bicycles and a few took a Cleveland Transit System bus. There were no school busses. On the rare day that I decided to ride my bike, I left it in a special bicycle shed in the back parking lot of the school. The shed was locked before the first bell and unlocked at the end of school.
A Wonderful Building
Another difference we encountered at Kirk was the size and beauty of the place. The school was built in 1932 and named after William H. Kirk, the long time superintendent of East Cleveland Schools. The architectural style could be described as Georgian. Kirk was located on Terrace Road west of Lee Road. Terrace Road runs along the base of the hill which leads to the Heights area and is the top of a glacial beach one block south of Euclid Avenue. The school was actually built on land donated by the Rockefeller family to form Forest Hill Park. Kirk was carved out of the side of the hill at the top of which is Forest Hill Park.
The building itself was beautiful and efficiently designed. It had a large three story main section with two large sections on either side. Those side sections were attached to the center section by one story connecting sections. The connecting sections had classrooms while the two large sections on either end contained an auditorium on the West side and the gymnasium on the East.
The size of the building was awesome to new students. Unlike our elementary school experience, we were given a schedule of classes and needed to find our way around that large building. The challenge was especially great at the beginning of the first semester. Adding to the problem was the fact that some stairways were up only and others were down only. The story was told of a new seventh grader who, when asking an upperclassman for directions, was directed to the boiler room. Although that story may have been a myth, I studied the printed floor plans in our student guide to ensure that it didn’t happen to me.
Classrooms of various sizes were scattered through the building. You might start out in one of the single story connectors between the main section and the auditorium and then go to a class held on one of the upper floors of the main section. You only had a few minutes to make the trek. An extreme example would occur if one of your classes was physical education and you needed to take a quick shower after class and still make it to a class in some remote part of the school. All rooms were remote from the gym, because it was at the farthest end of the building. This was less of a problem if your gym class was the last one of the day. However, I remember walking home after school on cold winter afternoons when my wet hair froze. I could have avoided that; but the wearing of hats was not considered to be “cool” and appearing to be “cool” was all important to most of us back then.
There was a large cafeteria at the rear of the third floor. Everyone ate at school. You either bought lunch in the cafeteria or brought a brown bag lunch from home. I usually brought my lunch and sometimes supplemented it with some cafeteria food such as french fries. The problem with fries was that everyone wanted you to share them. I learned to put pepper on my fries to make them less desirable. To this day I still put pepper on my fries. Lunch periods were scattered through the middle of the day. By handling us in shifts, the system was quite efficient.
There were two large study halls on the second floor. They were across the hall from each other in rooms 208 and 209. I think that room 208 was the slightly larger of the two. Each study hall had an assigned teacher for each period. Students were scheduled into a study hall at times when they weren’t on your lunch period or attending another class. The idea was that you use study hall to prepare for upcoming classes or get a head start on your homework. It was possible to get out of study hall to attend an approved extracurricular activity.
This is a good time to point out that the school was a closed building. You were required to be in the building and in your homeroom by a certain time. You needed special permission to leave the building before the end of the school day. There was a system of hall monitors and hall passes to ensure that all students were where they were supposed to be and doing what they were supposed to do. You were scheduled to be someplace each hour of the school day.
The day started in your homeroom. My homeroom was the study hall room 209. My homeroom teacher was Mr. Shepherd, who also taught wood shop. The purpose of homeroom was to take attendance and hear announcements over a loud speaker. This didn’t take long and after those administrative details, you were off following your schedule. The homeroom group stayed together for their entire time at Kirk, although the group was modified from time to time by students coming and leaving during that three year period. Some students joined or left the group after moving to or from East Cleveland. Others transferred to Kirk after attending Catholic schools.
You never knew who would be in each scheduled class until you arrived for the first time. Sometimes you would meet the same people in more than one class; but that wasn’t guaranteed. The only thing with some level of certainty was that all students in the class were in the same grade. This could be good or bad depending on whether you were an introvert or an extrovert. In most cases it helped expand our social horizons. I made many new friends as a result of this.
In the spirit of making new friends and keeping the old, I graduated from Shaw with several kids, who had been in my kindergarten class at Prospect School. On a similar note, a few of those kids also went to Western Reserve University when I was there. I have kept in touch with some of them and saw many of them at my 50th class reunion in 2008. There is also an active Shaw High Lunch Bunch which gets together three time a year.
