Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Old School

Joseph Klapatch has written a history of the Mid Valley School district.  It's called "The Old School" and you can find it at www.thebookpatch.com.  I couldn't wait to get my hands on it, and I devoured it quickly.

To get you up to speed, Mid Valley is comprised of the old Dickson City, Olyphant, and Throop school districts.  It was formed during the wave of consolidations that took place in the late 60's and early 70's.

As I told Joseph, his book brought back a lot of memories, most of them bad.

Mid Valley was the last of the consolidated Lackawanna County school districts to build a new school, and it only did so when it was backed in to a corner.  Two of its old buildings were condemned because they were fire traps.  The state ordered the doors shut.  It was right.  I was there.  One of the condemned buildings was half elementary school/half high school in Olyphant, and I can honestly say I hated every second I was there.  My first experience with that dump was 6th grade.  Our playground was an alley.  No cafeteria.  Lunch was bad sandwiches in heat lamped cellophane bags.  The teacher used the same methods on his last day in the classroom as he did on his first.  It was stifling physically, intellectually, and emotionally.

The sad part about the whole thing was administrators and the apparent majority of people in the district thought those old barns were just fine.  They're lucky the buildings didn't catch fire, and cause the deaths of dozens of students.  The floors were soaked with oil.  Wooden, open stairwells.  No sprinklers.

Joseph's book also brought back memories of the worst lavatories known to man.  They were used only as a last resort, when you couldn't hold it until you got home.  Once again, the people in charge thought they were just fine.

A school is more than a building.  I found a lot of the faculty uninspired, and dare I say, just plain lazy.  Bad buildings was a convenient target.  Too easy to blame.  I did have a few teachers who made the best of a lousy situation.  I enjoyed their classes.  Learning was a delight, not a chore.  Unfortunately, they were few and far between.

The book contains a lot of history, things I never knew about the hallways I wandered.  In great detail, Klapatch explains how the local individual school districts came to be, the way the new district worked (or didn't), the struggle to deal with the condemnations, too many students, too little space, the the fight to build a new school.

You had to be there to "get" a lot of what was in the book, and I think that's OK.  Klapatch's book doesn't seem to be intended for the mass audience.  It's well researched, as you will see from his notes.  I did learn a lot of new things and developed a new understanding of the way it all worked.  Yes, some of that new information is maddening.  It didn't have to be that way.

The history of the Mid Valley School District was a story that needed to be told, and I'm glad someone did it.