School Daze

A recent success story about the Frisco ISD’s fabulous school system caught my eye. Our schools got another “A” rating! That is just one of many reasons to be proud of Frisco’s school system, and proud we are! Thanks, FISD!

Our schools have come a long way from the early days, and if you will bear with me as I take you back some 82 years, to 1927, the year I entered the first grade, we will see some of the differences. 

First, let’s talk about the school building itself. Thanks to a voter-approved $11,500 bond, a three-story brick building was built on Maple Street in 1912. Can you imagine what such a building would cost today? That fine old building had classrooms on the first two floors and an auditorium on the third. All 11 grades were housed in this building until a high school building was built in 1922. Yes, I said 11 grades. Texas schools added the twelfth grade in the early 1940s.

Our building was cooled by opening windows and was heated with large coal stoves – one in each room. The school janitor made the rounds to each classroom and put more coal in the stove to keep the rooms warm. That practice gave some of the mischievous boys, mostly in the upper grades, an avenue to pull one of their pranks. The coal buckets which sat by the stove made good wastebaskets, so the mischief-makers occasionally put firecrackers in their wadded wastepaper and tossed it in the coal bucket. Then, when the janitor emptied the coal bucket into the stove and shut the stove’s door, the firecrackers “did their thing,” causing more excitement than damage.

There were no indoor restrooms. Restrooms, one for girls and one for boys, were outhouses located in the schoolyard a distance from the school. As you might expect, that distance sometimes caused problems, especially in bad weather. To get permission to use the restroom while class was in session, the student had to raise his or her hand and extend one or two fingers indicating the specific need for being excused.

There was also no cafeteria. We brought our lunches from home and ate in the classrooms. I remember Mrs. Hays occasionally bringing hamburgers from her café, selling them for a dime.

The third-floor auditorium got plenty of use. We gathered there frequently for opening ceremonies involving such things as an opening prayer, repeating the Pledge of Allegiance and learning to sing the National Anthem. From time to time, different grades were responsible for the opening program. I recall, when I was in the first grade, being part of a “musical group.” My instrument was a small triangle which I dinged in time to the music – some talent.

In those days, school usually started after Labor Day. However, the opening date for Frisco and other area schools often depended on the cotton harvest. In this area, cotton was “king,” and when it was ready to be picked, it was “all hands on deck.” If the harvest was running late, school openings were sometimes postponed so students could help. Otherwise, attendance would be very sparse. 

There were many other differences. Frisco schools did not have a kindergarten, and the school starting age was seven years, rather than today’s six. If the parents wanted their six-year-old to start, they had to “pay on their child.” I have no idea what the cost was, but it probably was not much because my parents were certainly not rich, and they chose to start me at age six. They had sent me to a private kindergarten and evidently thought I was ready for the first grade. As it turned out, I may have been a little too ready, because my reading knowledge from kindergarten caused me a problem. One day in reading class, I became bored hearing about Dick and Jane saying, “See the ball. Get the ball, and run, Jane run.” I already knew all I wanted to know about their adventures, so my mind and sight wandered across the room to a cute little girl named Florence Marie. (At that time, in the South, all kids used both given names). I got up from my seat, walked over to Florence Marie and planted a kiss on her. She did not seem to mind, but the teacher stopped, ordered me to come to her and bring my reader. She then proceeded to turn me over her lap and give me a spanking with my reader. I was more embarrassed than hurt, but it did teach me a lesson. That was my first and last spanking in school. Just think how such a happening would be viewed today. I would probably be charged with sexual harassment, and the teacher would be charged with cruelty to a child.

As we progressed through grade school, the first seven grades, one of our greatest concerns each year was whether we would be promoted to the next grade. Most of us were, of course, so we “graduated” from grade school and had the privilege of moving a few yards across the campus to high school for grades 8-11, where I found some of my fondest memories. 

We found high school to be very different from grade school. Looking back, I see that most of the changes were good. The high school building had no auditorium, but it had a study hall where we could gather. It was there we went to study when we had an open period between classes. If we spent our time there as intended, then we had less homework – a good thing.

Our studies were more varied. In addition to basic courses such as English and history, we were introduced to such things as civics, algebra, plane geometry, trigonometry, typing and home economics. Then, there was the foreign language which I understand was required for all high school students. Frisco offered only one, Latin, so that is what we studied. I must say that I remembered only two Latin phrases: “ego amo te” (I love you) and “e pluribus ununum” (from many, one) which can be found on some of our coins. It was not until I visited France and Italy during World War II that I found a real use for Latin. The so called “romance language” of those countries is Latin, so I actually understood many of their words.

Like today, sports such as football, baseball and basketball were big at Frisco High School, but unlike today, the spectators had no place to sit while watching those sports. There were no stands at our athletic fields. There was no gymnasium for basketball, so practice was held at goals located on the school grounds, and home games were played in a vacant business building on Main Street. At football games, most fans walked the sidelines, while some sat in their cars facing the field.

The school doctor once told me of the time he “laid an injured player across the hood of one of those cars and sewed up his wound.” The mended player was then sent back into the game. After all, it took all available players to make an 11-man team in Frisco’s early days.

I have one last story for you. As I said earlier, many of our students came from the surrounding farm families, and, because of work, those students suffered more than their share of absences. As a result, some of them, mainly the boys, had failed at least once by the time they were seniors. My senior year, we had a very pretty young English teacher who was not much older than some of her students. One day, before the English class had started, the boys were talking about having been absent due to hoeing cotton. The teacher, wanting to be a part of the conversation, chimed in with the words, “Oh, if you need your cotton hoed, call on me. I am a good hoer!” Well, everything got quiet for a few seconds, then the class exploded in laughter. The poor young teacher, realizing how it had sounded, covered her face and fled the room, returning when things settled down. That was one of the brighter moments of our senior year at Frisco High School during the early “school daze.” 

I must say that Frisco’s early schools and teachers were very good. There were 20 students in my graduating class, and we had no problem being admitted to local colleges. One of my classmates and I went to Texas A&M University, where we were able to “make the grades.”

By the way, I am the lone survivor of my graduating class, so I can have a class reunion any time I wish. All I have to do is lean back and reminisce, calling the roll one by one. It is not much fun, but it is a reunion nevertheless.