P.S. 125 as an Elementary School
by Lily Jean Rombough-Froese
Public School 125 in Queens was located at 46-02 47th Avenue in Sunnyside, Queens, New York City. When I attended the school, it offered grades from kindergarten to ninth. Later on, it became exclusively a Junior High and later still, an Intermediate School.
I attended P.S. 125 in Queen’s, New York, from first to ninth grades. When I first went to the school, at the tender age of five in 1948 to register, my mother thought I would be enrolling in the kindergarten class. However, once they found out I could count and knew the alphabet and could write a little bit, they put me in first grade because the kindergarten class was already overfull. This made me one of the youngest and smallest children in the first grade. It was also the only time I ever remember going in the front door of the school on 47th Avenue as a student. Years later I came back as a visitor and climbed those front stairs for the second time.
I was put in Class 1-4 which was the “slowest” class (1-1 being the top or smartest class). I don’t know what the criteria for this placement were, but that’s where I began my career as a student. The teacher was Mrs. Frances M. Garmize (I am not sure of the spelling). She was a glamourous woman to my innocent eyes. She wore huge hats, stylish dresses, high heeled shoes, green eye shadow and often green nail polish. I thought she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen! I know my mother was a little hurt to be displaced so quickly from the center of my existence.
I can still remember what I wore the first day of school: a a green plaid dress (not wool thankfully), with black Patent leather Mary Janes and white ankle socks. I had a clean hankie pinned to my dress, as per the instructions my parents had been given at registration.
I don’t remember the names of many of my first classmates except for my two friends from my neighborhood: Joanne Wilson and Rosalie Spitz. At the time, I lived on 50th Avenue between 39th Street and 39th Place (those numbers are correct, it is a Queens thing!) I was half a block away from having to attend P.S. 80, which was a much older school building and did not have the same “reputation” as P.S. 125.
It was not long before I was in trouble at school. At home, my parents and relatives were happy to hear my thoughts on just about anything. In school I was not supposed to talk! My early report cards noted that I was frequently absent (bronchitis & pneumonia) and tended to talk too much during class.
I was entranced by all the things in the big classroom with the big high windows that required a long pole to open or close, at the top only, of course. I remember the abacus sitting on top of the tall radiator along with the globe of the world. There was a blackboard at the front of the room with the printed script alphabet above it. Along the side of the room opposite the windows were the supply cupboard, the teacher’s closet (where she stashed those big hats) and the student wardrobe with its three racks of hooks and sliding doors.
There were also a few small bookshelves and two or three easels with paper, brushes and pots of tempura paint. Two or three chosen people got to make a painted picture each day. It seemed that it was never my turn.
I must have done all right with most things. Printing was not my forte, since I had trouble keeping it neat enough to suit Mrs. Garmize. Reading was another matter. I got very bored listening to the other children trying to “sound out” the words as requested. I wondered why they just didn’t read them as I was already doing. I came to realize that I had been advanced to grade one because my mother had already taught me to read long before I entered P.S. 125. I remember that I got in trouble when the teacher found I was looking at the pages near the end of the reader (Dick and Jane, Baby Sally, Spot the dog, and Puff the cat doing something). I tried to tell her that I just wanted to see how the book ended, but she was not open to my excuses for not being where she told us to be!
I advanced up the class status ladder to Class 2-3 in second grade and 3-3 for third grade. My teachers for these classes were: Miss Goldberg (who became Mrs. Klein the second half of the year) and Mrs. Ferber and Mrs. Archambault for grade three.
In grade four, I made it to Class 4-2 with Miss Wallace as the teacher. I remember that she was older (i.e. had grey hair) and had a sister who worked in the Main Office. Her classroom was right beside the Main Office, which I remember as being in the middle of the school, second floor, with windows looking out to 47th Avenue. Miss Wallace was a stickler for learning times tables and making sure we mastered long division. She too liked the written work to be “neat” (always my Waterloo). I think we had to start learning cursive writing in this class.
In grade five, I finally made 5-1, with Mrs. Ida Kerekeyes as the teacher. Her sister, a Miss Hill, also worked in the school office. Grade five, we first started to be allowed to write IN INK! This did not mean in ball point pens (which had been invented by then). Oh, no! This meant the wet blue stuff in the glass inkwells that were placed in the brass ringed and lidded compartments on each pupil’s desk. Our first writing implements were red plastic (I think) straight pens. These had to be dipped just so into the ink to get enough but not too much ink or a huge blot would ensue.
In order to earn the “privilege” of writing in ink, students had to first demonstrate penmanship good enough to satisfy Mrs. Kerekeyes’ exacting standards. I recall being among the very last in the class to be allowed to write in ink. I made up for this by writing reams of things at home using ball point pens.
I also remember that Mrs. Kerekeyes was left handed, which was unusual for a teacher in those days. I think she also told us that she was of Native American extraction. We thought that was very cool!
