An Elementary Education: Eight Years at OLMC

In the spirit of school starting back up, I thought I would share some of my school experiences. From first grade through eighth grade I attended Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic school in Louisville, Kentucky. For kindergarten I had to go to the local public school because Mt. Carmel (aka OLMC, aka Mt. Chewy) didn’t offer kindergarten then. Even without the kindergarten, Mt. Carmel had about 480 students. Each grade had two homerooms, an A and a B, with about 30 kids each. Our school colors were brown and orange, and our mascot was the cheetah. Therefore, our uniforms were brown and white plaid jumpers (grades 1-5) and skirts (grades 6-8) with white blouses. The boys wore brown uniform pants with white button-up shirts.

When my sister started there, there was only one homeroom for each grade. The school was a long hallway of classrooms attached to the Church on one end and the cafeteria on the other. My mom tells stories of how the parents raised money to build a second building. The “Gym Building” included the gymnasium with a stage, three classrooms downstairs, and six classrooms upstairs. When I was in the sixth grade, they built a library building with a computer lab near the Church and connected the two main buildings with a car-port type awning (they couldn’t build a brick connection without installing a sprinkler system in both buildings). There was also a small convent on the other side of the Gym building that was later incorporated when they built a new wing with a new library, science lab, and an elevator after I graduated.

In first grade we stayed in the same room all day long. In second grade, they started splitting up the homerooms just for reading class. I didn’t realize it at the time that they probably had the better readers go to one room while the lesser readers went to another. After the first day of class, me and about eight other second graders were moved up to reading class with the third graders. I never did find out how “Freddy the Frog” ended. From second grade through fifth grade, I went to reading classes with the year ahead of me.

In sixth grade is when they decided to segue us back in with our grade level. I think this was partly because the seventh and eighth grades were unofficially Jr. High. Now this was when they built the new library building. When the school year started, the building was empty and Sister Claret had left. For the first two weeks of school, the small cache of advanced reading sixth graders had the job of moving the contents of the old library to the new library. This was no small task. For one thing, the old library was on the second floor of the gym building and the new library was on the other side of campus. You just don’t realize how heavy those old card catalogs were.

The new librarian, Sister Peggy (not sure if she was a nun or not), was our reading teacher, but she only worked four days a week. On Mondays we had class with the principal. We would read and discuss real books, like The Witch of Blackbird Pond, rather than the dorky stories from our text books. I really enjoyed that the best. Seventh grade was when we rejoined our classmates. While we were in the library for reading class, though, there was a handful of eighth graders doing Algebra I by video-tape in the computer lab. Most of us in the advanced reading would also end up in the eighth grade Algebra program after passing a special placement test at the end of seventh grade.

When I was in fifth grade, we had our first computer in the classroom; it would have been around 1988. We had to work on it in groups of two or three on a rotating weekly schedule. There was one antiquated program that we were taught; I want to say it was called LOGOS. Then they built the new computer lab with fifteen new Apple computers. Since there were about thirty students in each class, we again had to work in pairs. Mainly we played games like “Hot Dog Stand” or “The Oregon Trail”. The local Catholic high school for boys asked them not to teach computer science, because that was their freshman science class. Us girls were just SOL. This would come back to haunt me my senior year of high school when I took Calculus at that school and one of the boys had to teach me how to do basic things on my fancy graphing calculator while the rest of them were writing their own programs.

We went everywhere and did everything in a line by homeroom. For lunch, the “packers” lined up first with the “buyers” behind them. When we got to the cafeteria we sat in line order. Friends usually lined up together and then people would switch places if they knew they were going to be separated at the end of a table. The big Jr. High privilege was that you were allowed sit wherever you wanted within a range of tables. For Mass, we had to sit boy-girl-boy girl to discourage people from talking. However, until sixth grade most of my friends were boys, so that never effected me much.

I remember lots and lots of group punishments. To hear everyone tell it we were the worst class ever. Sometimes it was for a certain incident caused by two or three people; everyone would be punished because the rest of the class wouldn’t tell or didn’t know who did it. Mostly it was because a group of 30 kids stuck in a room together all day made too much noise. We wrote essays about how bad we were. We stood against the wall at recess or sat on the hard floor during gym class. We weren’t allowed to have chocolate milk at lunch the one day in eight years that it was offered.

Around fifth grade the school had enough of a budget boost to hire a full-time gym teacher and music teacher. On P.E. day we had to wear special gray sweat suits with white t-shirts to school. It was later revealed that the P.E. teacher had stripped his way through college. At first the stage in the gymnasium was used as a music room. Then the choir loft of the church was glassed in for the purpose (and to serve as a cry room), but the glass wasn’t sound-proof so music class would sometimes be canceled if there was a funeral Mass.

The music teacher was in charge of co-ordinating the Christmas show, a choir, and all the music for school Masses in addition to teaching classes. The first music teacher also offered keyboard classes after school, and recommended me and a few other students to audition for the Louisville Youth Choir. She also coordinated a production of Oh, Jonah, a musical about Jonah and the whale, by the fifth graders. I got the lead role, but I had such horrible stage fright that I hyper-ventilated before the show and puked after it was over. I didn’t do very well on stage either. I wouldn’t regain the confidence to do anything on-stage again (outside of choir) until I was a senior in high school.

Looking back fifth grade had a lot going on. That was also the year that they separated the girls and boys to talk about menstruation. At least that’s what the girls talked about; I have no idea what the boys discussed. The teacher told us what could start happening to us any day now, showed us a maxi pad, and dunked a tampon in a glass of water to demonstrate how it would expand in our bodies. That was the extent of “the talk”.

Also, starting in fifth grades we rotated teachers and classrooms for various subjects. As a homeroom we moved from one room to the next. Fifth and sixth graders rotated between four rooms upstairs in the gym building while seventh and eighth graders rotated in classrooms that were mostly downstairs. There were no bells ringing or lockers. You kept all of your stuff in your homeroom desk. And you quickly learned to carry valuables with you at all times.

These were the basics of my elementary education experience. Now I didn’t get into the socialization aspects or the religious aspects. They really deserve posts all their own. Sadly, Mt. Carmel is no more. About three years ago the school was incorporated with a few other local Catholic schools to form St. Nicholas Academy. The Mt. Carmel school building is now referred to as the South Campus. This division between school and parish has kind of devastated the parish. The fact that the parish has to share a priest with another parish hasn’t helped either. I think the sense of community between the school and parish is the greatest thing I took from my experiences at Mt. Carmel.

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