a sort of eulogy for my elementary school

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The elementary school in my home town is being closed at the end of the year in some sort of bid to close a financial gap the district is having. According to this article, the closing will save the district $730 grand a year. In the grand scheme of educating young people for today and in the future, that amount seems like chump change to me. It seems especially so since the school district is operating with an $8 million dollar deficit. $730 thousand dollars seems like a drop in the bucket when you consider that number. However, I will concede: in these knee-jerk political times we live, I’m sure any meager savings will look good on some pencil-pusher’s ledger.
For my years being educated at Maybrook Elementary, I don’t have an awful lot to say. I have to imagine you wouldn’t have a lot to say about your own elementary experience either. You learn so many basics and you’re so young. It might be pleasant or awful, but the fine details get lost in the wash. I remember more about things like assemblies and the school book store than I do about my lessons. They did a serviceable job by me considering what a pain in the ass I’m sure I was. I remember most of my teachers during those years very fondly and I can say now I appreciated the way they tried to give me some enrichment beyond the lessons in the textbooks, especially in areas of reading and writing. I’ve never been good at math but I can’t blame my elementary school teachers for that deficiency – I was resolute in my hatred of the subject. I suppose they coped with me as best they could but I’m far from the only person I know who didn’t get a ton of awesome math instruction. My best friend Melissa joked to me once that in all her time in Maybrook Elementary, she never learned how to read an analog clock… not a small oversight in someone’s education, I don’t think.
If my being a student there had been my only connection to Maybrook Elementary School, I would have met this news as you might – a little bit of nostalgia, a whole lot of shaking my head at how fucked up the state of education in this country, sadness for the people losing their jobs. I don’t live in New York State anymore but Ohio seems to be having all the troubles that NYS has when it comes to making the economics of education work and I’m (obviously) sympathetic. The thing is, I may only have a passing memory of my time as a student at MES… but I have a tremendous amount of feeling tied up in the building itself outside of those memories.
I spent the majority of my Wednesday and Friday nights as a teenager haunting that building as a member of Maybrook’s Boy Scout Troop 236. Dozens of teenage boys would descend on the school’s gymnasium/auditorium twice a week. Wednesday nights were reserved as band practice for select members of the troop’s marching band. I played the glockenspiel, kind of an upright xylophone. On Friday nights, we’d have our regular meetings for the entire troop, most of which involved learning how to tie knots and getting slammed in the crotch with dodgeballs by more athletic young men than I ever was or could hope to be.
During band practices, small groups of boys would congregate in the darkened stairwells and teach themselves the patters for hammering out “Anchors Aweigh” and the Notre Dame fight song. On Fridays, kids would take turns doing dangerous flips and jumps from the stage onto thick wrestling mats. Occasionally we would venture up to the building’s third floor, a usually verboten destination as all the lights were turned off for the weekends. We’d dare each other to run as far into the black as we could… and then run back without hitting anything. In general, we’d behave like complete asses in the manner most of us would like to if there were no teachers or hall monitors during the school day. As a kid, it’s an eerie experience being in a school at night… especially in a school you’re intensely familiar with from your time there as a student.
On the basis of my being a member of good standing in the BSA, I was hired on by the elementary school as an assistant janitor during the summer months. While most of my friends frittered their summers away playing video games and generally having a good time, I would wake up every morning and ride my bike out to the empty elementary school. There I would wait with the other guy the school had hired for the head janitor to unlock the doors. 
I’ve had quite a few jobs since my teenage years and I can tell you… working for minimum wage as a janitor for an elementary school was one of the best. It was good in a way I imagine most jobs are when you’re a teenager and the stakes are relatively low. Most of our days involved getting classrooms ready for the upcoming school year. We’d wash chalkboards and scrub desks caked in crayon residue and snot. We’d strip the hallway tiles with toxic chemicals, then run the ancient floor buffer over the jelled wax in preparation for a new coat at the end of the summer. Occasionally there would be a wasp’s next we’d get to soak with a bug bomb.
If I was intensely familiar with the layout of the building before, I’d go so far as to say I became intimately familiar with Maybrook Elementary School during those three summers of work. We’d pull apart classrooms and put them back together again so often, I started to feel I knew the teachers. I got to hang out in the teacher’s lounge during my lunch breaks! I became fairly good at finding new hiding spots with Kelly, the boy I worked with… toward the end of the work day, we were often told by our boss to “go hide” which generally meant making ourselves scarce but staying on the premises in the event that the boss’s boss would end up looking for us. This would involve hunkering down in a dark classroom or the school’s library perhaps, but sometimes we’d get adventurous and creep up to the largely forgotten attic.
In any event, I left that job during my sophomore year of college when, instead of going home for the summer, I opted to stay on and live with my then-girlfriend. I haven’t been back in the school building ever since. I suppose writing this whole thing was pretty self-indulgent; I wish I could attach some fiery end piece on this where I rant about how vital it is to save Maybrook Elementary School… but I don’t know I can. Certainly I don’t think closing the school is the best idea but speaking frankly… unless things have changed since my time as a janitor there, the building itself isn’t “up to code.” I know for a fact there was no way for the place to be outfitted properly for handicapped and special needs students when I worked there over 10 years ago.Perhaps those issues have been addressed in the last few years.
It’s a shame. It’s a terrific old building and I have a lot of fond memories for it. I loved a lot of the people who worked there; who still work there, if MES’s website is current. That districts all over America are looking at education more as a business than anything else seems to be a never ending source of disappointment for me and others who build our lives around education.
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