Patriotic songs preceded 'book learning'

Neighbor Grover sez show him a man with both feet firmly planted on the ground and he'll show you a man who can't get his pants off.

With the new intermediate school nearing completion, along with the high school expansion and renovation, I got to thinking the other day about the school buildings that I attended while growing up in the 1940s and 1950s.

I started first grade in a onestory primary school that stood roughly where that concrete slab with the basketball goals is now located on the elementary campus, at the corner of Bell and Bowser.

That one-story white stucco building had a central assembly room and five classrooms surrounding it (one for each grade). I began first grade in 1941-42. Japan bombed Pearl Harbor that Dec. 7 and each day's school assembly began with the singing of patriotic songs, including "We Did It Before and We Can Do It Again," referring to our World War I conquests as WW II revved up.

The other two school buildings on "College Hill," as the campus area was called, were the threestory brick building that housed grades six through 12, and the quonset-hut gymnasium that still stands.

I actually only attended first through third grades in that white stucco primary building, because it became crowded and the "New Salem building," a wooden structure, was moved onto campus between the primary building and the high school. It housed the fourth and fifth-grade classrooms that I attended.

With just those four buildings, College Hill afforded a lot of playground space and "recess" was a kick. This was years before air-conditioning, so kids had no reluctance to get outside and play, and we did, everything from "Red Rover" to softball and King of the Hill 'rassling (the hill being the slope at the front of the old threestory high school). The campus also hosted the "county meets" (softball and other events).

Oh yes, we learned how to read, write and add, subtract, multiply and divide. Each teacher had a "board of education" that ensured a fairly orderly learning environment. Attention Deficit Disorder had not been invented.

After we started sixth grade in the "big school," if the teacher's board wasn't convincing enough, we were sent to the superintendent's or principal's office where we learned that men applied the board with much more vigor and enthusiasm than had the women teachers.

By the time I finished high school in 1954, during the Alcoa construction boom years, the new elementary school had been constructed just outside the three-story high school building. Ground was about to be broken for the new high school on Murray Street, which would graduate its first class two years later.

My four children graduated from that "new" high school, the one that's being more than doubled in size and modernized as we speak. Daughter Kathy and son Kyle attended junior-high in the three-story, former high school building. Sons Ken and Kevin attended the "new" juniorhigh school on Old Bushdale Road before going on to the high school on Murray.

To most Rockdalians, this must read like ancient history. But I can take this a step further back. My father, W.H. Cooke, was a member of the first graduating class at the "new" three-story school building—in 1922.

Until that school was built, he attended Rockdale's original two-story brick school building on College Hill (where that slab and basketball goals are on the elementary campus).

A f ter t he new t hree-stor y building was completed, the top story of that original two-story building was removed, leaving a one-story structure that was plastered, painted white and became the "primary" school for grades 1-5.

And it was in that primary school building, years later, that my generation started each day by singing patriotic songs as The Greatest Generation waged war against the world's would-be tyrants—Tojo, Hitler, Mussolini.

We sang those songs with the same pride and enthusiasm with which we pledged allegiance to Old Glory and the Texas Flag. We sang the National Anthem and "Texas Our Texas," and were led in prayer for our nation and our troops.

And then we went to class and learned to read, write, add, subtract, multiply and divide.

It was expected of us. And, in retrospect, it was a privilege.

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2009-07-23 digital edition

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