Sunday 22nd May 2022

September Stories. #2. 2018.92.

September Stories. #2. 2018.92.

When I began this series last week and ended with...to be continued, I know that was a disappointment to some readers and also could have been seen as a way to have you come back to read more. In some ways it was but in reality it is because, as I wrote, I realised the length of the September Story about being a principal needed more space.

I also did not realise until this week, that the day for publication of September Story #2 is R U OK Day. In the past, I have blogged about R U OK day using the R U OK guidelines and always hoping that if any reader needed help, they could find it by asking or calling below. In keeping with being honest, I will admit I could not tell my employer or fellow professionals I was NOT OK. I shared that with my husband and my G.P.

So, keeping that in mind, here is some background I wrote some time ago to get me started…again!

 

Maya Angelou once said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

My story, as a K-6 teacher, English as a Second Language teacher assistant principal, deputy principal, relieving principal, principal, begins…here.

As I trawl back in my memory bank to unlock the story of mine. It’s no-one else, yet it was about more than me.

The day I never returned to my school as its principal.

Etched into my mind, my psyche and my whole body.

Thursday 5.9.2002.

But that is not where the story starts.

In one way it starts here:

The evening of Wednesday 4.9.2002 was when I knew. I knew that my emotional health was broken to the point of never being able to return to:

  • the school I had led for almost 4 years
  • the position of principal I had been appointed to from January 1999

Why?

That is where I need to take a breath…and let out the sigh and say ‘it is not an easy story to tell….and an even harder one for me to relate…but I will.’

First Year as a Principal.

I was busy learning about the school and the fact that the person I replaced had actually died the previous term without anyone at the school having access to school keys, passwords and the like made it more difficult. The school was a medium sized (around 450 kids from K-6) one with added Unit for Students with Special Learning Needs and an Autism Satellite class. Within the stream of classes there were two “OC” groups: Year 5 of 30 students and Year 6. These students gained their place at the school via competitive examinations the year before.

The school culture was, as my boss told me, one I would need to lead into the 21st century and I knew that but I also knew to hasten slowly on some changes whilst making some practical ones quickly. The previous principal, sadly departed, had been there for quite some time, shared very little in terms of financial goals for the school but, as a local which I was not, whatever he had done was acceptable. One big ticket item that happened under his leadership was a sports area which catered for a number of court-based sports.

One of my first spends was blinds. In a school with a second storey and in a very hot/cold place in outer Sydney, some respite from the sun and to make activities such as work via a whiteboard or screen effective this was vital. Once done it gave the school, from the inside and out, a better appearance for the community.

The school was fully staffed with each role filled: 2 Assistant Principals (teaching) 2 Executive Teachers (teaching). There was a group of speciality teachers: for Gifted and Talented students, Special Needs – Intellectual, English as a Second Language, Computer and Technology, Special Learning in Mainstream. I had been familiar with leading each of those roles in my previous schools with three  ‘new’ to me

  • having the O.C. classes
  • overseeing the use of the school’s facilities with an outside the NSW Dept of Ed jurisdiction
  • supervising a Special Needs Unit of 3 staff within the school

I like to think, looking back from 2018, that I did all I could to both understand, accept and get upskilled quickly to enable me, the educational leader of the school, to best meet the needs of those students, also considering the skills of their teachers and to see that the parents of the students knew the children’s needs were paramount.

That of course, was also integral to my oversight and management of the remainder of the school in the mainstream classes.

There were computers for my work and communication via emails did not arrive for a few years. It was a telephone, fax and mail school and being on the outskirts of Sydney the communication and responses were not as frequent as the suburbs of Sydney.

The year went well with ME being the major learner of course. I was the ONLY new staff member but I also had to ensure that MY leadership goals were part of the new school’s as well. There was a lot of policy discussion which was mostly related to why there were none where I was used to having these done. Like I have said before, I was there to make change but I also needed to handle matters carefully.

This year I turned 50 and on the staff was another person my age and I recall a joint celebration with two cakes. We did socialise somewhat during the school term with a restaurant meal or something similar with ataff. We had regular morning teas and I promoted collegiality and support for all staff.

