I hadn’t been inside the old, red
brick, North Newark school in over 40 years…… but I
still remembered where everything was. I have often dreamed about
this warm, cozy school, and still do. So when the opportunity came
to visit this memorable place, and speak to the 8th graders I jumped
at the chance.
As an engineer and inventor, teachers often invite me to speak
to their classes about science and technology, and how inventors
do what they do. I must have spoken to thousands of young students
over the last 30 years. It is always great fun, most particularly
at Abington, because I could tell the students what the school was
like many years ago.
Just walking through the old entrance was a thrill as I experienced
once again the happy, timeless sound of children getting ready for
class. Walking the halls evoked an avalanche of memories. The smell
of the cafeteria. Mr. Panetta our music teacher. Mrs. Wilson an
inspirational teacher who introduced me to Thomas Edison my boyhood
hero (who influenced me to become an engineer and create and patent
my own inventions). Mrs. Wooly our vice principal. Mrs. Barhash
who instilled me with a love for poetry-something I happily compose
and publish today. Mrs. Fogarty with her white hair and lilac perfume.
And of course, Mrs. Williams, my first grade teacher, and personal
guide to Dick and Jane.
It was a warm and friendly school back in the 1950s, and it still
felt the same way that cool November morning. The faces were all
different, but this now 100 year-old school welcomed me with open
arms. The years melted away. Even the auditorium floor squeaked
like it used to.
I went to Abington from 1954 to 1959, from kindergarten to 5th
grade. Then our family moved from one side of Bloomfield Avenue
to the other and my grammar school district changed, forcing me
to go to another school. But Abington Avenue School will always
be my first love, because it was there I met good life-time friends,
especially Dick and Jane.
You remember Dick and Jane don’t you? About 80 million kids
learned to read using those classic books, which enjoyed a publication
run from 1930 to 1970. Ask anyone in their 50s and 60s if they can
name everyone in the family….. and most can do it. There was
Dick, Jane, and Sally….Mother and Father, Spot the dog, Puff
the cat, and Tim….Sally’s teddy bear. And don’t
forget grandmother and grandfather; and their farm where many weekend
adventures were read about.
I remember Mrs. Williams sitting us in a semi-circle arrangement
while we read from these now nostalgic, and highly collectible readers.
We had to sound out the tough words and pronounce them correctly.
The colorful pictures made reading fun. Usually after our morning
reading lesson, we would enjoy a milk break. Most times during cold
weather, we would leave the milk cartons on the outside window ledge
to chill. One person in the class was in charge of the milk cartons,
careful not to let them drop down to the sidewalk. It was a simpler
time. In the winter snow, we would dry our clothes on the big wall
I love those old reading books so much, about fifteen years ago
I began trying to collect them. With the Internet now you can find
them quite easily, but when I started, it was often difficult to
locate some of the titles. Every time I look through the old books,
I can see and hear my friends sitting there, reading in front of
Mrs. Williams. We are young again, with pretty Mrs. Williams smiling
down at us in approval. She stole my heart.
I’ll close this memory with a most unusual coincidence that
involves Mrs. Wilson. In her 4th grade class, every student had
to do a term project that involved writing away to a company to
learn about what they did and then doing a term paper and an oral
presentation to the class. Mrs. Wilson was very big on public speaking.
She gave me the Thomas Edison Company to write away to, and that
set off a life-long love affair between me and the great inventor.
Well, as fate would have it, about 25 years later, I met and fell
in love with my wife……who just happened to be the niece
of the man who managed the company I had written to! Pretty amazing,
huh? But wait there is more. The teacher who invited me to come
back to speak to the 8th graders got a big surprise when I showed
up. As we were talking in the teachers lounge before class, we discovered
she had gone to school with my wife! I also got another surprise,
for into the teachers’ lounge walked a woman I had gone to
Barringer High School with, who was now teaching at Abington. We
hadn’t seen each other in 35 years.
That old red brick school seems to follow me wherever I go, but
I certainly don’t mind. There, my good habits were formed,
by teachers who really cared. And those kinds of teachers are there
still…..making me very happy indeed. Thanks for the memories
Abington Avenue, here’s to another 100 years of loving education.
Abington is one of the main reasons I work with teachers and students
today. I have a great debt to repay those wonderful teachers who
showed me the way. God Bless them all.
About Those Old Dick and Jane Readers
Today, I collect the old Dick and Jane readers, along with many
of the other books in the reading series. Fun with Dick and Jane
was for the pre-readers and first grade classes. By second grade,
Dick and Jane were mostly gone from the stories, except for an occasional
story. Then by 3rd grade there was Streets and Roads, followed by
other readers like Times and Places, Days and Deeds, People and
Progress, and Parades all the way on up to 8th grade. The stories
got more mature, longer, and meaningful as you advanced through
My two favorite stories were Bartholomew and the 500 Hats and
Billy Goat’s Gruff about the old troll who lived under the
wooden bridge. The troll was eventually butted into the water by
one of the goats. Back in the 1940s and 50s, each textbook actually
cost the school about $1.00-$1.50. Today, those same texts are going
for anywhere from $40-$300 depending on the age, condition, and
rarity of the book. Remember those big easel books that the whole
class could read from? Some of them are going for $750-$1000. Who
says the past isn’t valuable?!