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  • By Susan Welsh

The Space Race, the Rocket Ship and the Stage


It's 1970 something and Nicole and I are helping to paint the school over the summer. It will be one of the many civic duties our mothers will volunteer us for. But what I remember most about our days in Stockton Elementary School are the school plays, watching the Apollo 12 Space Mission launch on a tiny 6 inch black and white tv, and singing our hearts out to the piano accompaniment of Mrs. Nikititus, whose hefted and enthusiastic hands would send the old tiled floor into large wave vibration. We could literally "feel" the music-- the earth moving under our feet.

The successful Russian rocket launch of Sputnik had sent our country into a frenzy, scrambling to ensure our youth could compete with the Soviet Union in science and technology and on September 2, 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law the National Defense Education Act to provide funding towards this goal. The Space Race was underway and our education was being designed to keep up with the demands of a higher tech, more scientifically-- oriented society.

But the only Science I remember at all from those days is an occasional read aloud from rarely used textbooks and the yearly visits a local geology professor would make with his students to study the ancient rock formations that were (and still are) a part of the school grounds.

Throughout my entire school experience one particular boulder remained our social hub, where we would all gather and stage plays; so I was intrigued, at last week's school closing celebration, when Henry asked me to photograph him on that same magnificent rock which he said he and his friend DJ used to pretend was their rocketship. Technically, our boulder is a bajada, a sedimentary result of the rifting of Pangea, from the late Triassic period--- meaning it's been here since over 200 million years ago!

One of the artifacts found behind the wall turns out to be a scrap of the original border for cursive writing that we used as a template. I clearly remember my fascination with both handwriting and cursive. I loved the Richard Scarry books with everything labeled, and I still cherish the old letters written in gorgeous, scrolling and nuanced scripted font written by my ancestors with fountain pens. Today cursive writing, as part of the curriculum is in flux, with detractors and advocates posing their theories. I'm in the camp that believes teaching the skill assists in the development of fine motor skills. I also think it just flows beautifully, the written equivalent of melodic languages like French and Roman Italian.

From the establishment of Stockton School to it's closing this week in 2018, the world has seen incredible changes. But I think what I like best about the school, and the town, is what NJ Representative Joseph Howarth said at the Farewell Celebration, "Coming to Stockton was like stepping into Brigadoon." His reference to the 1947 Lerner and Lowe play about two American tourists who stumble upon the mythical village of Brigadoon which is idyllic, unchanging and enchanted, is apropos. Our years as students in Stockton School were a lot like Brigadoon---idyllic in many senses, and enchanted by the woods and rocks and river that enveloped our childhood hours.


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