My executive staff were good but two of them sought promotion – one to a country school, the other to a city school and of course I was pleased for them professionally when their  work was rewarded with what they sought. I recall an incident which was a critical one as it demonstrated a lack of foresight, organisation and care from one of the senior staff. This related to a student being announced at the final year assembly as Vice-Captain, when in fact, she was to be a prefect, and another student was the Vice-Captain. In an embarrassing time for the student, her family and the senior staff I had to interrupt the announcement with the correct person’s name. From that time, I was aware of more loopholes within the school’s management. Policies for example. In a first for this executive staff, there needed to be a written policy on the how, what and why of student leadership nominations, voting and results. From my side, it looked quite poorly scrutinised and certainly that family of the student who was incorrectly announced as vice-captain continued to let me know of their upset long after that incident. No apology in the world was good enough.

Onward into 2000 & beyond.

There were some staff changes into this year of the Sydney Olympics and I had to call panels of parent representative, school representative and one other teacher to enable me to interview, by merit selection, 2 people to replace those who had been promoted. More on this in the third post next week.

The education communities in and near Sydney loved the fact that this was the year of the Sydney Olympics and we even had an extra week off school in September 2000 for all of the available transport (buses mostly) to be geared to getting people to and from Olympic venues. A person who had carried a torch in part of the area near the school brought it to us and we all got to hold it. We had special days and the vibe was good. We even made our Staff Photo that year based on Sports and the Olympics.

I had some lovely people working at the school in administration and I know my mantra (from my boss) of keeping on heading into this famous 21st century was embraced but it remained a load on me as the school leader both administratively and educationally. There were courses in finance and human resources to attend and of course ones to train us further in Child Protection.

This became even more important as time went on, and I recall sitting at yet another training course thinking “I am responsible for all of this yet I have no control over it”. It was quite a  watershed moment for me.

I loved the role even so. I felt I brought action and innovation to the school and lifted its place in educational areas. I may not have been a local in a very conservative area but I did my best to keep open and good relationships with the local community, my Parent groups and the community of schools nearby.

At home, I know I really never switched off. The laptop came home with me. Newsletters written by me on the weekend. There was no email or other communications like that until 2002 so everything was done and then printed off for the families each fortnight. I improved more of the external appearance with signage and keeping areas safer by removal of damaged play equipment. I had a General Assistant 3 days a week and because of the size of the school grounds, he spent most of his time on a mower.

I had to organise school repairs and more via private contractors and be savvy enough to know how to ask for quotes and then to see how the school might benefit and when to get those happening in a child-free time. I would be phoned at home in school holidays about staffing and maintenance and there was/is not a time-off for school principals.

Next Time: Story 3.

What happened in the lead up to my emotional health breakdown.

I have written only some of what it is like to be a school principal. Despite the fact, as above “one day, I never went back” I loved the role. However, now in this age of social media and 24/7 connections, I do not believe I could perform the role without cost to my mental health.

Therefore I honour R U OK Day and this message below is for those who might be part of a conversation and not sure what to do.

I wish I had known that I could have admitted to a colleague or my boss how hard things got for me in mid 2002 but I could not. Not until I broke down at home on 4.9.2002.

Denyse.

 

Joining with Leanne for Lovin Life Linky here on Thursdays.

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September Stories. #1. 2018.89.

September Stories. #1. 2018.89.

I’ve enjoyed writing Thursday posts on a theme. There has been the  Just For July series and the Appreciation in August one just finished. I did give a lot of consideration to what September might be, and with the chance to tell stories in a more detailed form, here is the first! September Stories. I hope YOU enjoy too. Denyse.

Sixteen Years Ago.

But first:

I really enjoyed being a K-6 School Principal. I had waited till my late 40s to decide to ‘take the plunge’ and actively seek a principal’s role in a K-6 school in Sydney’s west.

Having been a relieving Principal in a school where I had been a Deputy Principal I knew that I did not want to apply for that role as I had been at that school for almost 10 years.

This was a much longer period than I usually stayed in one school and family reasons were part of this but I knew that to lead that school was fraught with trying to placate factions and being in conflict ethically with the old-fashioned and out-moded forms of discipline.

In the lead up to the end of the 1990s I was asked to relieve as a Principal is a larger school within the Western Sydney environment I knew well. This school already had a leadership team including Deputy Principals but it was the wish of the out-going (Long Service Leave first!) Principal that someone from out of the school be appointed. That was me.

What a baptism of fire this was!