In sixth grade, my home room teacher was Miss Libby Birnbaum. One of the few teachers whose name I am sure how to spell correctly. She was young and pretty and a new teacher to the school. The other Grade Six teachers had all been there for a VERY LONG TIME. They were: Miss Burns, Miss Kelly and Miss Stoltz. For grade six we were assigned a home room for some subjects (history, geography, art, PT) and went to designated rooms for reading and math. I had Miss Burns for reading and Miss Kelly for math. Miss Burns taught the top group in reading. Miss Stoltz had the top group for math. I started out with Miss Stoltz but was demoted to Miss Kelly’s group after the first report in the fall.
The thing I most remember about that year was learning how to convert fractions to decimals and per cents. Little did I know that I would spend many years teaching remedial math to adult learners dealing with those very same things. Good thing Miss Kelly was such a good math teacher!
One thing I can never forget was the terror I felt when the air raid siren sounded. These were the Korean War days and the nuclear bomb was already a reality. We were told to: (1) get down under the desk (2) face away from the windows (3) cover your eyes and the back of your neck (Why? What good would that have done?) (4) stay calm and quiet!
For a while all of us had to wear “dog tags” with our name, address and parent’s name on it. I worried because we did not yet have a telephone, so mine had no phone number on it. Would my parents be able to find me in the event that the air raid was real? Kids worry about things like that. To this day, the sound of one of those old air raid sirens makes my blood run cold. (For a while after I was married we lived in a small town that called in its volunteer fire department with one of those sirens. I never got used to the sound of it).
As I mentioned before, we were not allowed to use that front main entrance with the big pillars and the “Public School 125” engraved in stone above them. Along 47th Avenue, there was a small garden surrounded by very high black iron fences. In the spring, I remember forsythia blooming in those gardens. No children were ever allowed in or near those bushes!
The school was a U shape, with the auditorium at one end of the U and the cafeteria balancing that on the other side. Strung between was the main block of the school. We lined up in the yard at the back formed by the U. Beyond that was a larger, fenced off school yard where only “the big Junior Highs” were allowed to play. We smaller children took our lives in our hands crossing through that big yard to get to the candy store or fish and chip shop on 46th Street. There was always a convenient hole in the chain link fence at the back of the big school yard. The hole would be repaired every once in a while, but somehow it was always soon opened up again. After a while, the powers that be in the school just left the hole in the fence (you had to jump over the lower bar of the fence to go in or out of the yard at that point).
In the schoolyard, we girls played with pink rubber balls or jump ropes. Each of these was accompanied by rhymes or chants that were passed down from one generation of girls to the next.
“Grace, grace dressed in lace, went upstairs to powder her face”
Ball bouncing with clapping and leg turnovers included:
“One, two, three, a –leary (turn one leg over while bouncing ball)
Four, five, six, a –leary
Seven, eight, nine, a –leary
Ten a-leary, Postman” (double jump the ball)
(Note: I have no idea what or who an “a-leary” is)
Do you remember other rhymes?
At this point in our lives, boys were mainly a nuisance to us. They played their own games of handball and tag. There were strictly designated areas staked out by the boys and girls knew better than to try to horn in and play in the areas claimed by the boys.
There was a real cafeteria that always smelled over boiled vegetable soup. There were not enough refrigerators to keep all the small cartons of milk cold, so they just stacked them up. In some grades they brought the milk containers (half a pint) to the classrooms and left them until lunch time. The milk was never cold and often lukewarm. ECCK! I dislike milk to this day.
I don’t remember eating too many meals cooked in that cafeteria. I brought my lunch from home. I don’t think I missed much. In the upper grades we liked to trade around. I remember preferring the kosher sandwiches some of my friends brought, since these had no butter or margarine on them. They, of course, preferred my ham sandwiches with lots of butter. Kids! Good thing our parents didn’t know, or if they did, they didn’t say anything. I still take my sandwiches with no butter on them.
The auditorium was a cavernous room with big high windows with dark red drapes seemed huge to me. It had a stage, also with dark red curtains that could be opened our closed by ropes “off stage.” The logo, P.S. 125, was in gold on the center top panel of the curtain.
In the elementary school years, we had “assembly” twice a week: Tuesdays and Fridays. Students were asked to wear white blouses or white shirts on those days. In a couple of the years, we girls wore while “middy” blouses with long red ties. The boys wore red ties with their white shirts. Students supplied their own clothing, so there was quite a mix, as I recall, but overall it looked uniform.
To the left of the stage, was a small raised platform on which sat a grand piano. I remember a Miss Trainor leading the singing while various other teachers played the piano ( Mrs. Ferber?). This was my all-time favorite part of school. I loved to sing. Patriotic songs, seasonal songs, hymns of various faiths. I loved them all and can still remember many of them. We also had “school songs” that used improvised words to other songs:
“Give a cheer; give a cheer, for the guys who drink the beer in the cellars of 125. They are brave; they are bold for the liquor they can hold….” (This to an old army tune)
An odd memory of detail: All the door knobs in the building were brass and sort of oval shaped with “Board of Education City of New York” on them. Teachers carried rings of keys like castle chatelaines. I would love to know what happened to all those door knobs.