A Mentor in Junior High School?

When people think or talk about formative experiences, they are usually from high school, college, or maybe the early childhood years. For some, junior high school turns out to be the most crucial time in terms of events that define what we become.

While still in elementary school, I remember thinking about the departmental classes of junior high school. We would not have to sit in the same room and seat the entire day! This seemed very exciting to me. We would meet many more students. This expanded socialization may have been at the core of my anticipation of going to junior high school.

Growing up in Queens Village, we could and did walk to our elementary school, P.S. 33. On the way, at the corner of Winchester Boulevard and Braddock Avenue, was a candy store that sold penny candies from an old wood and glass cabinet. Even our meager allowances allowed us to buy a few of the choices, little candy dots on strips of paper, mini Tootsie Rolls, bubble gum, and various kinds of licorice. But this was the only excitement during the walk.

While I was no lover of public transportation, taking the bus to J.H.S. 109, was still a bigger world than going to elementary school. So even these bus rides were an adventure.

I would take the F train to the 5th Avenue/53rd Street station and walk to the “Main Branch” of the New York Public Library

Junior High School meant more serious school assignments and a meeting of my love of going to Manhattan coupled with emerging research skills. These challenges and doing the work opened new worlds. More advanced assignments had me using the Queens Borough and New York Public Libraries, going to museums, and being exposed to broader cultural experiences.

I can’t say I knew what a mentor was when I was 14 years old. Regardless, one of my greatest influences in those years was an outstanding English teacher named Mr. Lipman. The initial impression was not overwhelming, he was a nerdy looking guy, pressed white shirt, tie, glasses, but, very straight about how we could do well in his class. The key thing Mr. Lipman drove was a broader look at the world, and this tied in very well to my idea of what junior high school was about.

Within his discipline, Mr. Lipman liked to emphasize reading, and he knew how to incent students to do extra work. His formula was simple, for each book you read outside the regular course work, he would give you ¼ point on your final grade if you turned in a 4” x 6” card with a short book review. He insisted that the heading on the card show the complete bibliographic citation for the book, in proper “library catalog card” format.

This was not my first experience with library related formats, as I was an avid user of the Queens Borough Public Library (now Queens Library). We could take our bikes to two branches of the Queens Library, the Queens Village Branch on 217th Street, and the Glen Oaks Branch on Union Turnpike. In those days, there was still a traditional card catalog in each library. These wood cabinets held thousands of 3” x 5” cards, with the location and bibliographic information (title, author, subject terms, Dewey Decimal Number, etc) for each book in the local collection. It would be years until online card catalogs existed, which could immediately show the holdings of the entire system and beyond.

The Sound of Music opened on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre

I’ll get back to the library experience in New York, but first let’s talk about why Mr. Lipman was so special. In addition to his love of books, Lipman was passionate about theater and debate. Lipman would take his classes on school trips to Manhattan to see Broadway plays and impactful movies. This was truly incredible, so far beyond what all other school trips were about, including the typical outings to the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and many of the New York museums. Not that this was bad. My friends and I really loved the Museum of Natural History.  Definitely more than the art museums. But Broadway plays were on another level.

Mr. Lipman also took us on a bus trip to the American Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, Connecticut. The Theatre closed in 1982 due to financial issues.
The movie version of West Side Story opened at the Rivoli Theatre (Bway and 49th St)

In 1962, Mr. Lipman took us to Manhattan to see the Broadway stage production of “The Sound of Music,” and the film version of “West Side Story,” which won 10 Academy Awards in 1961. These trips included a bus ride into Manhattan and a meal in a nice NYC restaurant, usually Italian (of course), making the experience extra special. There is no doubt these early adventures increased my awareness and appreciation of broader culture. Next time we will talk about Mr. Lipman as mentor of the Debate Team. We could sure use someone like him today…

8 thoughts on “A Mentor in Junior High School?

  1. You have jogged my memory of those long ago years. I remember stopping into the candy store walking home from P.S. 33. It was a very hot June day and I asked for a glass of water. The owner told me to leave if I wasn’t buying anything. I had no money to make a purchase. I never went back because I was embarrassed and angry. I also remember taking the bus to the Shakespeare Theater at least twice. It was a theater in-the-round if I recall correctly. I loved the productions there and the ride to the “country”. I also loved going to the 42nd St. library and doing research and to the Metropolitan Museum of Art . It was a special time in our lives.

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  2. Brings back memories of hanging out at the corner candy stores in NY as well as riding the city busses to school and trips in “the city” as we always called Manhattan if we were from Queens. 🙂

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  3. George—I remember Mr. Lipman well, but by the time I was at JHS 109 in 1965-67, he wasn’t taking students to shows in the City. Guess he was fresher when you were his student!

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  4. I believe the name of the candy store was Krafts if I remember correctly. We would also pass Bob Mancz’s auto body shop on Braddock Ave. Bob was a good and lifelong friend of my father’s. There was no other place to take your car.
    On another note I do vaguely remember Mr Lipman but the only trip I remember in JHS is the trip to Stratford. I still find it a little sad that the wonders of technology have made Broadway shows so expensive now that it would be impossible to take a whole class on a trip to see a show. It cost my son a small fortune last month to take the family (8 of us) to see School Of Rock because my grandchildren’s friend was in it. It was thrilling for all of us to see him but not something we can do on a regular basis.
    One thing I remember from JHS days is that I tasted my first slice of pizza when Pat the Dairycrest man opened his pizza place right near 109.
    I am enjoying your blog George, I also love to write but have only dabbled in it up until now. Hope to be doing more of it and as you might have seen on the BPMT site am in the middle of a project now. Best of luck with the blog.

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  5. Hi George, I have a vague memory of your name.

    I remember Mr. Lippman well. He took a group of us higher achievers out for milkshakes at the Happy Robin on Hillside Ave. on Friday afternoons. He also sent sweet postcards during the summer. Sadly, a few of us said some insulting things about him one day, and it hurt him no end. I believed he cried. I also have wonderful memories of studying Shakespeare in his class– was it Julius Caesar?
    Miss Aronson was another favorite. Getting a good grade in her science class meant everything. I remember when she was hit by a bus–we all went to visit her in the hospital. I think she returned to school after that.
    And then there was Mr. Erlich, a major Jeapordy winner. The names are flooding back: Ms. Weiss, Judy Greenwald, Mr Keele.
    Oh, Bob Mancz was a very important person in our household too. BTW, the candy store that defined my experience in childhood was Michael’s, on Hillside Ave. The best egg creams!

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