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  • In the steamy Saint Louis September of 1970 I went to the Sixth Grade Center. The University City School District wanted to get a grip on the emerging dynamics of integration and they implemented a plan on us. The early years of mandated desegregation had seen some major divisions in the two Junior High Schools and the consolidated High School. None of us kids had a clue what was going on politically or sociologically but the kids with older brothers and sisters passed on the stories of gangs and rumbles.

    So, the District, in its wisdom, decided the thing to do was get all of us together before we went into Junior High. Nip the bugger in the bud so to speak. So it was I found myself trudging up to the second floor of the new 6th Grade Center.

    The idea, as we understood it, was that we would interact, get to know one another, forge bonds and friendships that would hold through the three year of exile to separate Junior High Schools and when we regrouped at U. City High, well we would all be one happy family. Three floors, 12 classrooms and all of it grade 6.

    The hierarchy by floor segregated us and we grouped ourselves by floor that year. Three floors, three tribes. Overall, the effect was to create a grade level identity that turned into an all out, no holds barred 7th grade v. 8th grade war during my Junior High years. The tight packing of a building with grade 6 students led to some seriously cemented attitudes and perceptions and proved a vibrant center for misinformation.

    It was the year old methods died hard. Major B taught English and math on the second floor. He wore his Marine uniform on field trips. In class, he had us work through a color-coded set of teacher-proof reading materials and stood us at the board to write Yes Sir, Mr B Sir (or No Sir, Mr B Sir as the case might be) 50 or 100 or 150 times whenever we forgot.

    It was the year new ideas began to trickle in with student teachers out of the local universities and colleges. They arrived with long hair and bell bottoms or in peasant skirts and low cut tops. The older staff whispered that you couldn’t tell them from the students.

    It was the year fights broke like thunderstorms of pent up angst and anxiety. Sudden flare ups in the halls and rooms, leaving chairs and desks tipped and strewn and us all slightly relieved and excited in a somehow shameful way. Glad for the break in the routine, glad it wasn’t me, this time.

    It was the year the PE teacher brought a record player in and played rock-n’-roll as a break from running laps around the bare and blistering asphalt playground and told us to dance and I did until someone pointed and laughed. It was 35 years before I dared try again.

    It was the year Robin brought Iron Butterfly’s In-a-gadda-da-vida from his big brother’s record collection to school and we stood around staring at the album cover knowing this was a glimpse in a whole new world.

    It was the year kids told lies in line about sex and Ronnie showed his massive outie belly button.

    It was the year we walked to school and scoped out the dumpster in the alleyways on the way home hoping to find something equal to the stash of nudist magazines Tim found behind the row of apartment buildings.

    It was the year Cantique opened next door to the first head shop and we looked at the display of rolling papers, bongs and pipes on our way in buy blocks of green sour apple gum, wax lips and Pez.

    1970 and 6th grade, they were both a strange mix of innocence and dirty little secrets.
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