Sunnyside Schooling: JHS 125
By Alexander Liebowitz
Junior High School 125 had a rather different tone. Since Jon and I were in one of the two SP (Special Progress) classes in our grade, the other kids in our class were much like us, but others in the school were what we considered tough kids, who delighted in bullying us. So the atmosphere was much less congenial than it had been in 150. But for a long time afterwards I felt that being in a not always friendly environment had made me less of the wimpy kid I might have been otherwise. (As an aside, I’m not sure that taking three years in two, as the SP classes did, was such a great idea in theory, as we wound up a year younger than our classmates in high school and college. But since many kids find junior high school difficult, maybe it’s better to get it out of the way as quickly as possible.)
The teachers were also a different crew from those in 150. Mrs. O’Connor, our 7th grade homeroom teacher and Miss Crowley, who taught us English and math, were Irish ladies (and I use that word advisedly) of the old school, who brooked no nonsense and taught in the traditional way. But they were very good teachers and I always felt that if I grew up with a good knowledge of English grammar it was thanks to Mrs. O’Connor. I took away the belief that fights over methods of teaching are largely misguided; what is important is dedicated teachers, who care about the students, not whether they follow one method or another.
I always felt, however, that the most valuable course I took in junior high school was typing. I may never have achieved professional competence, but through a life devoted to producing written products, I never had to draft papers using the hunt and peck method. What I’m writing now, I’m doing with touch typing thanks to JHS 125.
Our teachers were not all of the highest caliber, however. I remember two science teachers who were absolutely awful – one, who taught us in the 7th grade had the frequent practice of showing movies, during which time he left the room to do god only knows what. The other, Mr. Rinaldi, was our homeroom teacher and also the music teacher. Music was clearly his first love, so often when we were supposed to be learning science, we were preparing some piece of choral music. Since my vocal abilities left something to be desired, I was declared a “non-singer” and told to sit in the front row and listen – not a very productive activity.
And then there was the principal, Mr. Dooley, an image from the age of the horse and buggy with his waxed moustaches that even in the mid-1950’s seemed like something from the turn of the (20th) century. Our major connection with him was during assembly, when he would read a passage from the Bible, mostly if not exclusively the 23th Psalm. So, despite everything, if I remember “The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want…” it’s thanks to Mr. Dooley.
From 125 I went on to Stuyvesant on 15th Street in Manhattan. It seemed like a big leap into the wider world with boys (only boys at the time) from all over the city. I considered our little world of Sunnyside, Queens, very insular at the time. But looking back I have mostly very fond memories of an idyllic childhood.
After graduation from Columbia University, and Cornell and Princeton for grad school in history, Alex taught briefly in Ohio. His 45 year work career was in the Foreign Service, where he concentrated on arms control and nuclear non-proliferation. His wife Denise and he have lived in Belgium, and in India, where son David was born. They now reside in Washington, D.C.