Back in the day, when residential schools were everywhere and public schools weren’t around, going back to school evoked mixed feelings for students. Some were sad to leave home to attend (or forced to attend) the institution that other children either loathed or liked. Looking back on those days and talking about them with my contemporaries, I discovered that all was not as bad as it was thought to be.

One former student told me that he looked forward to going to school in the fall. He would look into the windows and see that the walls were being painted, the floors polished and some of the school desks were being replaced for ones with unmarked tops. Some students were glad to be back because summer had just simply gotten too boring. The aspect of going into a shiny, freshly painted classroom was almost equivalent to entering a new home. Everything was new and even some of the students were new.

New books, new erasers, new pencils without chew marks on each end, straight rulers with metal edges and chalk that was more than three inches long greeted us. Some years, a new teacher would show up, making it more interesting for those who had passed puberty and actually were able to talk adult speech, impressing teachers and students alike. Wow, the first days of school, given the right teacher, made summer a thing of the past.

One year, we had a new school. This school had something that we had never seen before –  a real gymnasium. Wow, basketball, volleyball, gymnastics, a trampoline made us want to stay after school. One thing that never got used were the common shower stalls, which eventually became converted into storage space over the years.

The new gymnasium was something to behold, glossy hardwood floor designed to grip basketball sneakers and smooth enough to slide on. At the same time, the polish made it possible for those who couldn’t afford new running shoes to use their bare feet. Amazingly, no one tore the skin off the soles of their feet while running headlong down the court for a lay-up to the basketball hoop. Since so many of us had already been influenced by the Beatles and other rock bands, we had long hair (yes, I had hair in those days) which had to be held back by a fashionable red handkerchief. It made all the guys look a little like Geronimo, except without all the craggy skin.

The only real accidents happened to those who took risks, especially on the trampoline, where we were supposed to watch out for stray bouncing students and to sacrifice our bodies to save the flying fools. Some guys, whilst flying over our reach, would land way beyond the safety mats surrounding the trampoline. One guy landed on his head, and he’s never been the same since. Fortunately for him, he still managed to get married at a young age.

For the rest of us, going back to school meant no more summer blues and great times ahead for us and all our school chums. Today, students have basically the same feelings as we did back in the day – summer can be nice, but learning how to live the rest of your life meant a lot.