Whilst I knew the general area, I was not knowledgable at all about the make-up of the student population – which was well into the 600s. I was to lead that school for Terms 3 and 4 when a principal would be appointed. There were special needs classes, there were children of high needs (intellectual and behavioural) in mainstream classes. Fortunately, it came with a non-teaching Deputy, who helped bring me up to speed with every new challenge including:

  • chasing a boy who was ready to jump the low fence and run onto the road. He stopped. In the playground.
  • finding another boy climbing to the roof of a building to escape the problem he had being in class.
  • having a mother of a girl scream at me over the desk “what are YOU going to DO ABOUT this, YOU”RE the PRINCIPAL”

“I really do not want to be a Principal” I said after a very hectic Term 3 leading into Term 4…but then again..

” the old death bed regret” popped into my mind.

Did I want to think I should have given the principalship a go but I did not?”

Answer: NO.

Further Reasons!

As the last Term progressed, unless I did decide to start applying for Principal’s roles, I had this ultimatum delivered.

As a Deputy Principal who had needed to leave her original school (the 10 year one) because the school student population  was slowing and there was no longer a DP position, I had to accept any position as a DP and guess where I was appointed: to the school where I was currently Relieving Principal. 

Oh. No, I thought that was untenable and also once I knew who the new boss would be in the following year my hand was forced – in a way. So it was out with the application templates and late nights writing and honing these to match K-6 School Principals roles that I might fit.

It All Takes Time.

Back then, applications for Principal  were sent into the District Office for the Superintendent to look over with his/her panel of selectors. These were a parent from the school which was seeking a new principal, a staff member from that school, a principal of similar status as the role on offer and the Superintendent. If the application met with the panel’s approval, professional referees (nominated on the application) were called, and then if the panel thought they wanted to know more then the applicant was invited to a formal interview.

I went through this process over some weeks for a total of four times and got to interview but not the role. I was also still leading a school! I did get positive and helpful feedback particularly by one District Superintendent By the second last week of Term 4 I thought I was not going to get a Principal’s job but that was not true and within 2 days of school ending for Term 4, I was offered and I accepted the role of K-6 Principal in my own right.

Appointed As Principal.

The District Superintendent rang me to offer the position and of course I accepted it. Being so close to the end of the year, I could not visit the school until close to the end of the January holidays.

The words that rang in my ear, and were written to me by the District Superintendent echoed…and not nearly as much as in future years.

“Denyse, you have to bring this school into the next century and I know you are the one to do it. It won’t be easy and it will have challenges but you are the right fit for this”.

To Be Continued.

Next week, I will outline the story, in more detail about the meaning of Sixteen Years Ago.

Denyse.

Linking up with Leanne here for Lovin’ Life on Thursdays.

 

 

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Telling My Story. Chapter Four. 1970. 2018.68.

Telling My Story. Chapter Four. 1970. 2018.68.

A catch up for my readers:

In early May 2017 I began Telling My Story – after being hesitant then giving it a go, thanks to a friend who suggested writing my story “one blog post at a time“.

Deciding to begin my story! Early May 2017.

Then, as many may recall, I was diagnosed with cancer that same week. I did not announce the news till later.

MORE time went by (of course) but I knew Telling My Story would continue.

This is also the new profile photo of course!

One year post major cancer surgeries.

Leaving Sydney and Home.

After the Christmas holidays and break everyone has in an Australian summer, it was time for me to leave home!

On January 27 1970 I commenced my permanent teaching role with the N.S.W. Department of Education at Barraba Central School in North Western N.S.W. The beach and city girl gave that away to ….teach…and be closer to her then 3 year boyfriend who was now working in Tamworth.

Before that occurred: Graduation from Balmain Teacher’s College and Getting the Telegram to send me to my first school. Yes, appointments to a new school by transfer, promotion or first appointment came via a telegram until early 1980s.

I had no trepidation about leaving home and present Denyse wonders why! I think it was the excitement of independence and the love of the job I was starting..and the boyfriend being only an hour away probably helped. Well, I do know one thing about me arriving in Barraba with my parents. I had nowhere to live (yet) and just guessed it would work out.

Mum had lots of home-type things for me such as linen, I had my clothes (teaching apparel was dresses/skirts – no slacks or jeans) and my beginner’s mind!! School was the first place we visited on that long weekend in January 1970 and we found the deputy principal there sorting people out as he did us with a huge welcome and I knew I was going to be fine!

