January's cold reminder of school
I write fairly often, in this column, about how much I disliked school. Some people may think I overdo it. Because how could anyone hate school that much? It might make you feel better to know that, well . . . I really did hate school that much—because, I mean, at least you know I’m being sincere. And some may think I’m setting a bad example for kids who read this column. Well, it might make you feel better to know that, well . . . kids don’t read this column.
So, having gotten that out of the way, it’s that time again. Because whenever it’s January, which, for me, happens approximately once a year, I remember more than ever how much I hated school. That time frame spans the very first day of kindergarten to the day before the day I quit high school, on June 1 of my so-called “12th-grade” year (so-called because I didn’t have enough credits to graduate that year, anyway).
Septembers were really bad, too, for, I think, obvious reasons: I had to return to this dreaded drudgery after three months of freedom. Plus, the weather was still nice. Octobers weren’t so good, either, because I could only look ahead to all these many more months of this. November held slight promise, with an upcoming break (including a lot of food) toward the end of the month. December was one of the better months, relatively, because of vacation for half the month. Plus, there was always a winter concert—band at Roosevelt Junior High and choir at Heights High—to look forward to participating in. And those musical organizations were the reasons I went to school. Well, those and the law.
But January was the worst. There were no more holiday breaks for four months; and it was the coldest part of the year, which I knew would be the case for the next few months—making my way to and from school in freezing temperatures, strong winds and snow, sleet, slush and ice. The outlook was just bleak.
On weekends, my friends would want to go ice skating at the frozen-over Cumberland Pool parking lot. I hated that, too—I didn’t skate, so I’d stand or sit there freezing. Or sledding at Cain Park, down the big hill at the Taylor Road end. At least I’d get to have a fast ride, for about six seconds, a few times. More like two times, actually, because by then I’d be covered with snow, making me even more uncomfortable.
So, from the first day of kindergarten, I was waiting for the day I could, finally, quit school. And everyone knew it. Which is why my old friends all thought it was hilarious when my kids started going to school and I began volunteering for everything in the schools. When they were in Roxboro Elementary School and Ruffing Montessori, I was often the ”room mother” in my kids’ classes. And I often worked on the schools’ fundraisers. When they were in Roxboro and Ruffing’s middle schools, I came in and lectured to classes on topics ranging from Colonial cooking to life in the late '60s, and worked on fundraisers, and put together one school’s newsletter, and so on.
In their eight consecutive Heights High years, I volunteered for everything I could—lecturing to journalism and social studies classes, becoming co-president of the Band and Orchestra Parents Organization, helping to launch the Vocal Arts Parents Organization, running the concession stand at all the swim meets, and many more things. At the end of my son’s first year at Heights, my mother, at his orchestra concert, said to me, “You’ve been in this building more this year than you were in your last year of school.” It was literally true.
My friends thought it was funny, but I wasn’t doing it because I was suddenly imbued with school spirit. I was also there to advocate for my own kids, which you need to do. And I was there to try to identify and possibly help kids who were like me; like the way I had been in school. That’s why I got involved in the music groups. And it’s why I also found many opportunities to mentor kids. And why I helped create a scholarship award for kids like me: talented musicians or artists whose priorities were not necessarily academic.
And if there were ever any problems with my own kids, I could go right in and talk to the principal and, more easily, straighten things out. Another time I was with my mother at Heights, Jim Cipolletti came up and said hello to me. I introduced them and my mother said, “Hm. Just like when you were in high school: I see the principal still knows your name.”
David Budin is a freelance writer for national and local publications, the former editor of Cleveland Magazine and Northern Ohio Live, an author, and a professional musician and comedian. His writing focuses on the arts and, especially, pop-music history.