Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray that I get in to a good college

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.)

When my sister and I stopped by last month to take pictures at Charles G. Emery Elementary and Sunny Hills High Schools in Southern California, my memory was aroused.

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.

16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. your youngest sister boo
    Feb 14, 2012 @ 17:26:59

    I love when you write about our childhood, since whenever you recall old times you are reliving my past, too.But this blog brought back more memories than any other one you have written. I can still see the layout (no pun intended) of Room 7, with the desks arranged just as you described (and shame on any non-Accoladers who attempted to go where the typewriters were). Remember Mrs. Hallenbeck struggling with the metal pole (taller than she was by a long shot) to close the high windows in the classroom? And how she meticulously and creatively changed the bulletin board displays every week (or two), believing that no opportunity to engage and enlighten students should be wasted? I hope SHHS has current teachers as committed to teaching as Mrs. Hallenbeck. And if so, I hope the students realize how lucky they are, and learn as much from them as they can, because they may never be so blessed again.

    Reply

  2. A.J. Nagaraj
    Feb 14, 2012 @ 20:51:55

    I love this post. By the way, it looks like we just missed each other in Fullerton. I’m here right now! Hope to see you in Hawai’i or DC soon!

    Reply

  3. A.J. Nagaraj
    Feb 14, 2012 @ 20:53:24

    Oh wow, I just read your sister’s comment. I remember taking Mrs. Hallenbeck out to dinner when I was in eighth grade and my sister was graduating from SHHS. She said Mrs. Hallenbeck was easily one of the best teachers/advisors she ever had.

    Reply

  4. Julia Hanft
    Feb 16, 2012 @ 01:41:29

    What an amazing story. You are truly an excellent writer and I believe it was a very close call between you, me, Jennifer, John, and many others that could have been editor of the Accolade that year. We had the most amazing group of young journalists. You just brought me back to such a great time in our lives. Those nights doing paste-ups were the most fun and best preparation for life. I’ve often been in the midst of the time pressure of putting out a proposal, working against deadline till the wee hours of the night, snacking on almonds and drinking Diet Dr. Pepper, and I know that I can get it done because I’ve done it all before. Thanks for the great reminder!

    Reply

  5. Jeanne Walker Harvey
    Feb 16, 2012 @ 03:18:38

    Hi Lorrie, Wonderful post! boo kindly shared it with me, and I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed relieving the golden days of being on The Accolade staff — such an amazing group of students and truly THE best teacher, Mrs. H. I reconnected with her when I published my first children’s picture book (my dream come true) to tell her what a tremendous impact she had on my life. And bravo to you for teaching for so many years! I taught middle school Language Arts for three years and I gained even more respect for teachers. I often thought of Mrs. H and all the many hours she gave to us during those late-night paste-ups, and her commitment, exquisite lesson planning, and tenacious teaching of writing. I too wrote about her this year on my blog — do you remember that first year of journalism class exercise when she staged a mock argument in class, and then we had to write about it? (And we all came up with different versions): http://jeannewalkerharvey.blogspot.com/2011/08/incredible-life-of-balto.html

    Hmmm… can’t quite believe Room 7 isn’t just the way it was. I can envision every inch of it the way it was.

    Thanks for sharing your memories.

    take care, Jeanne

    Reply

    • Being Jewish in Hawaii
      Feb 16, 2012 @ 03:36:05

      Hi Jeanne, I hear happy birthday greetings are in order. Thanks for the comment. boo gave us your book for Chanukkah a few years ago and I will now have to check out your blog. A funny story….there is a lady in my Rotary club who’s first name is Jeannie and for some reason I always write her last name as Walker (which it is not) because of all those years hearing your name. Aloha and many happy returns.

      Reply

    • youngest sister boo
      Feb 16, 2012 @ 19:56:44

      I have no recollection of the mock argument and subsequent assignment. But it sounds like something Mrs. H. would do, to help sharpen the reporter’s instinct for details that we all needed to cultivate.

      Reply

  6. freecatholic808
    Feb 22, 2012 @ 02:51:12

    Reading this post that rightly celebrates great teachers, I know you will love Nicholas Kristof’s recent columns on the same subject. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/22/opinion/sunday/kristof-how-mrs-grady-transformed-olly-neal.html?_r=1&ref=nicholasdkristof

    Reply

  7. Rick Chavez
    Apr 14, 2012 @ 01:02:14

    Hey, I remember a Lorraine Gershun in drama club at McComber Jr High… alas, she went to Sunny Hills, I went to Buena Park High… for some reason I was thinking about my childhood and about you Lori… thought I would say Hi…

    Reply

    • Being Jewish in Hawaii
      Apr 14, 2012 @ 05:15:44

      Ricky Chavez. I remember you. That was a long, long time ago. I haven’t gotten any taller. Thanks for the great reminder of the drama club. Wasn’t our teacher Mrs.Simpson? Thank you for reading my blog. Aloha….

      Reply

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