The halls of JPS ‘will always be alive’
The closing of John Pettibone School in New Milford was met with mixed emotions last week.
The sound of the locks turning for the last time resonated throughout the community and stung the hearts of many, especially those who were against the Board of Education’s decision to close the school, and for those of us who called JPS home for part of our education.
It’s been 30 years since I first became a student at JPS. I was fortunate to visit the school on numerous occasions over the past 20 years to cover school activities for local papers.
Each time I entered the school doors and checked into the office, the little girl in me who attended fourth and fifth grades there came alive and wanted to skip down the tiled halls, look for my old lockers and peek into the rooms in which I had classes.
JPS was all about the lockers, the colorful metal lockers that lined the heavily bricked hallways.
For the first time in our school careers, we exercised the freedom of storing our coats and books outside of the classroom. We took advantage of that time every morning, between classes and at the end of the day.
The halls were abuzz with chitter chatter among friends, the sound of the metal lockers clicking shut and teachers issuing warnings — with a smile — that they were about to close the door to start class so we better hurry up and get to class.
JPS was a place where, because of the ages of students, boys and girls developed crushes and shared them in giddy notes and awkward glances across the cafeteria and in line to get on or off the bus.
It was during one recess on the playground that a friend delivered for me what I recall to be my first note to a boy because I was, like most kids at that age, too embarrassed to do it myself.
JPS was a warm place, where I felt safe, and knew the staff — under the leadership of Dr. William Burley — cared about the students, and was open to having fun, too.
I often reflect fondly on the jokes my fourth-grade class played on the nurse one April Fool’s Day. My teacher, Mrs. Striewski, had several of us — myself included — head to the nurse’s office with fake ailments.
JPS was not immune to teasing. I felt horrible when a few classmates didn’t let “Jason” forget he had an accident in his pants more than once.
Across from Mrs. Striewski’s room was Mrs. McCandless’ room, which is where I went for reading. She was great.
I recall in fourth grade we were introduced to the computer room, which was full of super-boxy and bulky monitors and thick keyboards.
JPS provided us the space to grow and form friendships. Sarah was a close friend in fourth grade. We had a lot of fun changing the lyrics to Mike & the Mechanics’ “All I Need is a Miracle” and singing it about Sarah’s crush.
One of my favorite experiences in fifth grade was learning and acting out the song “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” at holiday time in my class.
To this day, when I hear that song, I smile and think of my classmates and the fun we had learning it.
It was during my years at JPS students were introduced to locker rooms, where we had to change for gym class. Oh, how I dreaded gym, especially when it came time to run the required mile run on the “track” — the big field adjacent to the Creative Playground.
It was in the gymnasium during one gym class we practiced levitation, and where I tried my hand at the Parks & Recreation Department’s basketball program.
I remember the nervous giggles of my classmates while we sat at the lunch tables in the cafeteria one afternoon and watched a movie about body changes girls our age go through, or were already going through.
Library was a favorite activity during my years at JPS, and music class was a blast with Mrs. Messer.
Mrs. Messer taught us how to play “Hot Cross Buns” and other songs on the recorder. I still can play a tune using B-A-G on the recorder.
My memories of JPS are sweet, and they’ve been rekindled by the black and white JPS yearbooks I just dusted off from my book shelf.
I’m smiling now as I flip through the pages and see snapshots of classroom activities, staff and fellow students — sadly, some of whom had slipped my mind, until now.
Although the school’s doors are closed for good now, in my mind, the halls will always be alive and bustling with the smiling faces of students utilizing their lockers and visiting with friends, and the warm greetings and twinkling eyes of teachers and administrators eager to teach and nurture their young students.
All of this still exists, if only now in our memory, in the spirit of the late John Pettibone, who served for 40 years as a teacher, principal and the school district's first superintendent.