On the Tuesday after Labor Day when I was 5 years old, I was scared to death.
In 1959, my Mother passed away and my Dad loaded up my four brothers and me and moved back to Tulsa from Huntington, West Virginia.
We moved in with my grandparents (my Dad’s folks) in a neighborhood near McClure Park and just one block away from Tulsa Bible Church.
At that time, I was 5 and my brothers were 7, 9, 11 and 13. I was headed to kindergarten at Burbank Elementary and I was not a happy camper.
My Dad dropped us off at Burbank and Bell Junior High that first day. Those two schools were on the same campus.
These days, Bell is Bell Elementary School and Burbank is just an annex. That wouldn’t have worked back in the 1960s because those neighborhoods were overflowing with young children – mostly baby boomers. In fact, both Burbank and Bell had to use pre-fabricated classrooms to handle the influx of children.
I somehow got lost that first day before school started and I remember sitting on the steps in near tears. A geography teacher, Mrs. Cahill, found me, comforted me and led me to where I was supposed to be.
From that day on, I fell in love with school.
I had perfect attendance in kindergarten, something I have never achieved since. Back then, school started on the Tuesday after Labor Day and ended on the Friday before Memorial Day.
I was sick only once that year and that was during the two-week break for Christmas. I was not feeling well a couple of times and I had to beg my sainted Grandmother to let me go to school when I wasn’t at my best.
In my kindergarten class, there was at least one girl from Cuba. Life in Cuba was terrible back then (it still is in my view) and her family had fled to a better life in America. They came here legally and they were determined to blend into their newfound home and culture.
Her name was Rosa and she was a sweet girl. When she first came, she spoke no English – only Spanish – but she quickly learned English. I think her parents learned English quickly too but I am not sure her grandparents ever mastered their new language.
I spent seven wonderful years at Burbank Elementary. My Grandfather died in 1962 and Grandmother passed away in 1963. Most of my teachers knew that I was growing up in a household of wild young boys and they were very kind to me (and so were many families at Tulsa Bible Church, where our family attended and were members).
Several of those teachers encouraged me to read books and I did. Back then, there were only four TV stations – ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS – and it was easy to get bored. I believe the encouragement to read books was a major reason why I chose journalism as a profession.
Most of the elementary teachers I had at Burbank Elementary were women. The principal was Mr. Robinson, a stern-looking disciplinarian who was actually kind hearted and genuinely concerned for the welfare and education of his many students.
Every day, we started classes with the Pledge of Allegiance and the Lord’s Prayer. If there were students from atheist families or Jewish students, they didn’t complain. They just didn’t participate in the prayer.
I am convinced that many of those Burbank teachers were Bible-believing Christians.
Even though I came from a poor family – my Dad was a barber who didn’t make much money back then – I had fellow students who were worse off than my family. And some came from homes where the father was abusive or alcoholic or absent. The teachers and administrators at Burbank did their best to help students in whatever ways they could (and I am sure that is true at many schools still today).
The primary responsibility to raise children rests with the parents. That is complicated if there is only one parent. The school and the church should be there to supplement but not replace the parental role. As a parent, my chief role is to prepare my children to be independent and ready to face the challenges of life.
A school should teach children information and reinforce morality and responsibility. The church should teach children the Bible and help them in their relationship with Jesus Christ.
This is what I got from Burbank Elementary and Tulsa Bible Church when I was a young lad in need of guidance. God knows what we need and is faithful to supply those needs at the right time. I am convinced of that.
I am concerned that our secular culture has handcuffed Christian teachers in public schools from helping needy students in terms of spiritual help. And frankly, a lot of churches have resorted to babysitting children and young people rather than instructing them in the Word of God.