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A proud moment for my alma mater
September 13, 2008 - Bill Ackerbauer
Hey, great news today about Jansen Avenue Elementary School winning the Blue Ribbon recognition, huh? What with all the robberies, politics and tannery demolitions in the news, it's nice to be able to report a story that's purely positive. The Blue Ribbon award gives me an especially warm-and-fuzzy feeling because my ties to the school go way back to the early '70s. My sisters and I both attended Jansen Avenue, my mother teaches there (third grade, this year), one of my sons goes to school there now, and my wife is on the PTA. Last year, my son attended kindergarten in the very same classroom I did 30 years earlier.
It's too bad that some of the people who contributed to the Blue Ribbon effort last year are not around now to bask in the glow of the honor. Patricia Sotero, who was the principal and driving force behind the application last year, had to move back to her hometown of Ithaca for family reasons this year. She was a one-woman school spirit machine and deserves most of the credit for the award. If you happened to drive past the school any weekday evening last year, you probably would have noticed the lights were on in the principal's office long after the kids were at home. Long after they were tucked into their beds, just as likely. I wouldn't be surprised to hear she spent 80 or 100 hours per week at work in that school.
At any rate, I was glad to see Patty was properly credited for all her hard work. I feel I should note, though, that Jansen Avenue was a pretty great school long before it had a blue ribbon pinned to its proverbial lapel. Just the other day, I ran into my sixth-grade teacher, Dave Mulligan, who's retired now but doesn't seem a day older to me than he did decades ago. (Kids and adults just don't see eye to eye on subjects such as time, age and whether it's a good idea to ingest large quantities of unnatural, neon-colored candy and soft drinks.) Mr. Mulligan was among the most well-traveled of my elementary school teachers, and he impressed upon me the virtues of worldliness and open-mindedness. That, and lots of trivia about the rise and fall of the ancient Roman Empire.
Another of my favorite teachers at Jansen was Lise Wilson, who taught me in second-grade that it's important to meet deadlines (a lesson with which I'm still struggling on a daily basis).
Another favorite teacher of mine, Pat Zullo, still teaches music at Jansen Avenue. I hope my son comes home from school one day singing one of the songs I remember learning from her, perhaps "Don Gato" or "There Were Three Men from Amsterdam" or "The Titanic" ('Wasn't it sad when that great ship went down?'). Looking back on it now, it seems almost unreal that we would have been taught darkly funny Tom Lehrer songs in the third grade. The one I remember best is called "Pollution":
If you visit American city
You will find it very pretty
Just two things of which you must beware:
Don't drink the water and don't breathe the air!
Maybe I have Mrs. Zullo to thank for my interest in music and my mildly subversive streak!
Perhaps the person at Jansen Avenue who made the biggest impression on me wasn't a teacher but the principal, Roger Rooney. One day when I was in sixth grade, he came into Mr. Mulligan's classroom and said he was going to teach us a lesson about writing descriptively. He said he was previously an English teacher, and he wanted to see if he "still had it" as a classroom instructor. He put an empty Coca-Cola bottle (one of the funky old greenish glass ones) on the table in front of him and asked us to describe it. I don't recall what I observed about the Coke bottle, or what specifically the point of the lesson might have been. Perhaps it was simply that there are many ways to view any one object and there is no single right way to view it. Perhaps it was that with all the rich complexity of the English language at one's disposal, it is wrong not to speak, write and think dynamically -- like having a banquet of delicacies laid out before you and reaching for the saltines every time.
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