The recent spate of snowy weather and frigid temperatures reminded me of my freshman year in high school. I particularly remember the beginning of second semester, specifically January through March of 1963.
UDC articles accessed through the county library’s website confirmed my frosty memories. In January the mercury once dipped to -18⁰, and a reading of fifteen degrees below zero was reported throughout the county late in February.
Sure, there have been colder thermometer readings before and since, but back then we did not hear about the wind chill factor. When the weather guy said minus twenty, he meant minus twenty, with none of this feels-like lingo that began cropping up in the 70’s.
Also not yet invented in 1963 was the two-hour-delay concept demonstrated this month at the bottom of our TV screens almost daily. We used to have the occasional snow day, as well as an early dismissal once in a while; but as for the morning bus ride: we were right out there in the elements at the very depths of bone-chilling cold.
I am whining about these facts because my bus ride was particularly long during that first year as a GHS student. As of 1957, Concord no longer housed grades 9-12; our high school students joined those from St. Paris, Westville, and Terre Haute in the sprawling new structure on Route 36.
Consolidation continued a few years later when Rosewood and Christiansburg-Jackson sent their kids to Falconland, rendering the new building already too small. For the two years it took to build additional classrooms, the Class of 1965 and the Class of 1966 learned all that freshmen were supposed to learn upstairs in the C-J building.
Thus, my daily commute consumed an hour one way: from home to Concord to the high school and then on to the final freshman destination. In March of that year, we experienced two weather-related early dismissals. We hustled home one afternoon when nine inches of snow began to blanket the area. We repeated the entire procedure just days later as melting snow and steady rain caused flash flooding in Urbana and high water all over the county.
Our freshman year, however, was much more than bus rides and inclement weather. It was filled with classes and homework, as we earned our first four academic credits.
One such course was General Science. Never personally inspired by that discipline, I nevertheless plowed my way through basic units related to chemistry, biology, and physics. The room arranged with closely-situated desks bolted to the floor left no space for lab work, as I remember: the teacher demonstrated occasional experiments at the front of the room.
My best subject was always English, and I continued to excel. Unlike today’s freshmen, we wrote only the occasional essay, in favor of answering study questions about the literary genres presented in our textbooks. The mainstay of our English classes, however, was a detailed study of grammar rules – just what I loved.
I felt intrigued and absolutely challenged by Latin, my first foreign language. It required lots of time and effort to master scads of vocabulary words and to understand their place in an intricate grammar system. Despite its popular moniker, the “dead language” certainly came alive for me.
My Algebra class fascinated me even as it scared the bejeebers out of me. Our teacher was a tough taskmaster with a brilliant mind and an unorthodox classroom style. Sitting in order of our weekly test scores and changing seats forward or backward based on daily recitation scared me into my best efforts – in the favorite math class of my life.
In addition to Physical Education, we also had choices, among them: French, General Business, Drafting, Industrial Arts, and Vo-Ag as well as electives in music and art that rounded out our freshman schedules.
But any concentration of adolescents also involves social development. Being segregated several miles from the rest of the GHS student body, however, made us oddly disconnected. We could not walk the halls with Falcon athletes nor demonstrate our school spirit at weekly pep rallies. To my recollection, I did not even attend football or basketball games until my sophomore year.
Other more important changes, however, took place there on the top floor of the C-J building. We former township kids arrived from single classes in small schools for grades 1 through 12, whose entire populations probably numbered 300-400. In doing so, we formed the newest GHS class, some 175 students strong.
Most of us had learned reading, writing, and arithmetic together in self-contained classrooms. Through all those younger years, we had come to know each other well: our personalities, our strengths, our limitations, our families.
Suddenly our small classmate groups more than quadrupled, and we were divided into sections based on our talents and abilities. We found new friends, widened our circle, and became the Class of 1966.
As unusual as it seemed to be a high school student not attending the high school, in retrospect perhaps it was the positive exception to an old rule. We learned to be together and depend on each other in our little cocoon before being absorbed into the greater GHS population, bonding in a special manner on the way to our diplomas. Personally, I would not have changed a thing about our fresh start – just ours – more than fifty years ago.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.