My first home-away from home. Shared Bedroom at front!

But having been given a name of a ‘lady who takes in boarders’ along with my teaching appointment we duly went to this house…and I did not quite think that was my place but, we returned to the school where we were helped again “there’s a share teacher house just over the road and I think they need another person.’ Yes! Off we went and I was in my new home. Shared bedroom with another teacher who went home on weekends and I was all OK.

Mum, apparently, who cried all the way back to Sydney Dad tells me recently. “Empty nest syndrome” had probably not been invented then, but in 1992 I experienced it when our daughter left home.

Dad and Mum in 1990s

Beginning My Career as a Teacher. 

In the overall scheme of things I did really well in my first year of teaching but as most people know, you tend to learn more once you are IN the classroom than when you are trained. I give my training at Balmain Teachers College full credit in how we were taught how to TEACH the basic of literacy and numeracy. We “did” every subject that was in the curriculum and it was a superior model compared to how I saw others being trained in the years following.

My training speciality was Infants teaching. K-2. However as time went on in our N.S.W. education system, this qualification was made K-6 so I could have taught in a primary school setting  too. It is important to note this as specialities were needed and I know my love of and for learning of young kids stays with me today as a passion.

What I Found Out About Myself in My First Year of Independence.

I really am stretching the brain cells to go back to the young woman (almost said girl) of just 20 years of age. I was away from living at home for the first time in my life. I was not, as I recall, wonderful at keeping house because I had been pretty spoiled living with Mum and Dad.

So to be part of a teacher-share house meant a roster for cooking and cleaning. I was also responsible for my own washing. In this town the water was pretty putrid so I used to ‘wash’ …OK Mum used to ‘wash’ my linen etc when I took it back to Sydney every few weeks. How come, you ask? The Deputy Principal of the school (someone I admire greatly and his influence on me as a teacher was a good one) was engaged to a lovely Nursing sister who, it turned out lived a few suburbs away from my parents. Terry, the DP, would drive down on a Friday night after school (about a 4-6 hour trip back then down the New England Highway, and I would be picked up from a central point by my parents and spend time at home and getting the washing done and probably knowing Mum, some home-made treats to take back. Terry used me mostly as a companionable co-driver and that was fine.

I experienced my first (and only) relationship break up in the first school holidays that year. My long term boyfriend (3 years) had not loved his new career at Tamworth and was going through some pretty anxious times and he called off our relationship. Yes I cried but over time, I saw some good things about it. In fact, it gave me a better focus on the school teaching community and the fun we could have as young people as a group outside school hours.

We had drinks at the local golf club, we drove to the coast down the Great Dividing Range for a weekend at Port Macquarie, we staged dinner parties at each other’s houses and of course we supported each other at the K-12 school. It was a year of growth and friendships made. I coached the boys’ basketball team. I had no idea but apparently they went well. I was even encouraged to enter the Miss Australia quest representing Barraba along with another girl and had a day or two in Tamworth to take part in the judging and then the Presentation Ball that night.

For those who want to know..I am 3rd from left. Short! A tall person won!

In a teacher’s first year back then, an Inspector of Schools came to the class to watch me teach, talk to me and then as I was successful, I had a report written about me and what he saw and that led to permanency. An excerpt:

Miss Simpson approaches her work in a sincere manner and her  lively personality enables her to manage a combined group (K/1) in a capable manner. Control does not present any problem and her classroom activities proceed smoothly as a result of detailed programming and thoughtful preparation. Full use is made of the available display space in order to enhance the appearance of her classroom. A good working environment is evident in her classroom

In October 1970 the NSW Teachers Federation (of course I was a member) held its first ever Country Conference in Tamworth. Tamworth was the main centre for the airlines, and good department stores and clubs – RSL and more. For my two teacher friends, Sue and Rob, and I, it was an chance to…..socialise…and maybe meet blokes? We stayed at the Travelodge and whilst I can say I “did” attend some of the day meeting, I also used the time to shop for a delightful pink pantsuit. Pants suits were the rage. That night we were ready for socialising and when we rocked up for the dinner in frocks, there was one table with some spaces. It had 5 men occupying one end and we asked if there was space for us…”of course”.

