I loved fourth grade at Powell School. This was the first school year when the fifth graders moved to Hammansburg School leaving us (NB ’78) the unexpected elder statesmen of the Powell School building. We were the big kids on the playground and in the lunchroom, always an enviable position. We were old enough to ride our bikes to school. We also had certain school privileges such as serving as safety patrol crossing guards. All of this was pretty heady stuff for nine-year olds.
Fourth grade was also a great year in the classroom for me. My teacher was Emma Apple, one of my favorite teachers ever. Somehow, she made learning more exciting. I was especially energized by a competition to see how many pages each student could read. Mrs. Apple had hung a paper moon near the ceiling and a path to the moon was marked in pages read. Each student had a paper rocket ship that zoomed along the path. Inspired by Neil Armstrong’s recent moonwalk in July, I wanted to race my rocket ship as fast I could to the moon in our classroom.
Each fall, the school held an Open House so parents could see what students were learning and chat with the teacher. In Mrs. Apple’s classroom, we were reading a story about a “computer” in class and we decided to make that the highlight of our Open House presentation. To represent the computer in the story, Mr. Apple built a large box, bigger than a refrigerator and painted it turquoise like the computer in our story. In the classroom, Mrs. Apple allowed the students to add the finishing artistic touches to the computer.
In the story, a person could ask the computer a question and receive an instantaneous answer, a novel idea in 1969 but an oddly funny idea in today’s era of Google! At the Open House, there was a pad of paper on the outside of our classroom computer and a visitor could write a question on the paper and drop it in the slot and soon another slip with a hand-written answer would come out of the same slot. For Open House, Mrs. Apple allowed students to sign up for the opportunity to be inside the computer box and answer questions. I was so excited to be chosen to fill one of the 15 minute stints inside the computer!
In the days leading up to Open House, the number of absences at Powell School began to soar due to a chickenpox outbreak, but the last thing I had on my mind as I put my dress on to get ready for the Open House was chickenpox. In hindsight, I remember noticing that I had a couple tiny red spots on my belly, but I was an active kid who always had bumps, bruises, and mosquito bites. As I eagerly brushed my hair and teeth to prepare for Open House, it never crossed my mind to tell my parents about those tiny red spots.
As expected, the computer box was a big hit with the Open House visitors and for me it was great fun trying to think of answers for the questions that were submitted to the computer. When I returned home, still animated from the exciting event, I took my dress off and noticed that there were now a dozen tiny blisters on my belly. By morning, I felt ill and missed the next week of school due to chicken pox.
So, if you went to Powell School in 1969 and you contracted chickenpox, it was probably my fault. Sorry.