Cough, Sniffle, Sneeze, Repeat Until Graduation
I went to the most poorly designed high school in the history of humankind. I think it was considered “state of the art” by some but, from the perspective of a student, it was just dumb.
North Kingstown High School (NKHS) was built as a campus. From what I’d heard, it was modeled after a junior college in Southern California. There were about a dozen separate buildings all connected with concrete, covered walkways. The campus had been carved out of a wooded area and they’d left a lot of trees between the buildings. There were grass-covered open spaces throughout a nice semi-circular stone wall sitting area.
It sounds idyllic.
Trust me, it wasn’t.
If you haven’t noticed, Rhode Island is not Southern California. The climate in Rhode Island is, let’s be kind, more varied than the climate in Southern California. The school year spans fall, winter, and spring, and, as a result, includes the worst weather of the year.
We were in and out of those buildings all day long. Warm, cold, warm, cold – it was like the freeze/thaw cycle. The walkways were never wide enough to accommodate all the traffic at class-changing rush hour, so students ended up walking next to the walkways, rapidly turning them into slushy, mud-filled ruts.
You had to keep your coat with you all day long and your feet were often wet. And then one of the concrete walkway covers collapsed. So, they tore them all down. After that, our heads and feet were wet all the time, too.
Cough, sniffle, sneeze, repeat.
The campus was so big that you were going to be late to class if you had to go from music in the A building to one of the science buildings or from girls gym to the A building. I think they gave us five minutes between classes but it was very difficult to walk that distance on the crowded walkways, or muddy paths, hit the restroom on the way, never mind if you needed to swap books out at your locker (My locker was in the back corner of the A building near the art room).
The A building was a special horror. It was built with an open classroom concept. It’s central fixture was a huge open room with movable partitions between classes. Since there were no fixed walls to assign room numbers, the designers came up with the oh-so-clever idea to use colors and shapes as a cross reference. The ceiling was painted with colored stripes running one way and the carpet was inlaid with shapes running at a 90 degree angle. So your classroom might be located at ABT – A building, blue, trapezoid. Oh, those poor freshmen aimlessly wandering around.
Since the room had no real walls, the background noise level was ridiculous. If you sat too near one of the partitions, you ended up hearing your geometry class in one ear and someone’s history class in the other.
And what did they decide to put right in the middle of this din? The school library. Go figure.
The business building was built as a nuclear fallout shelter, and, as a result, had no windows facing out. It only had little slits set into cutouts in the walls so you had to push your face right up to the class and crane your neck to see the outside world. It was a depressing place to be.
Right in the middle of the campus was the circular administration building. It housed the administrators’ offices, guidance office, school nurse and the always-smoke-filled faculty lounge complete with mimeograph machine. The shape was appropriate because I always felt like I was chasing my tail whenever I had to go to that building for something.
Directly outside the door to the faculty lounge was that nice semi-circular stone wall sitting area – or, as we called it, the smoking area. It was the place on campus where students were allowed to smoke (really). It was also called burn-out alley by some students.
The best part of the campus was the computer center. It was located across the parking lot in the school department building. If you were a decent student and took computer classes, you could usually weasel a pass to the computer center. In my case, to go from any place on campus to the computer center required me to walk right past my car…..and drive to Heffies or Allie’s or the Wickford Diner or the tennis courts.
North Kingstown eventually tore down the school and built a new high school with a more traditional layout. I can’t say I miss the old school, but it was central to my high school experience and I have warm memories of high school…..the era not the building.
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