Things Have Changed Since ’85

And I’m not just talking about Tom Cruise moving to Crazytown, USA.

In returning to my elementary school, I never expected to “step into the same river twice.” I knew that the school had changed quite a bit since I attended it from 1985-1991. Over the years, I’d taken occasional walks around the campus and seen new jungle gyms (or “big-toys” as we used to call them) installed and the paint accents go from red to green. I’d seen the library and office move locations, and new portables installed.

So far, I’ve observed these other major changes:

  • Demographic shift. My 1985-1986 kindergarten class of 29 kids was composed of 27 white kids, one Latino kid, and me (I alone composed a good chunk the school’s Asian population — and I’m only half). Barbara’s 2008-2009 kindergarten class of 20 kids has 5 white kids and 15 Latino kids. This reflects the overall demographic shift in Sonoma County. Between 2000 and 2007, the county’s Latino population grew 30 percent, and the white population declined by 7.2 percent. The trend continues, making it challenging for the school to raise its test scores when many of the kids are English Language Learners.
  • Uniforms. The majority of kids in the kindergarten class wear tiny khaki or blue bottoms and solid colored shirts. Apparently, a few years ago the school adopted a policy where students would wear uniforms by default, but parents can sign a waiver opting out. That way kids can still choose their clothing if they wish, but the standard of uniforms evens the playing field for low-income kids. That way, there’s no pressure to wear the latest Hannah Montana watch or Gap Kids hoodie, and gang-related clothing is a non-issue.
  • Extended kindergarten day. Kindergarten used to be divided into morning and afternoon sessions. Now, with the exception of early release days, it keeps the same hours as the older grades, from 8:30 to 2:30. I’ve heard that the kindergarteners, even at age 5, now follow a curriculum based on state standards.
  • Lunchroom practices. Hot lunch used to be served on washable trays, but today it’s unfortunately packaged in disposable styrofoam containers. I’m curious about the reasons for this, and the difference in cost. On the upside, chocolate milk used to be available only on Wednesdays, but now it’s a delicious permanent fixture.

As different as my elementary school has become, I’ve noticed a handful of things that haven’t changed at all:

  • School staff. Barbara (not the kindergarten teacher) in the office and Chris in the cafeteria have worked there from the time I was young. Jan, Paula, and Dave all taught at the school during my elementary years, and they’re as dedicated to kids as they ever were. Crazily enough, they remember me. It’s a little strange talking to them as an equal and learning the details of their lives. I’ll be volunteering in their classes during the next few weeks.
  • Classic kids’ books. Green Eggs and Ham and The Pokey Little Puppy are just a couple of my favorites that I’ve noticed the kids paging through, even when they can’t read yet.
  • Mr. Sketch Scented Markers. Inhaling the red cherry-scented marker still makes me swoon, making me question the intentions of the character with those crazy eyes. Sketchy indeed.

Comments (6)

  1. Ide

    That’s a really solid uniform policy. Does it extend all the way through high school? I hate to admit that I think uniforms are a really great idea. When I was 5, being the tiny enforcer that I was, I loved my plaid ensemble. My mom would iron my jumper every day so that the giant box pleats were straight, and I would order other kids to tuck in their shirts. I have to admit, they looked pretty cute. They did not look as cute on the hulking and awkward fifth-graders, but that was a few years off.

  2. Melia

    I’m not sure if the uniform policy applies at the middle and high school levels but will ask. I’m more open to the idea of uniforms than I used to be. Any kind of large-scale conformity makes me nervous, but as you said, the policy is flexible enough that the kids can wear their Dora the Explorer tees if they want to. There are also some options for the uniform: a skirt, jumper, pants, or shorts in khaki or navy, and shirts of various styles. It takes one distraction out of the equation, and the little ones do look so darn cute in their pleats. Haha, I wonder what style would flatter the 5th graders’ gawky frames.

    You would have been a great hall monitor. I can imagine your disgust at your little classmates’ slovenly appearance. For shame!

  3. Gilliebean

    It’s totally weirding me out that you’re referring to teachers by their first names! It took me a minute to figure out who they were.

    Wow, kindergarten is all day now? I don’t know if I would have been able to handle that when I was five. That’s a long day!

    I’m much more open to the uniform idea now, too. I used to be so opposed to it when I was in school, but I can definitely see how it would make things a little more equal. And I have heard from private school friends that it’s nice not having to worry about what you’re going to wear tomorrow. Though that would have ruled out my HOT Hammer pants in elementary school.

  4. Margaret

    Hot lunch in styrofoam? What are they thinking? I remember that ours came in aluminum ‘disposable’ trays- which were never recycled. Hm. And about the uniforms: it was fine when you’re in 1st through 4th or 5th grades, but upwards of that, and for me it just accentuated the awkwardness. Maybe puberty starts the “I wanna be ME!” juices flowing as well as hormones…
    Another question: what resources does the school have to offer ELLs?

  5. Casandra

    However easy, adorable, levelling… whatever, I still think uniforms are fascist- at ANY AGE!

  6. Melia

    Gill, yeah, I haven’t actually called the teachers by their first names besides in the post and don’t know if I can really do it!

    Margaret, apparently one environmentally conscious teacher priced out styrofoam versus trays (labor costs) a few years back, and disposable was unfortunately cheaper. This seems weird to me, so I’m going to check on it. I’ll also ask about support for ELLs. I know that the kindergarten teacher sends home books each week in the language the parents speak.

    Casandra, agreed that “adorable” isn’t a strong enough reason for uniforms. I think that this particular policy is pretty reasonable, since the families — and ideally the kids — can opt out of them easily. There’s also a lot of variety within the uniform; I found out that the kids can wear denim, too. Families requested the uniforms because they’re the standard in Mexico.


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