Middle school

If only this were a movie …

… because this was the suckiest game ever. I trace my lifelong disinterest in video games to The Oregon Trail, the “original” educational computer game.

The Catholic grade school I attended did not have a wealthy parish on which to foist its expense tab. We had no gym and therefore no real P.E. class. While most of the other Catholic schools bused their junior high kids to the public schools for extras like Home Ec, Art, Industrial Tech and Music, we had skills units where we learned macrame or the fine art of tye-dye. We made a lot of friendship bracelets. It’s seriously a wonder I graduated from high school let alone university given the paltry education I received in junior high especially.*

So the fact that we actually had a computer in 1978 is beyond comprehension looking back. The parish priest was a penny-pinching curmudgeon who absolutely would have been okay with burqa’s. The man loathed females. I imagine when the computer arrived, it was only with the provision that girls be kept off of it as I can’t remember any of my friends or I ever getting to do much more than watch the boys play Oregon Trail.

It was an Apple II. To give you some perspective on technology in schools, when I was student teaching in 1986, the junior high I was at had a computer lab full of these same computers. The first middle school I was assigned to in 1988 was stocked with Apple IIe’s. Progress at the speed of walking.

The Oregon Trail was a way for our social studies teacher to lighten his load. As the computer was located in a small room off the main office, he would send us there in groups of 6. If that seems too big and a really stupid thing to do – it was.  Six teenagers in a small, unsupervised room was a grave tactical error.** But with in excess of 30 students per class, I can’t fault the guy for his desperation though his method of divide and conquer did little more than irritate the school secretary.

Playing Oregon Trail was boring enough but as a group activity, it totally bit. I usually brought a novel along and read as the others tried to navigate an obstacle course of dysentery, venomous snakes and unfordable rivers.

Bullets were key. Caulk was crucial. And tombstones abounded.

Apparently one can still purchase this game on Amazon … for six dollars. Sounds about right.

*I did nothing for two years. The school was a zone. Why none of our teachers just cracked and showed up with a shotgun one day, I don’t know. We often thought the Social Studies teacher was capable of a break with reality as he was often reminding us of his tour in ‘Nam. If it weren’t for the fact that I wrote or read near constantly to keep boredom at bay, I’d be a shift supervisor at a fast food joint today.

**I was often guided in my own teaching career by memories of the idiotic things my junior high teachers did.

Overlea High School

Image via Wikipedia

A child was hit by a car this afternoon by the teachers’ parking lot at the high school where I still teach. I actually didn’t see her at first. I was sneaking out a bit early, and my mind was already on ahead of me, thinking about a possible mini-stop at Starbucks for an iced green tea, and how to maneuver the logjam in the parking lot at my daughter’s preschool. As I pulled up behind the two cars waiting to exit on to the street, I realized that the red car I assumed was parked was really sitting in the middle of the street and a young girl was lying on her side in front of it. I couldn’t tell how badly she was injured because she was facing away from me, but she wasn’t moving. A yellow-blond woman, whose age it was impossible to tell, knelt beside her. She was softly stroking the teen’s head, and it was obvious she was talking to her.


I saw all manner of kids running around. Most of them had cells phones they were frantically speaking to, and many were girls who gestured emphatically at their unseen listeners. A boy, possibly from the middle school next door, was standing at the parking lot’s exit and directing out-coming cars to the right and away from the accident. I didn’t see a single adult other than the woman, who I was beginning to realize was probably the driver of the red car, and a quick glance back at the school confirmed my suspicion that no one inside was aware of what had occurred.


I grabbed my cell out of my bag on the passenger seat and dialed the school’s office. P., our secretary, answered before I even heard it ring.


“H. High School.”


“P., this is Ann M.. Does C. know there is a student hit out in the street by the parking lot?”


“No. Where?”


I repeated to her what I was seeing and that I had overheard one of the girls on the cell phones say that 911 had already been called. She told me she would take care of contacting the administrators. By this time I was being waved to the right by the boy. I contemplated stopping, but the street is a very narrow one. Parking is prohibited though parents do all the time when dropping off or picking up kids, a factor that I have no doubt led to the accident that was now in my rearview mirror. I could hear the EMT siren and decided that parking would cause more of a problem than any help I could give, which frankly would be little. My hands were shaking, and I could feel tears welling in my eyes and tightening my throat. I can’t even watch these kinds of scenes on television or in movies. I am useless in real time.


I spent the drive to pick up my daughter choking back tears and calming myself. I was so distracted that I drove right past the street for her school and had to double back two blocks.


The image still sticks in my mind. The girl curled on her side. The woman huddled over her, stroking her head. It took me back to the moment when Will died, and I haven’t been there in while.