One important part of life at Kirk was the hall locker. Each student was assigned a hall locker and given a combination lock. To make things more complicated we also had assigned locks and lockers in the gym locker room. The locker was where you stored your coats, hats, lunch and books. It was usually the first place you went in the morning and the last place you went in the afternoon. If you brought your lunch to school, it required a stop there at lunch time. It was a challenge to remember the location of your locker and the combination of the lock. To this day I occasionally have the classic anxiety dream in which I am at school and can’t remember where my locker is located or the combination of my lock. A quick entrance and exit from your locker was sometimes desired. We had a trick for that. It was called setting your lock. To do that you would run the first two numbers of the combination then stop and leave the locker. When you returned all you had to do was turn the lock to the third number and open it. Actually, that wasn’t such a good idea. At some point I was visiting another school. On a whim I went up to a random locker and turned the dial of the lock to the left while tugging on the lock. In about 5 or 6 tugs I had it open. Lock setting was more common than I thought and not very secure.
What We Studied
We had a large selection of courses some of which were required and others which could be chosen based upon our interests. The major distinction between the courses was whether they were college prep or vocational. Required courses included english, arithmetic, science, social studies and physical education. Arithmetic was the same for all seventh and eighth graders. In the ninth grade students had a choice between algebra and industrial arithmetic. A test was given to determine the student’s math aptitude. I am not sure how I scored on the aptitude test; but I ended up choosing industrial arithmetic. As it turned out, I switched to algebra after one semester of industrial arithmetic. Algebra was a prerequisite for the advanced math I later took in high school. I frankly believe that ninth grade is too early to ask a student or his parents to decide whether he would be going to college or pursuing a vocational career.
For those students who preferred a vocational education Kirk offered a variety of introductory courses. Those included industrial arts, mechanical drawing, metals, printing and woodworking. All boys were encouraged to select one or two vocational courses. In my case, I chose metals and printing. The skills I learned in printing are very obsolete now. They included typesetting and running a printing press. Even though those skills are not applicable today, I have an appreciation of how it was done at the time. Typesetting was done by placing individual letters upside down and backwards in a handheld device. I’ll never forget one of my bosses, Estal Sparlin, Director of the Citizens League of Cleveland. He had been a typesetter early in life and he had the ability to read documents upside down and backwards. He told me he discovered a lot by reading documents which had been left on desks of those he was interviewing. In metals shop I made a type of clothes hanger that fits over the top of a door and a small metal desk calendar holder. I still have the calendar holder, which is sitting right in front of me as I am writing this article.
Girls were offered courses in home economics, clothing and foods. The foods course was also chosen by some boys. I’m not sure why, but I signed up for it. That may have led to my current interest in cooking, which I consider to be a very satisfying and creative process. At that time it was unusual for boys to have an interest in cooking. My own father would have starved if he didn’t have my mother to cook for him. That certainly is not true today. Most of the famous chefs are men. One member of my class at Kirk was Arthur Rondini. His family owned the popular Rondini’s Restaurant in East Cleveland. Arthur went on to become a very successful chef at such places as the Blue Grass Restaurant and the Tangier Restaurant in Akron.
Other elective courses available included creative dramatics, newswriting, junior business training, and art. If you were interested in music, you could take courses in music, chorus, band or orchestra. One of my major regrets in life is that I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to participate in the band. I ended up taking trumpet lessons 15 years later at the age of 28 and went on to become the leader of a big band for the past 45 years. www.smartsetband.com Many of my band members are people about my age who played in high school or college and are coming back to it after retirement. I just got a later start then they did; but I now know how much fun it can be to play music in a band.
One last course to mention was called personal fitness. All students were required to take this. I’m not sure whether the requirement originated with the State of Ohio or the East Cleveland Board of Education. It was taken in the ninth grade and each class was made up of all boys or all girls. It was universally known as PF. In retrospect I think it was an early attempt to help adolescent boys and girls deal with the raging hormones and other changes which were occurring in their bodies. There still is a vigorous debate about how much sex education should be taught in the school versus the home. If the truth be known, I believe that most sex education occurred on the street, divulged by one’s older peers. I don’t remember much sex education occurring in PF. Most of PF dealt with fairly mundane stuff, such as why cleanliness is necessary and how one should properly take a shower. My teacher in PF was Mr. George Huxel, who was also the Dean of Boys. He later moved up to Shaw High and became the Dean of Boys there.
There were many opportunities for students to expand their horizons outside of regular classwork. Those included participation in sports, music, drama and creative writing to name a few. Students could play on the various sports teams or serve as sports boosters. The latter were sometimes called “athletic supporters”. There were opportunities for participation in plays and music performances including band, orchestra and chorus. Those who did not perform in the activities were able to enjoy them as a spectator or audience member. Periodic all school assemblies were held to promote those activities. Student leadership skills were developed through a system of student government.
