Memories of Franklin School, 1950-1958

By Don Browne, of Seymour St; Franklin (58), Harding Class of 1962

I didn't partake of the "morning" Kindergarten experience at Franklin School, which was located between East Main and Pembroke Streets on the lower East Side of Bridgeport. Because my mother worked fulltime, she wasn't available to deposit me at Franklin at 8:45 a.m. and retrieve me at 11:45 a.m each school day. Instead I attended an 8-hour "Pre-School" institution, with about fifteen other children, in a home on the west side of Main Street, between Prospect Street and South Avenue. Mercifully, the Connecticut Thruway demolished this home in the mid-fifties. But I still have fond memories of two things: my introduction to goulash as a frequent noon meal, and my first hamburger from an outdoor cookout in the massive backyard.

Franklin School was a traditional "red-brick" school, with two floors containing eight classrooms each, a basement divided into two halves; girl's toilets and nurse's office, and boy's toilets and "bomb shelter" room under the stairway. The school was constructed in the late eighteen or early ninteen hundreds. The street address, although I never had need to know it, was close to 251 Nichols Street. The Principal, Mrs. Sullivan and her elderly secretary, had an office and private toilet on the second floor, overlooking the front, or "business" entrance to the school. The "student entrances" were on the sides of the building; girls entered on the east side entrance, and boys entered on the west side entrance. These entrances were emblazened with "Boys" and "Girls", in concrete bulkheads above the appropriate doors. The playground had separate entrances for boys and girls, which led into their separate sections of the basement. The school had at least one classroom dedicated to K-8.  Sometimes grades would have two classrooms to accomodate the number of students in, for example 3rd Grade, and these "grade bubbles" would move up each year as the grades increased. Because students were actually "held-back" a scholastic year when they failed to meet the standards for advancement, these "grade bubbles" would sometimes shift in peculiar ways. All classes were held in your "home room" until you reached the "departmental grades". This meant that you attended different classes in different rooms, like in high school. For me, "departmental" began in sixth grade, continuing through to eighth grade. 

But fourth grade was my last year as a "hoodlum". I had a homeroom teacher, Mrs. Buchino, who seemed to have it "in" for me. She was constantly marching me to the principal's office, for one or another social infraction. As punishment, I was denied "recess", and had to eat my peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches in the principal's office for weeks at a time. This was occupanied with the constant clacking of the huge grandfather pendulum clock, watching over me. As I look back, I may have discovered why Mrs. Buchino hated me. In the fifties, few teachers drove automobiles and so they tended to live within walking distance of their respective schools. Likewise, students were assigned to grammar schools based on their street addresses. The schools were no farther than five blocks from the student's home. Students were expected to walk to school, walk back home for their noon meal, and then walk to school for the afternoon session. There were no "yellow" school buses for grammar school attendance. This being the case, students played in the neighborhood surrounding the school. And as boys would do, there were many "rock fights" after school. And as luck would have it, a wayward rock of mine went through the second floor window of the house next to Franklin School. And who would appear in the broken window, leering down at me, but Mrs. Buchino!

Fourth grade was the year that "ballroom dancing" was introduced to the boys and girls. A new transfer-student, Judy K., would become my "dancing partner". This was an awkward time for the boys, who now had to "touch" the girls.  Judy was very bright, and as we progressed to eighth grade, would become the graduating class valedictorian.  She went on to the newly opened Notre Dame Catholic High School, and could have easily gone to one of the "seven sisters" colleges. But as was common during this time, the parents didn't see the necessity for a college education for girls. Many boys were also impacted by this mind-set. The boys were expected to continue in the "family business", the small grocery store or whatever...or apprentice to a trade and work in the same factory as the father, and his father before him. The fathers expected that Bridgeport's many factories, the so-called "arsenal of democracy", would last forever. At least, this is what the unions were preaching.

By the time I reached sixth grade, I had become the great "turn-around", from "hoodlum" to "model student". I was rewarded by becoming the student projectionist. I carried the forty pound RCA 16mm projector/loud speaker from the secured cabinet in the teacher's break room (on the second floor) to the auditorium (on the first floor). The film-strip projector also was stored in the same cabinet. Each week I would show the "Mr. Science" films to two sessions of students. The entire school could not fit into the "auditorium", a converted classroom, at the same time. I was excused from classes. Sometimes there were TWO films each week; the ubiquitous newsreels showing satellite-bearing rockets exploding on their launch pads, or "Our Gang" icons (Spanky, Alfalfa) showing you how to safely cross the street. I remember fellow-student Ronald B. commenting on this arrangement of skipping classes. He said something like "What a deal!".

In the seventh grade, we took those Sanford-Binet (pronounced BIN-AYE) "personality/occupational profile" tests that were supposed to show you what occupation you were best suited for. You punched a pin through a manifold set of papers, not knowing what the inside papers said. The pin-holes were made based on the questions on the cover pages. The teacher would break-apart the manifold set and tell you what you appeared most suitable to be or do. I think I was selected as a chimney-sweep or something. 

One of the most dramatic occurrences in the sixth or seventh grade was the "Quitting of Robert P.". Robert had the dubious honor of turning sixteen in the sixth or seventh grade. Robert had what we would today call a "learning disability". He was "held back" at least three grades in his grammar school career. He was not a happy camper. He was as big as a moose, being three or four years older than his classmates. He had gotten a job as a "furniture mover" at Leventhal's Furniture Store on East Main. He was done with school. He triumphantly carried his "quitting papers" to each of the three "departmental" teachers who would "signoff" on them. He looked happier than he had ever been at Franklin School. It was like a great burden had been lifted from his shoulders.

I most remember the two eighth grade teachers of my final year in grammar school. My home room teacher was Ms. Kane. She was also the dreaded English teacher! Ms. Kane had been my mother's, and two of my aunt's, eighth grade teacher at Franklin School in the nineteen twenties. She was in her early sixties when I knew her.

The other home room eighth grade teacher was Ms. Buda. She was a "kinder" teacher. She was in her late fifties when I knew her. Ms. Buda lived to be 102 years of age! She died in 2002 and lived in Trumbull, CT.

Like all Bridgeport grammar schools of this era, the school had a female principal, an all-female teaching staff and nursing staff (the janitor and itinerant boy's gym teacher were males), each classroom had a cloakroom with a separate outer door, an "upright" piano, huge globe-covered overhead lights suspended by chains, giant double-hung windows, doors with working transoms, a huge boiler which delivered steam to radiators in the classrooms, high classroom ceilings, no air-conditioning...and marble flooring in the huge outer halls of the first and second floors. Students were required to walk along the edges of the marble...never directly across the floor! This was enforced by the principal, who stood in the hallway, outside her office, on the second floor when students first entered their class rooms in the morning. Ah, Mrs. Sullivan---I can even see her now---almost fifty years later.

In my eight years at Franklin, I managed to explore every "nook and cranny". In the small room that served as the so-called "school library", located above the eastern stairwell on the second floor, I found a secret door that led to the school's attic. Naturally, I had to explore the attic. To my amazement, the attic had "light wells" which provided natural light, and a view of the blue sky, within the attic. The attic was the "elephant's burial ground" for broken desk/seat combination sets. While I was in the secret staircase, the girls entered the "library" to change clothes for an upcoming student play. There was a lot of "girly-talk" which no boys were supposed to hear! Did I get an "earful"! My name even came up in their discussions! They never discovered my unintentional evesdropping---until now, that is.

From the memory of Don Browne (Harding Class of '62)

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