Graduation Ceremony at Inwood Junior High

The world around us changes remarkably quickly at times.  We become history without even noticing it.  At Inwood Junior High School the change that occurred was how quickly it turned from one of the best (if not the best) junior highs in the City into one of the worst.  The school that regularly provided Stuyvesant and Bronx Science with their valedictorians suddenly made the front page of the New York Post, when one of its students died of a heroin overdose.  But before all this happened, I had a lovely time teaching at Inwood Junior High.

Seemingly, there was nothing I could ask of my students that they couldn’t do, and they took pride in their accomplishments, sometimes just showing off, as did the girl (I think her name was Carol Bloom) who made a point of reading all of her books upside down.  We studied “Romeo and Juliet,” and because I thought my students would like it, and they did.  And because I valued memory, and wanted them to remember this class years later, I had them all memorize the Queen Mab speech overnight, and memorize it they did.  I was asked by Finkelstein to organize a school play with one of my classes, and this led to the first presentation of Berthold Brecht’s “Galileo,” in New York.  It did require a certain amount of work, as my 7th Graders (and I) had to show up at 7:30 AM to begin rehearsals, and often didn’t leave until 5 or 6.  After their single public performance, my students knew they had accomplished something.  By now, being a teacher, I thought it important that my students be challenged, and that they be exposed to the fact that truth had to be fought for, and the play did just that.

On weekends Hanauer ran the High School Chess League, and both Finkelstein and I assisted him in running chess tournaments, mostly at John Fischer’s New York Chess Club on 42nd Street, which has come down in chess lore as the Flea House.  The three of us worked well together, both in and out of school, which may be the reason they asked me to take over the graduation ceremony.

The Gaudeamus Tradition!

Inwood was a large school, with as many as fifteen hundred students.  Each graduating class was composed of nearly five hundred students, a not insignificant number.  I had no experience with graduation ceremonies, as I had never attended one, not even my own, but a job was a job, and I had been given my orders.  Finkelstein told me what was wanted, namely, a singing of the traditional “Gaudeamus Igitur,” (of which he and Hanauer were extraordinarily fond, and which I thought quite funny), and the choral recitation of a poem of some sort.

One of the music teachers came down to the assembly hall to teach and rehearse the entire graduating class in Hanauer and Finkelstein’s favorite song, and I picked “The Man With A Hoe,” by Edwin Markham (my Lefty leanings again!), as suitable for choral reading, and of course, I didn’t want it just read.  It had to be memorized.  To hear those five hundred kids singing “Gaudeamus Igitur,”(without understanding a word of it!), and then recite “The Man With A Hoe,” from memory was impressive.  The parents loved it!  Graduation was a big success.  We repeated it for a couple of years.  Then it had to be dropped.  The school and its population had changed.

 

About AlexLevy

Dr. Alex Levy is a retired English teacher who survived World War II and the “Final Solution” by hiding in a Catholic orphanage for girls in Belgium for several years.

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34 Responses to Graduation Ceremony at Inwood Junior High

  1. Rick Jones says:

    A graduation ceremony for the 9th graders ? Good idea. We only had graduation ceremony for high school.

    • Abby Mandel says:

      And what a graduation it was! It was held at the 181st RKO Colliseum movie theatre. That in itself was so exciting!!!

      JHS 52 graduate of 1969

      • AlexLevy says:

        I remember the RKO Coliseum graduation! Did I have you do that whole poetry thing, “Bowed by the weight of centuries, he leans upon his hoe” ? Now-a-days that last word would only have evoked laughter. And what about “Gaudeamus Igitur”? Did you do that also? Finkelstein and Hanauer were very fond of it!

        • Abby Mandel says:

          I think that must have stopped once you left the school. I have no memory of having to do that. I just remember that this graduation was such a big deal at the time to be in the movie theatre! I do remember the prom as Roberta describes on Dykeman St though. I thought it was always strange that we had a Jr High prom but not a high school prom. But that’s a good thing because someone would have been hurt or even killed if there had been a GW high school prom. Many of the good students who could swing it, did take two english classes and two gym classes so we could escape while still alive in Jan, rather than take our chances staying in that war zone til June.

          • AlexLevy says:

            Don’t think that the GWHS prom wasn’t discussed, but it was cancelled for the very reason you mention. Way too dangerous.
            While the school did become a war zone, and students were rightfully terrified, what was also sad was that there were some terrific teachers at that school who just never got a chance to practice their craft.

      • David P.Pauker says:

        Hey Abby! Hi! How could I ever forget you….the cutest hottest sexiest girl of the class with those beautiful golden locks of hair.Do you remember me…David Pauker….and your friend Carol Blum in social studies class with Mr. Fischer??Do you still live in Inwood/Washington Heights??? I do.I’d love to see you again after all these years. you can phone me at 646-305-7687 any time or send me an e-mail at dphilippauker@gmail.com! Hope to hear from ya soon. Miss you badly!!Anyway the RKO looks like a ancient relic now!! HeHe.:)

  2. AlexLevy says:

    Junior high had three grades, 7th, 8th, and 9th. So, as the 9th graders were departing, it seemed reasonable to have a graduation ceremony. Interestingly enough, high school also had a 9th grade. It is possible that this was the reason for the establishment of middle schools, which only had two grades, 7th and 8th, and only sometimes 6th, depending on other factors, such as crowding.
    A.

  3. Izzy B. says:

    How can some read upside down? Did she read all of Romeo and Juliet and memorize that speech upside down?

  4. AlexLevy says:

    If you can read things right side up, why not just turn the book around and read it upside down? That’s what she did. She trained herself to do it, but I doubt it had any real value, other than as a stunt.
    Pop-pop

  5. Myron Pulier says:

    Children in European Jewish schools read upside down and sideways because a class all had to crowd around a single book. It’s not that hard to learn, but one can get rusty without practice.

  6. Alex says:

    That makes sense, especially as they had to learn to read from right to left first, why not upside down? However, this girl had never been in Jewish European school. She just did it for fun!
    Alex

  7. Roberta Anes says:

    I graduated 52 in 1968. I don’t remember graduation but remember the prom on Dyckman street at the trop……., some gang activity outside. There was still alot of teaching and learning going on in 52 but G.W. H.S. was a very different story. Between race riots and teachers strikes they were many days not spent in school. Given the opportunity to graduate early in January rather than June seemed like a good idea. So we doubled up in English and dropped some electives.
    Not being in honor english I was in a class with most of the students didn’t speak English so not too much learning went on. But I do remember reading Soul on Ice.
    A lot of destruction of school property ocurred during this time period.

    • AlexLevy says:

      Hi, Roberta! Sorry about being so late in replying to your post.
      MMmmmm. . . I must have left 52 the same year you graduated, but I don’t remember a prom, possibly because it wasn’t all that important to me. And yes, George Washington was a pretty wild and wooly place those first few years, although after the strike or strikes was or were settled, I remember having a rather good time in my English classes. Of course, all that stopped when the riots started, and it became a really dangerous place in which no one was in control. I enjoyed reading Eldridge Cleaver, but I don’t recall ever assigning “Soul On Ice,” to any of my classes, although it is possible. I hope you enjoyed it and remember something of it. I have completely forgotten it!

  8. Alex says:

    Abby, you have given me so much to reply to that it is difficult deciding where to start. However, it is always a good idea to start with people.
    While I did recognize the names of some of the people you mentioned, I’ll use time and a poor memory as excuses for not being able to account for more of them. Richard Hamburger was a favorite of mine, and I’ve often wondered what happened to him. I think I also remember Eric Gross. I think that on “open school night”, his mother complained that I had given him only a B on his report card. I tried to explain to her very patiently that it was most likely that when Eric went off to college he would have some teachers who would be lemons. Here, at JHS 52, I was his lemon. I somehow doubt this pacified her, but it used up her three minutes. Years later, I met Eric informally, and he thanked me for two things: 1. Never to go anywhere without a book, and 2. for teaching him English grammar. I think I also remember Ellen Levy as a small, bright girl, with straight brown hair cut in a page boy, who didn’t say much, but was usually right on the money. Possibly if you could scan those yearbook pages I might remember more.
    If the Strauss you mentioned was Rosemary Strauss, she also moved to G.Dubs when I did, and we arrived just in time for the 1968 strike. Sam Pressman was probably the oldest faculty member at 52, but a true iconoclast who didn’t tolerate bullshit from either administrators or teachers. I believe he was kind to his students. He provided me with much support and I loved him dearly. “Handsome” Fisher, is probably Michael Fisher. He was one of the early victims of the AIDS epidemic. I think Mrs. Lowe may have been the school’s lone African American teacher. I have no idea what happened to her. In an earlier comment you mentioned Sonia Ginsberg. I was quite close to her and her family. We used to go swimming at the GWHS pool together in the evenings. She was always the more radical lefty in our group, even more so than her husband, Max, whom she left to get remarried to someone in Vermont. I’m still friendly with her husband and have several of his paintings (he’s quite good!), and I see her children and grandchildren occasionally.
    I’m sorry I can’t offer more information now. Maybe memory will be better later.
    I’m on Facebook, but there are a great many Alex Levy’s there. I’m the guy relaxing in the swimming pool. You might be able to find me through my e-mail address (alexlevy@optonline.net or alex.levy23@gmail.com). I also have an AOL account as Hickoryhill23.
    I do hope to hear more from you; I don’t want to lose touch. I now have to answer Judy and Sara, as well as some others, but I’ll leave that for a bit later. It is now 10:23 AM, and I have been on this computer since 6:30 AM. I just need a break.
    Alex

    • Dan says:

      I graduated from j.h.s. 52 in june of 1967. I had Mr. Pressman for general Math, one of the best teachers i ever had. I remember his posture, standing straight up, and very quick witted humor. I also remember Mrs Zimmerman for social studies, Mrs. Stecker for English, Mr. Peyser for Math, Mr. Keisler for Hygene, Mr Gallen (sp) for Gym and also Mr. Ross for Gym. My home room teacher in 9th Grade was Mr. Perry, a real cool guy. I also remember a Mr. Bohan, i think i had him for English in the eighth grade. Graduation prom was held at the Trocadero club on the corner of Vermilyea and Dyckman. It was a really hot night that night and when the air conditioner broke down, everyone left and headed to Fort Tryon Park. Also remember having lunch with Harold Levy, who went on to become the nyc schools chancellor some time back in the nineties. We ate at Nash’s or Irvings, great burgers.

      • AlexLevy says:

        What a memory you have, Dan! Your assessment of Sam Pressman is right on the money. He was quite a man. Stecker was a tiny woman who was a martinet, and I didn’t like her much. Phil Zimmerman was a good friend for many years, and he went on to become Foreign Language Chairman at Truman High School in Co-op City. Andy Peyser was an excellent guy. I don’t remember the others you mention, unless the Ross went to GWHS, where he became the track coach and eventually died of sclerosis of the liver. I arrived at 52 in mid-year, to replace an English teacher who had died in his class of a heart attack.
        Those were the years!

  9. Larry Hamberg says:

    I was also one of the 1968 graduates from 52 who went up to G.W. The core of my academic knowledge was formed at PS 187 and 52, but the experiences that we all endured at G.W. were an invaluable part of my looking at the world as well. Seeing all those cops in riot gear early each morning left a lasting impact.

  10. AlexLevy says:

    The spectacle of cops (I think they were Tactical Police Force) in riot gear, with their blue helmets, nightsticks at the ready, ringing the Cafeteria shoulder-to-shoulder is one not to be forgotten by anyone there at the time. It was something out of some weird movie. And as you point out, GWHS wasn’t much on academics after that. Staff was mostly concerned with remedial education and keeping the lid on. But we did soldier on, and I was extremely fond of some of my colleagues there. There was just no expertise that would help with doing the job we were hired to do under the existing circumstances.

  11. All of these postings bring back such memories.. Alex Levy was my English teacher at 52 ( SPE@) in 1967-68 school year and I was thrilled to see him at GW when I arrived in 1970. Eric Gross lived in the next building from me on Cabrini… I also remember his mother, Phyllis Gross. Funny how that name just came to me now! Our “prom” in 1970 was at the school in the cafeteria… was pretty pathetic. There was never a mention of a prom when I graduated from GW in 1973.. just happy to get out. I did have some amazing teachers at GW who really cared… Mrs. grossman for English, Mrs. Lester for English as well, Mr. Robert Cohen for math.. alsoMr. Barry Hauptman. They were not only teachers but people who genuinely cared aboutour welfare. If it wasn’t for Mr. Rabin I would not have made it out… he mentored all of us letting us be his “band” librarians at lunch time so we didn’t have to go to the cafeteria. As for Mr. Kostman.. he is alive, well and living in Century Village Boca ( neighbor of my mom) and president of his shul.

    • AlexLevy says:

      I hope you recovered from having me as an English teacher. 🙂
      Good to hear that Sam Kostman is still alive. He got a very raw deal when he was superintendent of Queens high schools. Lester, Cohen and Hauptman were terrific teachers who really cared, and Rabin was really special. Hauptman, like myself, struggled for years to on into administration, and he might even have made it. I’m impressed by the fact that all these years later you still remember all these people.
      Alex

  12. guy from Inwood says:

    If you are referring to JHS 52, it has been a real blight on the community since the 70s. Each successive year has been a nightmare for the business owners of the area due to the fact that the kids going to the school are nothing but animals. If something is not nailed down, they will steal it or ruin it. My suggestion is that they close the place & put something in its place that will be productive because the school sure isn’t.

    • AlexLevy says:

      Children are never animals, and I’m certain that most of the kids at 52 today are fairly normal children. But then there is that minority! And they distort the view we have of all the others. You might try to become involved in the school and see how you can help improve the terrible situation you describe.
      Thanks for letting me know how you feel.
      Alex

  13. Lloyd Steinberg says:

    I graduated JHS 52 in 1966 which I think was the last year of it being an excellent junior high school. I remember the graduation ceremony held at the RKO movie theatre on 181st Street. We sang Guadeamous Igitur and also sang The Impossible Dream since Man of La Mancha was a popular broadway play at the time. Unfortunately, the air conditioning system at the Trocadero on Dyckman Street broke down so the Prom ended and I remember celebrating graduation at Jan’s ice cream parlor in the Bronx with three girls by consuming a Kitchen Sink with them. I remember some good teachers such as Mr. Raphael for Geography, Mr. Tobin for English Ms. Kossin for Spanish. There were several not so good teachers that I would prefer not to mention. I remember the Shop classes I took such as wood, metal, electric, printing and ceramics and also a typing class that later proved useful. The death of Scott Czeisler from a fall at Fort Tryon Park was a tragedy that I have never forgotten and occurred right before graduation.

    • AlexLevy says:

      The teachers you remember as being so good, really were. Sadly, I don’t remember the tragedy of Scott Czeisler.
      You were lucky to be allowed to take typing. When I was in high school, boys weren’t even allowed into typing classes, as only girls typed. Somehow I got into a typing class, but was only allowed there for one semester. But the typing of that one semester has proved useful.
      Alex

    • David Gottleib says:

      Lloyd – See my reply further down concderning comments on Scott…
      My Best, David

  14. rafe says:

    Mr. Atlow tried to teach me algebra and couldn’t. I failed almost every test. Then the night before the regents my good buddy Tom Gazianis tutored me and three other failers for four and a half hours. The next day I went in and passed with a 72. Atlow accused me of cheating through gritted teeth, but he had to pass me. Mr Gallin didn’t teach me how to be an athlete, but he did manage to convey the hygiene of cleaning your tongue as well as your teeth with your toothbrush. I thought I hated opera until that young guy for music appreciation forced us to listen to Don Giovanni, and I was amazed. And then there was sentence diagramming…I’m still waiting to find a use for that, but somehow I’m nostalgic for it. And Earth Science. Really? I still can’t tell a cirrus from a nimbus. Gaudeamus Igitur.

    • AlexLevy says:

      I don’t know if I told the story of Bernie Atlow and his still specimen.
      One morning Bernie came to school with a stool specimen in the back seat of his car which he planned to deliver to his doctor after work. On the way to school, he stopped at the post office. When he came back to his car, the stool specimen was gone, stolen! One of my secret pleasures is imagining the face of the thief when he unpacked his loot.
      Alex

  15. Sylvia says:

    I graduated from JHS 52 in 1964 and GW in 67. At the time, I thought 52 was a much scarier place than GW. I remember a group of 7th grade girls being beaten up by a tough group of girls in a pizza place over possession of a table at lunch time. The cops were called and I remember one of the girls returned to school with bruises on her face. She was blond and the tough girls pulled her around by her hair.
    As far as teachers, I remember Mrs. Stecker as terrifying a lot of kids, but coming out of her class knowing a lot and loving Mr. Raphael. I was a good student, but I just couldn’t memorize maps of countries. Mr. Raphael would give us blank maps and we had to write in countries and cities. He would laugh at my memory blocks and not take them too seriously. I also remember Monroe Levinson for earth? science. He was a strange dude who tried to enforce his own version of dress codes on the girls.
    Regarding proms, I seem to recall that in GW, there was a lot of student apathy and that we didn’t want a prom. We used to laugh and say the prom was cancelled due to lack of interest. I loved working on the school newspaper with Mrs. Cascione.

  16. Marc says:

    Class of ’70, here. Amazingly, I’d forgotten the battalion of riot-geared police manning the barricades. My strongest recollection is getting shaken down for spare change several times a day by Black kids who looked about 20 years old (I’m a short, fat white guy–easy pickins); “All I find, I keep.” By the time I got to 9th grade, I was beating them to it, “All you find, you keep.” They enjoyed that.
    Thankfully, I skipped 8th grade; so it was only two years in hell. There was little attempt made at actual teaching. We played hooky like crazy (we’d take the subway to see a ballgame, Yankees or Mets). How I got into Bronx Sci still baffles me.

    I found this blog searching for info about Mr. Pressman. (I’m an aspiring novelist, and I’ve based a very minor character on him.) Anybody know if he’s still around?
    Iconoclast indeed. He would saunter up and down the aisles as he lectured. Without missing a beat, or even glancing down, he’d snatch a paper airplane off some miscreant’s desk–and stuff it into his own jacket pocket. Later, he’d stuff it into some other hapless boy’s shirt pocket. Riveting stuff, that.
    Am I the only one who remembers science with Miss Monks? Gotta’ love a little old lady who likes to blow stuff up. Sad to say, I have no memory of English classes. If I’ve forgotten you, Alex, it’s my loss. I look forward to reading the entire blog.

  17. Alex Levy says:

    Dear Marc,
    You got into JHS52 just a bit too late. Had you arrived in 1964 (when I did) you would have found what was probably the best junior high school in the city, possibly in the country. Its graduates, mostly the children of German Jews and the Irish kids who couldn’t make it as St. Elizabeth’s , went on to become valedictorian at New York’s elite high schools (Bronx Sci, Stuyvesant, and Music and Art). I left JHS52 in 1968 for George Washington HS.
    Pressman was a real gentleman of the old school with a sense of humor. As he was old then, and I am old now, I presume he’s dead. And yes, I do remember Marie Monks. There were a lot of outstanding teachers there (and a few lemons), and I was green and not so hot. And yes, I was aware that the school had become a minor hell by the time I left. I don’t know if you remember, but wasn’t there a kid who died of an overdose of heroin at just about that time? I remember a piece in the NY Post describing Inwood Junior High as the worst in the city. Sad how quickly it went from best to worst.
    Incidentally, if you’re in the metropolitan area, a small group of former students at both JHS52 and GWHS. led by Abby Mandel, get together in Ft. Tryon Park every other year. I believe it is scheduled for June 19th this year. If you’re interested I can send you more specific info.
    Nice reading your comment!
    Alex

    • Marc says:

      Alex,

      I recall ‘worst in the NYC public school system’ being said by the
      Chancellor, whose name I’ve forgotten. We moved out of Inwood (to Rego Park) just after I graduated, to save my younger sister from having to attend that school. Yet, I have far more pleasant memories of 52 than bad ones–the
      rose colored glasses of youth, I guess.
      Have to pass on the reunion, though. I left the city 20 years ago. Happily
      residing in Arizona.

      I’ve read a third of the way through the blog. The immediacy of your
      account is riveting–and chilling. My own family were Jewish immigrants
      from several European nations. Though no details were passed down to me,
      I know that some of them were holocaust casualties. And my uncle, Kenneth
      Klein, died in what history calls the Battle of the Bulge (he and my mom also
      grew up in Inwood).
      I have a photo of him in his army uniform, as well as the Purple Heart, on
      my desk. A skinny kid with sad eyes. I’d have given anything to have known
      him; to have even one conversation. Still would.

      Thank you, Alex, for sharing your life with all of us.

      • AlexLevy says:

        I believe that the School Chancellor in the 1970’s was Harvey Scribner, who lasted for 3 years. Before him came someone named Nathan Brown. Actually before and after Scribner came Irving Anker, but none of that matters. They were all disasters.
        Thank you for the kind words about the blog. Who doesn’t love praise!
        Alex

  18. David Gottleib says:

    To Lloyd Steinberg,
    I was a very close friend of Scott Czeisler. We were buddies since First Grade at PS 132. We were also in the same Boy Scout troop that met at PS 189.

    I have such distinct memories of him, and I remember many of our adventures in and out of school. I was actually supposed to meet Scott the day he died. But I was late coming back from a dentist appointment, so when I was walking back home and passed Bennett Avenue, I remember hesitating, then looking at my watch, and continued up the hill, rather than make the right turn to see Scott, as I thought he wouldn’t be there any more. We were supposed to meet at the top of the rocks where he fell. (Dr. Retzker was my dentist on 181 and Wadsworth.) Scott fell from the rocks Above West 183 Street just above the entrance to the lower level subway entrance to the A Train. It was at least a six story fall from the top, where he was sitting, to the street.

    The funeral was incredibly sad and I was one of the pall bearers, all dressed up in my scout uniform, still in disbelief.

    It was a tragic accident, and my first real experience with the death of a friend. RIP Scott.

  19. Linda Villanyi and Lee Ellen Newman says:

    To David Gottlieb, we were reading your post about Scott Czeisler and everything you wrote resonated with us. After all of these years
    we still talk about what happened with him. We also knew him from p.s. 132. It is something we never really got over.
    Linda Villanyi and Lee Ellen Newman

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