All these activities and more were reported to the student body in the school newspaper, “The Kirkonian”. I am fortunate to have almost all the monthly Kirkonian issues published during my three years at Kirk. This is the result of my being an archivist at heart. Some people would call it hording. The articles were designed to keep us informed about what was going on in the school. There were feature stories about teachers and reports about the activities of the Principal, Dr. Myers. Most of the articles were feature stories about students and their interests and activities. Those would usually take the form of stories about students in a particular homeroom. There were columns on athletic events and music activities, such as concerts. The quality of the writing varied but a surprising amount of it was very good. I wonder how many of those on the Kirkonian staff went on to careers in journalism.
The Faculty and Administration
Unlike elementary school teachers, those at Kirk were specialized each teaching a specific subject. In any given year a student would encounter several different teachers based upon his course of study. I don’t know why, but I don’t remember many of the teachers I had during my stay at Kirk. However a few of them were memorable. Some of them came with a reputation. I don’t know who told me to avoid Miss Boone the English teacher. She was a no nonsense disciplinarian, who taught me seventh grade English. After being warned about her, I had a great deal of anxiety when I learned she would by my teacher. I don’t remember having a problem with her and I had a knack of keeping a low profile and out of trouble. Sadly, Miss Alma Boone passed away at the end of my second year at Kirk. I only learned in her obituary that she was more than the stern faced disciplinarian I knew from English class. She was a real human being with many interests outside of her teaching including world affairs, theater and dramatic arts as well as college football. In retrospect I wish I had known her and more of my other teachers better. I also wonder what Miss Boone would think about my writing today.
It’s funny what you remember about some teachers. One of my arithmetic teachers was Mr. Lou Chulick. I don’t remember anything about the arithmetic he taught. However, I have a clear memory of two things which came up during his class. He once told us he was always impressed with the sign on one of the businesses in the area, which he passed on his way to work. It was on the building of the Kiener Coal Company and said Keener People Buy Kiener Coal. On another occasion he led a class discussion about the best way to travel from East Cleveland to downtown. He said there were two schools of thought on that subject. One was to go north on Eddy Road and take the Shoreway. The other was to take Chester Road all the way from University Circle. Mr. Chulick argued in favor of Chester Road. My family always took the Shoreway. Mr. Chulick convinced me; and to this day I take Chester instead of the Shoreway when going downtown.
The administration of Kirk was led by Dr. L.L. Myers, Principal. Dr. Myers was a well-respected school administrator. During his time at Kirk he also served on a six-man Committee of the National Association of Secondary School Principals on Junior High School Education. Dr. Myers was assisted by a Dean of Boys and a Dean of Girls. These two Deans handled student counseling and discipline issues. I didn’t know much about the Dean of Girls and I had little direct contact with the Dean of Boys. There were two Deans during my time at Kirk. The first, Mr. William Galberach, was Dean while I was in seventh grade. He was replaced by Mr. George Huxel when Mr. Galberach moved up to Shaw High to teach geometry and coach baseball.
On the subject of discipline I have to bring up the issue of corporal punishment. There was much discussion among the boys concerning the paddles used by the Dean to punish bad actors. They were said to have holes drilled into them to reduce wind resistance so they would hurt more. The number of swats one received was said to be determined by the seriousness of the infraction. I never saw the paddle and I’m not sure I knew anyone who did. I sometimes thought paddling was a myth. Whether it really happened or not, it was probably somewhat of a deterrent to bad behavior just thinking that it might be true. The real punishment for bad behavior included consultation with parents. In the most severe cases suspension or expulsion from school were required.
The Deans had more to deal with than incorrigible boys or girls needing discipline. Adolescence is a tough time for many kids. It was important for all students to have an authority figure with whom they felt comfortable discussing their problems. I’m sure that Mr. Galberach and Mr. Huxel were able to help many troubled students during their time at Kirk. Some classroom teachers also had a positive impact on students with whom they had developed close relationships.
The Kirk philosophy of education was summarized by Dr. Myers in a speech to the Kirk PTA on March 11, 1953. The speech was quoted in the student newspaper, The Kirkonian. The title of his speech was, “Are Sharps and Flats People?” He held that the function of the school is three-fold as follows: 1. Elementary – to develop fundamental learning and to change a largely selfish child into a social one; 2. Junior High – To develop basic learnings, broaden curriculum, discover strong abilities and weaknesses, and aid the child to grow as a citizen; 3. Senior High – To develop strength and knowledge to help the child become a useful and self-sufficient person, aware of his duties as a citizen and his responsibilities as a potential parent.
Thinking back, I now know that many things occurred in my life during those three years I was at Kirk, all of which prepared me for my move to Shaw High and the life which followed. However, not all of those things happened at Kirk. Those were times when my horizons expanded and many things outside my immediate family became influential in my life. Those included work, church, and an expanded peer group in addition to my experiences at Kirk. I believe that Kirk played an important role in making me the person I am today and I look back fondly on my experiences there.
Here are two copies of Kirkonians from my time at Kirk: