When I think back to my childhood and the lively conversations around the dinner table or the intimate moments when my parents tucked me in at bedtime, I don’t remember many deep discussions about G-d. The almighty HaShem, blessed be (s)he, was not a major player in the lessons taught by my parents almost half a century ago.
We did talk a lot about education. My mother often intimated that of all the Jewish “Values,” education is one of the highest. Like many a nice Jewish girl of my generation, I was practically nursed and weaned on the words “When you get to college.” Academic achievement was top priority in the Gershun household.
Forgive me if this sounds sacrilegious, but education was kind of the god in which my parents believed would make all things right in our lives. It was the key to our success.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not a diatribe against the value of education on which I was raised. I’m just trying to give you an idea of how important it was in the house in which I was grew up.
My parents were the first generation of Americans in each of their families to go to college. Of course they believed in the power of a good education.
So do I. I was a high school teacher for 20 years, for goodness’ sake (I decided not to write the real phrase that I might say here as it is just not appropriate in this blog.)
I have not been back to Sunny Hills since I graduated in 1980. I have certainly changed a whole lot more than the campus has since then. It actually looks a bit newer and cleaner than it did in the late 1970′s. The Performing Arts Complex (PAC) and the classrooms look pretty much the same. The quad is a bit smaller due to a few classroom additions and there is no longer a line of pay phones near the front office. No need for those any more.
We drove up “the hill” of our teens, the entrance to the school, and parked in the student parking lot for a self guided tour.
We saved the best for last–Room 7.
Room 7 is an icon in Gershun family lore, it’s enchanting spell lasting long after graduation ceremonies. Each Gershun girl spent a significant portion of her high school days (and nights) in this classroom, learning about journalism: how to write a news story, how to edit a caption, how to produce a high school newspaper and so much more.
Under the brilliant direction of Mrs. Carol Hallenbeck, we became writers. She is somewhat of a goddess in the annals of our family’s educational history. We worshiped her.
My oldest sister, Martha, was the first to discover the magical and inspiring world behind the door of what is now the attendance office (so sad).
Martha was editor-in-chief (her junior year, I believe) of the award-winning newspaper The Accolade and later the magazine, Excalibur. She filled our dinner table with stories and gossip, painting a vivid and exciting picture of life on a high school newspaper staff. Boo, my other sister, also served her stint as editor-in-chief (was it also in her Junior year?) and I couldn’t wait for my turn.
Alas, I was not selected to serve as Editor-In-Chief of the Accolade. That honor went to my friends Jennifer Lorvick and Julie Wilson (it was well deserved.) I eventually shared the editorship of the Excalibur, with John Yoon and was content.
While not the protege each of my sisters proved to be, I thoroughly enjoyed my own tenure in room 7.
When I joined the faculty at Wai’anae High School in 1991, it never occurred to me that I would become a journalism teacher in the footsteps of Carol Hallenbeck. It happened in 1998 when I agreed to advise the school newspaper, Ka Leo O Wai’anae.
I taught my SP students what I had learned in Room 7 over 20 years before, finding in it the power to transform an ordinary classroom into an extraordinary setting. Turns out that I am a way better teacher than I ever was a student.
To my pleasure, I saw Mrs. Hallenbeck at a Journalism Education Association convention when we took a Searider Productions trip to California in 2001. I proudly introduced her to my students and colleagues and I bought a book that she co-edited, Practical Ideas for Teaching Journalism. It guided the lessons I taught for the next eight years. Talk about influence.
I later met A.J. Nagaraj who joined the Wai’anae High School faculty in 2006. I was pleased to learn that he is from my home town and his sister is a former Accolade editor.
I was looking online for information about Mrs. Hallenbeck. I found many stories of the honors she received for her excellence in teaching before she retired a few years ago. I also found a wonderful story from 2005 of another teacher who was honored in Southern California. She mentioned Carol Hallenbeck as a teacher who made a difference in her life.
And now it is time to tie this all together and I’m not sure how.
Back to the Jewish part: I think that we have more conversations about Tikun Olam and Tzedakah with our kids than my parents did with me. I am also trying to add in some blessings and conversations about our beliefs.
I’m not saying that we don’t value education or believe in the power of a good one (just ask my kids how often we bug them about their grades and talk about college). Nor am I saying that my parents did not believe strongly in doing the right thing. I do think that our children learn as much from what we don’t say as what we do, so I try to say it all to avoid confusion (just ask my husband!)
Finally, I discovered that when I look back through the door of Room 7 to the 1970′s at Sunny Hills High School, I still feel the amazing power of that one simple classroom. I can see the row of manual typewriters along the back wall with several long tables in a parallel line just a few feet away. On the other side are the student desks arranged in three groups, facing each other to facilitate discussion. I also see the magical world that blossomed within, led by one mighty teacher from her podium at the front, and how it developed into a colorful thread woven through the fabric of my family’s story, touching us in the past, present and future.