Thursday, November 5

Be True To Your School

It's timely that the topic at TFC this week is Schools, given that yesterday I did a book-signing at my favorite school: The Unquowa School, where I was a student - once upon a very long time ago - for nearly six years. Unquowa was the first place that it occurred to me that if I wanted something, dreamed of achieving something, and I was willing to put the necessary work in, I could realize my goals.

When I first began at Unquowa, I was in fourth grade and it was the middle of fall term. Compared to the other students I was behind in math and science, and a few other things as well, like music. I couldn't quite figure out what to do with the recorder I was given in music class and when I was given an audio quiz where I was supposed to identify what I was hearing, I'm fairly certain I did preposterous things like mistaking the harp for the bassoon.

At the end of the term, the headmaster, who was a very old-school headmaster, arranged to speak with me in an empty classroom. There, he explained that the grades I had received were not exactly stellar. They weren't completely abysmal - there were no Fs involved - but C seemed to be the common theme and there was at least one D there. I was sure I was about to get kicked out of the school, having never felt good enough to be there in the first place, but that wasn't what he had in mind. Very kindly he explained that I shouldn't feel bad about those grades, since my previous school had not given me the proper tools, and then more kindly still he set out to explain how if in the next semester I did X and I did Y and I did Z, that no, I couldn't achieve an A average for this school year - although, who, he wondered aloud, could say what I might achieve in future years? - but that it was possible to lift it all up to a solid B average.

So that's what I proceeded to do. I did X and I did Y and I did Z, and at the end of the year I made the Honor Roll for the first time, receing a white card with green lettering that said Second Honors. As time wore on, I would achieve First Honors, and eventually the coveted gold cards that read Headmaster's List. Those gold cards became a regular thing in my life.

It's not that there wasn't hard work involved, but someone had taken the time to draw me a road map to success and I was smart enough to take that road.

Unquowa was critical in instilling in me the desire for intellectual achievement, but in every other aspect as well it also encouraged the confidence that if I wanted a thing and was willing to put the work in, almost anything was possible.

In seventh grade I tried out for the girls' basketball team. Four-foot-eleven and athletically challenged, my skills earned me a place as last person on the team. Having spent most of the year on the bench, I resolved to get better. I knew there was nothing I could do about my lack of height, but I could learn to run faster and I could learn to develop a killer outside shot, which I achieved by getting my one-foot-taller older brother to train me every day over the summer. By the time I was in ninth grade, my last year at Unquowa, I was co-captain of the team.

Academics, athletics - it's all good, but there's got to be a social aspect to school life as well. At Unquowa, I never lacked for feeling socially connected to other people. It was there I discovered that people could be complex, that the same person - me - could be an A student and an athlete and a social butterfly and fashion conscious; that in fact there was no need to ever be pigeonholed into those narrow boxes that some schools tend to force people into. That refusal to be pigeonholed as one thing or another has served me well in life.

Academics, athletics, social stuff - what have I left out? Politics! When I started at Unquowa it had a five-day-a-week dress code involving uniforms. The school had been in existence since 1917 and girls had never worn pants but when I was in seventh grade we finally organized ourselves and brought our case to the Board of Governors, resulting in a modified dress code that allowed us to dress far more liberally on everything but Fridays and assembly days. It was the same pattern all over again: wanting a thing, creating a road map, and going for it.

Finally, were it not for Unquowa, I don't know as that I'd be a writer today. It was there, when I was 12 years old and in the eighth grade, than an English teacher was so impressed with one of my stories that he made the class listen to it three days running. It was there that for the first time it occurred to me that maybe I had stories to tell that other people would want to hear.

So that's my story of Unquowa love. There would be other schools in my life following my graduation from Unquowa in the bicentennial year of 1976, but none would inspire so much school love or have such a profound impact, although each would form me in some way. But that was just fine. I'd already been given the map I needed.


Be well. Don't forget to write.


Melissa Walker said...

I love the sound of your school and your savvy at making the most of what it gave you, Lauren!

My love goes out to certain teachers at Chapel Hill High School who made me feel like a (wonderful, smart, capable) person and not a rote student. Ms. Pinner, junior year English, I'm talking to you!

Wendy Toliver said...

I had great experiences at all 6 schools I attended, but I have to say the one that stands out as helping me discover my capabilities (and my weaknesses) was my college, Colorado State University.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

Melissa, yea for Chapel Hill and Ms. Pinner!

Wendy, yea for CO State!

julieduck said...

San Clemente High School. It is a small, beachy school at the end of Orange County, CA. It was there that I met teachers who didn't believe in me (in particular an English instructor known as Mrs. K), and those who did (Mr. Delaney!). Having a balance between the two drove me to figure out fast where I was going in life.

- Julie

Amanda Ashby said...

Wow - that is such an inspiring school. I went to one primary school, one high school and two universities but I can't really say that any particularly inspired me.

However, the primary school where my two kids currently go to inspires me on a daily basis. The teachers and the headmaster are so motivated and happy and my kids have come on leaps and bounds since they started going there.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

Julie, yea for Mr. Delaney!

Amanda, yea for your kids' school!

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