As 2023 wraps up, I’ve taken a personal look back at some of the year’s highlights and one special day stands out.
Last month I made a return visit to my elementary school as a published children’s author. Bustleton Elementary School (now Anne Frank Elementary School), is part of the School District of Philadelphia, located in the greater northeast section of the city. I attended Bustleton for grades K-6, and while I frequently thought of my school over the years, it never crossed my mind that I would find myself inside the building again.
Walking the hallways was a trippy experience. The lunchroom still had that fried chicken/dingy mop smell.
A quick peek into the gym gave me flashbacks of the dreaded day we had to climb the rope wearing those awful blue gym suits.
The auditorium held memories of our graduation practices where we rehearsed a choral version of “The Rainbow Connection,” over and over and over again.
Ghost phrases flew through my mind. “Don’t cross the yellow line!”
It was a thrill to be inside a classroom, but when I searched for remnants from yesteryear I was hard pressed to find any. The square desks were replaced with tables. Gone were the blackboards that we loved to draw on, the dusty erasers that only the lucky ones got to clap outside, and that nifty gizmo that held five pieces of chalk to make parallel lines. All replaced by a Smartboard - a device that would have seemed like something out of the Jetson’s back in those days.
But the place I remember most fondly was the school yard during recess.
Perhaps it was here that I developed a love for rhythm and rhyme that I would later attempt to replicate in picture books. There was nothing like the joy we felt shouting the lyrics of the jump rope and hand clap songs in unison.
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear turn around.
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear touch the ground.
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear tie your shoe.
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear I love you.
Miss Mary Mack, Mack, Mack,
all dressed in Black, Black, Black,
with silver Buttons, Buttons, Buttons.
all down her Back, Back, Back...
Speaking of rhyme, when we finished our work, the teachers rewarded us with a reading of our favorite Shel Silverstein poem.
“I cannot go to school today,”said little Peggy Ann McKay.“
I have the measles and the mumps,
a gash, a rash and purple bumps.
My mouth is wet, my throat is dry,
I’m going blind in my right eye.
My tonsils are as big as rocks,
I’ve counted sixteen chicken pox...”
Excerpt from Sick, Where the Sidewalk Ends, the poems and drawings of Shel Silverstein.
The old Bustleton Elementary School of my youth served me well, planting the seeds to be a future educator and children’s book author. For that reason, I was overjoyed to pay it forward and spend the morning with students of my alma mater. I visited on World Hello Day - a fitting connection for my book,
Many of the classes have a hello song or a menu with choices for how they wish to greet the teacher. A large number of the students are bilingual and shared “hello’s” in a variety of languages. We practiced the royal wave, a peaceful namaste and even tried the Tibetan tongue greeting. After the book reading, I was excited to share some of the lessons I took away from my Bustleton days that have influenced my writing, - like “brainstorming” - a technique to get the ideas flowing before you begin writing a new piece, and mind-mapping or concept-mapping - a way to organize your thoughts.
After a lovely morning saying hello to lots of new friends, it was time to say goodbye. The Anne Frank Elementary students that I met were well- mannered and bright, guided by a staff of skilled and nurturing teachers. It was heartwarming to see another generation of students playing in the school yard and creating work to hang in the hallways.
Like I told the students, the word “hello” in any language is an invitation to talk, to play, and to be a friend. And so dear old Bustleton, I’m glad we had this chance to say “hello” once again.