Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Miracle at Jefferson Junior High

The Miracle at Jefferson Junior High


I learned to fight at an early age. Born in Holland in 1950, I was one of three children, the middle one. At age three I remember my parents divorcing and my older sister and I moving in with a friend of the family. My little brother stayed with my mother. In time, she found a husband and the three of them left for the US, promising to bring my sister and I over soon.


Five years later, a nationally-televised program brought my sister and I to America, surprising my mother and stepfather on national television. It was one week from the start of fourth grade at Roosevelt Elementary School in Long Beach, California.


My fighting started a few years before that, in Holland. I don’t remember exactly when I began to want to fight every boy in the school, but I do remember, at recess, every recess, fighting six or seven kids at the same time, almost every day. They hated me and I hated them.


I remember being taken to visit a man in an office, who had me play with toys and asked me strange questions like, “Why did you get mad at that wooden train? Do you hate trains?” I don’t think it did any good because the fighting continued and got worse. Luckily I went to America, away from all those bad boys, right? Wrong.


I loved Roy Rogers. His show was on TV every Wednesday in Holland and all the kids in the neighborhood (we lived in Foster Homes for three years) gathered at the one home with the TV and watched that show, with eyes wide open, everyone wishing he was a cowboy. So, on the first day of school in America, I wore my little brother’s revolvers and holster (he warned me not to) and walked onto the campus thinking I was cool. About twenty kids saw me coming and began to point and laugh hysterically. Lucky for me, the vice-principal saw me and redirected me to his office where I lost the firearms and went to class.


But the damage was done; I hated those kids as much, or more, than the ones in Holland. They began to pick on me during recess and lunch because I was different. That’s when the fighting began again, every day.  


This continued into junior high school. I didn’t fight every day there, just once in a while, because there were some pretty tough kids there and I knew I would lose. But, at the beginning of ninth grade (three year junior high school), I was bigger than anyone and fought for fifteen days in a row. In one of those fights, I got my rear end kicked all the way down the hall by a kid I never thought could fight so well. Both of us were sent to the office.


There (I know now), the decision was made, Washington Junior High was not the place for me. I was transferred to Jefferson Junior High and, in early October of 1965 I walked into my new school.


I was met by the principal who introduced himself and told me he was glad I was there and that I was going to do just fine. He introduced me to a wonderful lady who was going to help me make the transition. She was a certified counselor. Every morning for thirty minutes, for the entire school year, she and I talked. She helped me talk through my issues and it really helped. I didn’t have one fight the entire year and my grades went from a C average to almost straight As.


The only class I earned a B in was Poetry and Journalism, taught by my favorite teacher, Mrs. Rochte. When she introduced the class to “Richard Cory,” I fell in love with rhyme, rhythm, and generating emotion. One class, when we were focusing on Journalism, the hour started with a fellow male teacher storming in the room and yelling at Mrs. Rochte about something. He threw chalk at the board and smashed an eraser on the floor, then angrily left the room, slamming the door behind him. We were stunned with mouths wide open.


As soon as he left, Mrs.  Rochte quickly, and with a smirk on her face, moved in front of us and said, “Take out a piece of paper and a pencil and write down everything you heard, smelled, and saw. I want details down to the color of his shoelaces.” We moaned to show our disapproval of how we were not given pre-warning but she said, “If you’re going to be a journalist, you have to learn how to observe.” Many of Mrs. Rochte’s class sessions were like that.


I’m pretty sure the principal told all of my teachers about me and my issues. They all paid special attention to me, acknowledging my effort and encouraging me in many ways.


As I said, I didn’t have one fight at Jefferson and that continued until my senior year at Wilson High School. I had one fight there, when a huge football player “chose me off” in front of the entire school at lunch. I was 6’4” by then, but skinny as a rail. I was so thin, when taking a shower after PE, I almost slipped through the drain. He was about 250 pounds. Unfortunately for him however, he didn’t know I had been taking boxing lessons.


I thank everyone at Jefferson Junior High for what they did for me. It was quite the turnaround for me and truly changed my life.

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