I sat at one end and this young smiling man sat at the other and I will tell you readers, our eyes DID lock…and we smiled…and then…he asked me to dance. I was nervous and trod on his toes. He WAS about a foot taller than me.

Game Over. The singles one I mean!

Love All.

A preview..of what’s to come!

I do hope you are enjoying the stories. I am quite liking having to use the memory even if trying to find the photos is more troublesome.

Denyse.

 

 

On Tuesday this posts links with Kylie here

On Wednesday this post links with Sue and Leanne here

 

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Telling My Story. Chapter Two. 1954-67 Schooling. 2018.26.

Telling My Story. Chapter Two. 1954-67. 2018.26.

 

Photo of Me on my 67th Birthday 30.11.2016.

The day before I was diagnosed with upper gum cancer I published ‘the first’ of a fore-shadowed series of posts about Telling My Story.

The response to the post of 16 May 2017 was well-received and I am glad I made a start. Here it is. I have included, from that post of almost a year ago, the introduction:

Recently I decided to begin Telling My Story.

Initially it was school-career based in a memoir genre. Then I wanted to tell what had happened in my life once I’d reached 60 and what I had learned. Where I am at now it a mix of all of this! I am going to start here: the beginning of my life, and interspersed with my career will be aspects of my life and how I have grown and changed…over and over!

I hope you will find something of interest. I know essentially I am doing this for me as it helps. However, as a blogger, I would like to think it has enough appeal for you to enjoy too.

I admit it was a pretty full-on time from 17th May 2017 and my mind was in quite a few places where blogging took a lesser priority but I knew I wanted to keep on doing this story of my life. I am finally ready to dive deep and remember where I was and what I want to say next!

Fast Forward: 2015 I returned to my old H.S. and presented at my last ever teacher professional meeting. I was retired in full after this!

Primary School Years. 1954-1961.

I began Kindergarten in September 1954, the term of my 5th Birthday. I loved school from day one and as it was in the same street as our house, I soon walked to school independently. I had to do a transition year (common then & in 1956 (the year of the Melbourne Olympics) I was a student in Year One. Mum and Dad asked my teacher if my left-hand writing should be changed and she said no. Thank you! I did well in school – the classes were large and there was some serious competition between me and two others for placement in the year. At the end of 1959 our lives would change. We sold our house in Wollongong and my brother and I started at our new school in Balgowlah Heights and got to know both a new area and new schools. This time there were many more kids in my grade and I settled into somewhere around the midlife. It was a big deal for my parents to move away from friends and family but Dad’s promotion was the prize and we settled into the almost-water side suburb and got on with new friends, sports and so on.  It was in 1960 in Mr Duffy’s 5th class that I knew I would like to be a teacher. I am so grateful too that he encouraged my skills of organisation as I became the head library prefect in Year 6. We had a Year 6 Formal/Dance and I wore my first pair of stockings and small heels. The sophistication! Then I, along with all my HS starting peers for 1962 were being sent headlong into the “new” Wyndham Scheme – Higher School Certificate after 6 years at school!

High School Years. 1962-1967.

I was part of the cohort of N.S.W. students to enter high school in 1962 and become ‘the guinea pigs’ for the introduction of the Wyndham Scheme where it was decided that breaking the high school years up into 2 sections was the best plan. The first was Forms (years) 1 to 4 with an external School Certificate examination and then Forms 5 & 6 with an external Higher School Certificate.

The previous system which had been around for decades had students doing an Intermediate Certificate at the end of 3rd Year (and could leave school for work or a trade) and those who wanted to train, for example, as teachers or go to University went to do the Leaving Certificate at the end of 5th Year.

I was in a public primary school at Balgowlah Heights on the Northern Beaches in Sydney and the ‘feeder’ High School for my area was Manly Girls High School. It was located quite a way from home & not in Manly but a bus took us from a street near home to school and then the same in the afternoon. Manly Girls High was only pretty new too. So, when we arrived, there were students doing the five years and us, the newbies. There were at least 5 classes of 35+ students in this cohort of mine and I was placed in 1A. . This was, apparently, based on ability from primary school testing. In 2nd Form 2A meant I was studying the compulsory English, Maths, Science & History  along with my chosen subjects of French and German. We also had P.E., music lessons too. I admit I was not a swot but enjoyed the social aspect of school. I have written about that before here!

