In fourth grade I was the only student in Room 202 to be selected for the new “Enrichment” program at our elementary school. Funded by the local BOCES*, “Enrichment” gave select students considered “gifted” the opportunity for educational pursuits outside the traditional classroom paradigm. As described in a newspaper article from back in the day…
“… this program is aimed at meeting some of the special education needs of the school’s more gifted students. One of the more pressing of these needs is that of providing stimulation for the “gifted” child to pursue his or her school learning experiences beyond the limits of the regular classroom curriculum. … Placement is made on the basis of scores achieved on a (locally developed battery of tests. Exceptional social, intellectual, psycho-motor and creative development are among the personal attributes which the tests are designed to identify”.The Pulaski Democrat, May 2, 1979.
I remember my mom going to the school for a parents’ meeting to discuss the new program, having concerns of me being the only one in Room 202 that was eligible, and ultimately telling me I would be participating in this new program. I can vividly remember my participation in grades four and five, by grade six the funding disappeared and we no longer attended “Enrichment”. The program kept me sane as a student, especially in fifth grade. It was that year that a normally second grade teacher taught fifth grade for the first time and the school decided to mix things up when it came to deciding who would be in what classes. This fifth grade class contained many of that year’s instigators, and it was decided to put five or six of the smarter kids in the class to provide balance for the classroom experience. The experiment was ultimately a failure, I learned what it was like to be bullied for being somewhat intelligent and very different, professional psychologists were brought in to help get the class under control, and it was the very first time I had seen a teacher walk into a closet and shut the door behind her. That was in Room 209, and luckily, the “Enrichment” room was across the hall in Room 210 and the teacher would encourage those of us in the program to go across the hall when things were getting crazy.
This was also the time when it was starting to click even more that I liked boys in the way that I was suppose to like girls and there was one teacher that really piqued my interest, and that was the Enrichment teacher. He was in the building only a few days a week, as he also conducted the BOCES-funded program at neighboring schools. I remember him being a super-nice guy, with a big, red, bushy beard, a very pleasant demeanor, and to a fifth grade boy that was starting to like other boys, super cute. One day he came in clean shaven and I still found him super cute, it didn’t change his demeanor at all, he just looked different, and then he grew a mustache within a month. I last saw him when I was in high school, he was attending a gathering of some sort with the special education teacher and other teachers from the county. He had the big beard again, gave me a hearty hello, and shook my hand. Honestly, my heart melted again, I felt my teenage hormones kick in, and I entertained that memory of him later that night.
I was bored the other night and decided to Google the teacher’s name to see what he was up to. I don’t know why he crossed my mind, but I had remembered him being a couple years younger than my folks and that he was originally from the western part of the state.
He passed away this past December. No photo, no family mentioned, and very little other than his birth date and where that happened, the date he passed, and the funeral director handling the arrangements. No mention of spouse or children, what he was doing, where he was doing it, just that he passed and handled by a funeral parlor.
This made me a little sad.
As I grow older I sometimes wonder if we’re suppose to thank people in our past for the joy they brought to our life or apologize for something we did when we were stupid and then realized it was stupid when we were smarter. Is this suppose to be part of this thing we call life? I’m sure my Enrichment teacher was very private about his life, obviously his obituary points to this, so I share these thoughts here.
Thank you, Mr. Rayburn, for being a steadying force in a tumultuous fifth grade experience by just being there in Room 210. Thanks for being my first crush. Rest In Peace.
*BOCES stands for Board Of Cooperative Educational Services. This is a New York State Educational program providing shared educational services for a region. When I was in school it was generally by county, since then the regions have become larger and the services more centralized.