From the title, you might think I’m talking about skills or ability derived from having done something before. I’m speaking more about what Webster describes as “the conscious events that make up an individual life.” Today, one of the latter was brought forward for me.
My elementary school burned down last night.
A few of you might be saying, “OK, sad, get over it.”
Certainly I will. We all do eventually “get over it.” But until that point in time, it’s such events that remind us that these individual “experiences” that make up our lives are indeed part of the “experience” we bring to the table when it comes to our skills and abilities.
Because at James Monroe Elementary School in Edison, New Jersey, I learned a lot more than how to read and write. (Unfortunately, Mrs Torre is somewhere looking down and cringing for the sentence fragment. Sorry Mrs T!)
I’ve been writing a novel (started out as a series of short stories that hopefully, someday, I will be happy enough with to share) about growing up on the “edge” of the Heights of Edison. Modern suburban neighborhoods joined by a common bond: our elementary school.
Built in the early ‘60s, James Monroe was nestled in the “woods”, with a slope about 30 feet deep surrounding the back. (That hill made for some awesome sleigh riding!) The building had a cement staircase three flights deep leading to the back door of the building. Living just a block away from the back of the school, that was the route we’d take each day for seven years.
There were no metal detectors back then. No locked doors. You could go home for lunch and come back (yes, we did come back!). Teachers were nice and caring (even Mrs. E. Clory). Everyone knew everyone. Even the janitors (as they were called them back then) were friendly and watched out for you. And it felt safe.
The cement staircase was my favorite place for years. Much of the stories I’ve retained are based on conversations held hanging out on the stairs. It was always the spot to meet up. It was where we lingered after school let out. It was where I experienced my first kiss. Years later, we’d still just go sit there with friends and talk (and yes, have a cigarette).
You don’t really recall “exactly” what you were taught in elementary school because it’s the basis of what you do everyday. The reading. The writing. The math (even the ambiguous “new math”). It’s where you develop your social skills and make your first friends. It’s where you start as a blank slate; and when you start to “come of age” – and things get both more exciting and scary at the same time. Unlike education later in life, elementary school is more “experiential”.
Elementary schools are why people move into neighborhoods. The positive experiences that people share from their time there is what builds strong neighborhoods and drives home values.
Today I took a ride over to my old neighborhood. I drove past my old home on Yuro Drive, then around the corner to the back entrance and the famous cement staircase (which has since been cordoned off for safety reasons and replaced by a pathway down the hill). I met up with a woman who shared that she lived in the neighborhood and was friends with some of the teachers; she was taking photos through the trees like me to share the bad news with them. People walked over, looked, shook their heads sadly and walked away.
I took a ride through the Heights and around to the front of the school. There many others like me stood looking from behind the caution tape. All were eager to share their name, their kind memories, and their sadness.
“My kids went here,” one older man told me, driving up from his new home in Monroe.
Another mother and daughter stood by and wondered where she’d be going to school on Monday.
Another couple came by on their way to church. Their grown children went here.
And countless posts on Facebook from so many that I grew up with sharing their sadness for the “loss of so many memories.”
While I can’t really say there is good news in all of this, I can say the positive side is that we do have the memories of our experience at James Monroe.
I feel for those that won’t be able to return to the building that once was. I also feel for those who didn’t have such a positive experience as I did in my early school years. And I applaud those that made James Monroe Elementary School a fond and lasting experience for so many of us. While a building cannot be rebuilt to what it once was, we can learn from the “experience” of those who created lasting “experiences” for many generations.
If you’re reading this and saying, “What the hell does this have to do with marketing?”, then read it again.
Experience has EVERYTHING to do with marketing.