In the photo we are in Winter uniform (tunic, long sleeved shirts, tie, blazer). I am 3rd row, 2nd from left.

The school uniforms were traditional even though we were essentially a new school. The  main colour was brown, with green too. Who picks that, I ask? There were summer and winter uniforms and prefects checked length of uniforms (visually) as we walked into school and also…if our socks were turned down correctly. If we were seen in public (for example, my bus went through Manly and if I needed to go to the dentist or elsewhere, I would get off the bus there) and we had to ensure we had hat and gloves on. Even in Summer. I am not making this up.

 

First Day of High School. Gloves must be in my pocket! Summer Uniform was beige. Hats were made of straw…and flung around on the bus ( oh, not for a while!)

Our headmistress (no principal title for her!) was very English private school in her policies and we even sang British anthems at Assemblies: Jerusalem being one. (mind you I actually still like it!). To officially open the school we had the daughter of the Governor General of Australia do the honours. As in all things with government the official opening came way after the actual opening – I was in my 3rd year of H.S. but then – but we all got our photo taken to mark the occasion.

 

 

With our group being the first  to have two senior years we got the chance to have (and help design) a senior uniform. By now, the old headmistress had been replaced by a more reasonable head…but a deputy head who was dragon-like in her insistence on petty rules also arrived. Sigh. We also had the choices in subjects and could take 6 subjects in Form 5 and then drop one if we wished into the Higher School Certificate Year. I immediately dropped Science! No good at science ever. So my subjects ended up as compulsory: English and Maths, Modern History, French and German.

 

On Being The First Group To Complete Six Years at High School.

Last year it was the 50th anniversary of the first students to complete the 6 years of high school with the Higher School Certificate examination at its end. In the many years since we did it in 1967 there have been changes, such as making English the only mandatory subject and allowing many more ‘mini but specialised’ subjects into the list. The purpose as was foreshadowed by the Wyndham School of the additional year at school was to add maturity and experience in completing more complex subjects to enable most of those sitting the H.S.C. to go to University or, as in my case, Teachers’ College as they were known then.

The formal end of compulsory schooling was via the external examination called the School Certificate. It was rigorous and we sat for it in a similar way to the H.S.C. After this examination was passed (or not) students could decide to:

  • by passing, they could continue their education into the last 2 years of school at senior level
  • by passing, they could choose to leave and enter into the workforce or get a traineeship or apprenticeship and many did
  • by failing (awful word) repeat the year OR if they were 15 and over, could leave school without the qualification and enter the workforce.

There was nothing like the services of centrelink or similar. In fact, it was true that most people did get work or trained for a career. Some professions like nursing took entrants in with a School Certificate (or the H.S.C.) and they did hospital-based training as well as work in the hospitals. They were paid as they did so. They often lived-in and would have to pay board etc.

For those wanting to attend University in the time of my school leaving, there were paid Commonwealth Scholarships for University for those who wanted to do a degree (say B.A. or B.Sc) and then a Dip. Ed. to become a High School Teacher. These scholarships, earned via the quality of the final examination results,  indentured the student to work in a particular place/area of Australia for an agreed time. For me, as a new-to-be teacher in a N.S.W. Public School I secured a teachers’ scholarship which paid me an allowance to study and as I was living at home I did not need board and food allowances as my husband did when he went to teachers’ college away from home. We were both ‘bonded’ to the N.S.W. Department of Education for the first 3 years of our teaching and could be sent anywhere in N.S.W. or forfeit the bond and not have work from this employer. Neither of us did that..and if we had, we never would have met! That’s a whole chapter in the future!

This is actually still a provision of accepting a role of permanence in N.S.W. Department of Education : whilst in our employ you can and may be instructed to teach anywhere in N.S.W. When I was teaching Masters of Teaching students in 2013 and 2014 I told them of this and many were in disbelief. Unfortunately there is much less of the pioneer spirit had by those of us who graduated in the 1950s and 1960s which is a shame as there is so much to learn by moving away from your home and comfort zone.

The Social Aspects of My Teens 1962-1967. This will be the next chapter!!

What was high school like for you?

What kind of uniform did you have?

Did you go to High School to learn or to play?

I will be looking forward to reading your responses!

Denyse.

 

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