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Photo: Peak Johnson

Peak Johnson / The Notebook

My Douglass experience

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

I have not attended Frederick Douglass Elementary, now known as Young Scholars Frederick Douglass Charter School, since I was promoted to the 6th grade in 2000 . At that time the school only went from pre-kindergarten to the 5th grade.

A lot has changed. There is a strict uniform policy now, something that was put into effect not too long after I left. The school color at that time was navy blue; it has recently changed to burgundy to coincide with the new imaging of the school.

Some of the kids who live in my neighborhood now attend Douglass, as did most of their parents before them. I am not entirely sure how Douglass was for their parents except that the principal back then, Mr. Kane, was also principal at the time of my enrollment. He was a tall, gentle man, always smiling when he saw his students, and always making sure we were keeping up with our studies.

As I watch many of Douglass’ students make their way to the school each morning, I often reflect on memories of myself at their age and what I was being taught, how I took it for granted, and I wonder just how Douglass is doing after all of these years.

Sometimes when walking past the schoolyard I remember my days of playing football during recess – and actually winning a few games. It was a time we would always look forward to because we were able to interact with each other and the other grades. We didn’t always get to see the other grades, but we looked up to them. They were the cool kids. There were also times that our teachers would join in the fun, and for a time we were all kids having a great time.

One of the most important parts of my time at Douglass was connecting with my teachers, which I tried to do in each grade. It was easy and it was something worth looking forward to as I moved up each grade level. To me, my teachers were my friends and they were there to help me, never say anything to hurt me, but always be there when I needed them.

I remember fondly the many days of having lunch with my 4th grade teacher, Ms. Funderburg. Having lunch with her was usually just eating lunch in the classroom and talking to her about anything and everything. I felt that she was one person besides my mom who I could talk to if something was bothering me. It was she who stayed with me long hours after school to tutor me in math and who also helped me deal with the passing of my pet cat, Star.

Another teacher, Mrs. Powell, who has since passed, showed her students that receiving a paycheck wasn’t the most important part of her job because she never even mentioned it. She always showed concern for her students. What I most remember about her is the smile that she came to class with each and every day, and her constant theme of nonviolence. She believed in this to the fullest.

My 5th grade teacher, Mr. Mozzachio, was the second male teacher I had before leaving Douglass. The other was my pre-kindergarten teacher. Mr. Mozzachio was a great teacher as well and always looked out for his students and was always accessible to parents if questions needed to be answered on how their child was performing in class. He no longer teaches at Douglass but resides and teaches in Hawaii.

Not every teacher at Douglass was adept at their job. There was one teacher who simply taught us about computers by allowing us to play games all day. He gave F’s to a majority of us, but could not give a clear explanation as to why. Many parents were obviously not pleased with this, including my own, and he would receive constant visits from them. He was not employed at Douglass for long.

I do miss my days at Douglass and I wish I could go back to those days, or simply just stop by and visit. At one point I attempted this with my cousin, but we were turned away because we did not have an appointment with anyone, nor did we know anyone who taught there. Most of our teachers had long since gone and maybe for good reason.

When graduating from Frederick Douglass, I was actually sad; it was there that I formed a lot of friendships, both with teachers and students. I believed, at the time, that it was the best school ever to exist and while in middle school so desperately wanted to return to it. Over the years the school has changed, and I have often heard parents and students disapproving of it. I wonder, now that Douglass has become a Renaissance School, if it will become again the Douglass I once knew.