Editor’s note: This is another column in Bill Boyd’s new series, “The Way It Was,” about growing up in Marysville. Bill continues to work with the Union County Historical Society to obtain information for his stories. With Marysville and Union County celebrating Bicentennial anniversaries in 2019 and 2020, respectively, these articles help depict what life was like in those early years.
In 1938, when I entered Marysville’s West Elementary School, I think it was a lot more common than it is today to require a boy or girl to repeat the first grade if he/she wasn’t quite-ready to move on to the second grade. There were actually two kids in my first grade class who were going through the first grade for the second time. One was a boy named Eugene. The other was a girl named Janice.
I always liked Eugene. He could throw a softball all the way from the big elm tree at the east edge of our playground to the honeysuckle bush behind the public library. No other boy in our class could even come close to that.
But Eugene had a little trouble with numbers. He could count OK, but adding and subtracting were hard for him. When it was his turn at the blackboard to do an addition problem, maybe 4+3, you could see him counting on his fingers.
Eugene sometimes got the answer right, but Miss Westlake didn’t want him to use his fingers. She told him, “Someday you might need to add something in the middle of winter, when you are wearing mittens. You just can’t count on your fingers when you are wearing mittens.” By the time school let out for the year, however, he was doing much better. So I think repeating the first grade was good for him.
Janice’s challenge was reading. She had trouble sounding out words the way we were taught. Occasionally, Miss Westlake kept Janice in during recess to practice reading aloud. I was a fairly good reader, so a couple times she kept me in with Janice to help her with her reading. We read aloud to each other from her book. I wasn’t fond of that, because it meant I also missed my recess. Besides, I had to sit in the same seat with Janice, and I knew Jim Woodson would be teasing me about sitting with a girl.
On the first day of school the following year, I looked around to see if any of my classmates had been held back to repeat the first grade. The only kid I noticed to be missing was a girl named Gayle. Boy, did that surprise me. I always thought she was pretty smart. She could read really well, and I never saw her counting on her fingers.
Later that day, I found out that Gayle wasn’t being held back to repeat the first grade. In fact, the opposite was true. She had skipped a grade and went right from the first grade to third grade. Wow, I had never heard of such a thing.
After dinner that night, I thought about Gayle’s rapid advancement, as I sat in our porch swing. I knew she was a good student, but I didn’t think she was much smarter than me. I knew she was a really good singer, and she even had a solo part in our Christmas operetta. But I didn’t think she read or did math problems much better than I did. I bet I could also skip the second grade.
So the next day, when I got back from lunch early, I talked with my new teacher, Miss Pearce. I told her I would like to skip the second grade, the way Gayle was doing. I told her I thought I was ready to be a third grader. But I found out it wasn’t that simple. Miss Pearce told me that Gayle had been tutored all summer long. She had, in effect, given up her summer vacation to complete the second grade.
That’s all I needed to know. There was no way I would ever give up my summer vacation, so I never tried to follow in Gayle’s footsteps. And today I’m glad of that. Some of my fondest memories are of those elementary school years in Marysville. I wouldn’t want to have missed a single one of them.
Well … maybe I wouldn’t mind missing the fourth grade, when I had a couple problems with Miss Sweeny.
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