I was born in 1953 and attended the public schools in Oklahoma City from 1958 through 1971, grades Kindergarten through my senior year in high school. I attended only two schools during those 13 calendar school years, Gatewood Elementary in the Gatewood Neighborhood just south of Oklahoma City University on NW 21, and Classen Junior/Senior High School, less than a half mile from Gatewood Elementary, located a block west of Classen Boulevard on Ellison and NW 18th street.
After my public school education in the Oklahoma City Public School System, my next stop was at the very close Oklahoma City University, just two blocks north of my initial elementary school on NW 23rd and Blackwelder. The fact is that I attended schools within a mile of each other from Kindergarten through my Masters Degree.
I did not live in the Gatewood attendance zone from Kindergarten through 3rd grade but still attended the Gatewood School and not another (Willard Elementary) was for convenience for my parents as of my Grandparents living at the corner of NW 20th and Pennsylvania. I was driven to Gatewood in the mornings from Kindergarten through 3rd grade from my first home near NW 6th and Braeur. That allowed me to walk from Gatewood to my Grandparents after school. From 4th grade on I lived at NW 21st and Flynn, two blocks west of Pennsylvania Blvd, as of my family moving to a home in the Las Vegas neighborhood of the city. That home is two blocks from Shepard Mall, which opened the year we moved. The locations are key for part of this record I am making.
As a five year old child, I was allowed to walk from my elementary schools to my Grandparents home four long blocks each day the weather was good. Gatewood to Grandparents was through the neighborhood and the trip took maybe all of 20 minutes on a meandering day, something that children will do when given the change. Meandering is an act of childhood and rather aloof adults if you want my opinion.
As we exited the school building at Gatewood on any given and typical day, at 3:00 PM, the 300 or so Gatewood Alligators, ages 5 through 12, maybe a few 13 years old if they had to take a grade over, hit the doors running, like getting out of jail in a Monopoly game. There might have been ten parents with their cars to pick up children, but Gatewood, being a neighborhood school, the 98 percent of the students were in walking distance, and did, walk home.
That walk included those students that had to travel, by foot, across Pennsylvania Avenue to the west, which was a highly traveled and always busy four lane street. As of my walk home beginning in my 4th grade year, I had to cross that dangerous street everyday, morning and evening, before and afterschool, on any good weather day. I walked it if the temperature was over 40 degrees and as long as it was not raining. That was my primary way of transportation to school, my legs.
You have to understand that routine was a learning experience for us children, as you had young children, ages five and six, always being cared for by the older students on the walk. As a 5th or 6th grader, we understood that everyone, and especially older children, was responsible for everyone else. We taught the youngest what to do and not to do as we traveled the streets. Do as we tell you and if you do not you are not going to like what we tell you mom when we get you home.
Never would we even think of someone being kidnapped, or hurt, or allowed to do something dangerous. Responsibility was self-taught and as a child we understood the responsibility given to us by our parents to keep everyone safe. Yes, we can all mess up, children included, and there were things that went on that some of us older students did that would not make our parents proud. I said older students, eleven and twelve year old students. Not the younger babies. They were not included or taught the dangerous stuff.
As we grow up, decisions have to be made which are the way children learn to cope with life and find their limitations of what can and cannot be done. Like putting pop cans in the middle of Pennsylvania to watch and listen to cars and trucks run over them. That was a very fun thing to do and probably quite dangerous. But learning to avoid disaster is something that a child has to learn, to encounter life without an adult always supervising. Our children today do not get those experiences and that could be a bad thing. Protecting a child of age and reason is a recipe for later heartache. Children always come to an age of decision making and without encouragement to learn and be responsible for your decisions have to be undertaken. Yes, there are age restrictions for children to make their own decisions along the way, but parents today seem to think that they can keep their little Suzy or Johnny safe from everything. That is a false belief and all parents will come to the conclusion it is not a reality. No, it is not positive for a child to get run the hell over placing pop cans in the street, but in fact, no children that attended Gatewood had that happen to them.
By the time I started attending Classen Junior High, I was still walking to and frow to school, learning other of life’s big secrets with my fellow walking 7th and 8th grade baby Comets. My experiences with what we junior high (middle school) students had to deal with while walking will be next in Part 2.