Levittown Then…Catholic School Days

March 20, 2015 1:31 pm0 commentsViews: 695
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xWIWAK-CatholicSchoolDaysMichael Tasker is the author of WIWAK: When I Was A Kid, a lovingly rendered memoir about growing up in Levittown. The following excerpts are from the book.

 When my family moved to Levittown in 1953, many schools were being built to handle the influx of children. After they opened their doors, classes of 70, 80, or 90 students were not unheard of and many new schools had to have additions put on them immediately. St. Michael the Archangel School was the first Catholic grammar school in Levittown, and my brothers and sisters attended. Staffed by an excellent group of nuns, they brought complete order to the overwhelming number of kids that filled their school. By the time I was eligible for school, St. Joseph the Worker School in Fallsington was built to handle the massive number of kids that St. Mike’s was saddled with. It didn’t take long before this two story, sixteen-classroom school experienced growing pains too: a third floor with eight more classes went up.

Lunch was one complete hour. This allowed students who lived close enough to walk home and eat lunch with their mothers, and it enabled those left behind at school to play and talk with their classmates for an extended period of time. Children went out to recess in all kinds of weather, and no disease could keep us inside… The school snack of choice, at five cents each, were Philadelphia soft pretzels. These weren’t wrapped in cellophane; they came fresh from the bakery in a laundry basket. During recess kids carried the salty treats in the pockets of their shirt and pants…A pint of milk was five cents in school. Chocolate milk and orange drink were ten cents each. Both came in glass bottles and, unlike drinks in plastic cartons, had a clean taste.

…The nuns at St. Joseph’s handled classes numbering 70 or more with relative ease. The nuns, in solid partnership with parents, maintained complete control; one could hear the overhead lights hum on any given day.

One hot June day a six foot tall 8th grader named Raymond made the mortal mistake of telling a 4’9” nun, Sister Perpetua, to “go jump” after she accused him of talking during a test. Those of us who sat nearby on that 98-degree afternoon don’t know if he was suffering from heatstroke or just forgot whom he was talking to when he got out of his desk, raised his fists and took a boxer’s stance. But Sister Perpetua, built like Rocky Marciano, immediately leaped from her desk chair. Racing toward poor Ray in her high heeled granny pumps that all nuns wore then, she feigned a right jab. Ray took the bait. When he tried to block it, Sister landed a bone-crushing left uppercut to Ray’s chin that sent him to the tiled floor in only five seconds of the first and final round…Ray later lost a slap-fest to his mother in the school parking lot.

Teachers in both private and public schools didn’t take any silly nonsense. Children actually got expelled from schools to maintain order. Most students actually learned something about polite manners…Not only did the sisters at St. Joseph’s control the class, students learned how to read, write, add and become functioning American citizens.

 

WIWAK: When I Was A Kid, by Michael Tasker, can be purchased at www.amazon.com . Type WIWAK in the search bar.

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