Special Collections Oral History Program
James & Patricia O'Brien
Campus School parents, 1955-1967
Interviewer: Tamara Belts
Date of Interview: July 27, 2005
Location of Interview: Interviewees' home, Bellingham, Wash.
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TB: One portion of our Campus School questionnaire (youíre actually the first ones to be tested out on the parent question) -- is to get parentsí perceptions. Iím here with the OíBrienís (James (JO) and Patricia (PO))and weíre going to try doing a joint interview to gather their comments about their childrenís experience and/or the parentsí view of the Campus School. So, our first question is: how or why did you decide to have your children go to the Campus School?
JO: Well, it was convenient, for one thing. We lived very close. They could walk there in ten minutes. I was teaching at Western (I donít know if I walked up with them all the time), and I think at that point most of the faculty had children who were using the Campus School unless they lived farther away.
PO: I think we both had respect for the teachers at the Campus School and for what their projects were that they were doing and it was really a very enriched kind of program that would be possible for our children. And since I was also a teacher, I was trying to be sure I wasnít harming them or harming the program by being involved. So, I think Jimís comments as the parent are probably more apropos for that point.
TB: OK, how many of your children attended Campus School?
JO: All three.
TB: All three. And what were the years/grades that your children attended?
JO: Letís see, Bill wentÖ
PO: Kindergarten through five. By the time of the fifth-grade, that was the last year for the Campus School. So, Maura went Kindergarten through four and Kathleen, Kindergarten through two.
TB: Those were the Sixties, then? Correct?
JO: Yes. And also it was very close. It was the closest school. They could walk there in fifteen minutes.
PO: For us it was geographically as close as Lowell -- closer.
TB: And then you also, Mrs. OíBrien, taught at the Campus School.
TB: You were teaching during that whole period that your children were also in school there?
PO: Not the whole period. I taught for a few years, because I was doing some part time work there.
TB: O.K. So, where did your family live when the children attended the Campus School?
JO: Our residence during Campus School years was 154 South Garden Street from 1955 to 1965; 200 North Forest Street from 1965 to close of Campus School and to 2002.
TB: So they were able to walk to and from school.
JO: Yes. Even from Kindergarten. That was very handy; it was convenient from that standpoint.
TB: Did they serve lunch at the school or did you have to prepare a sack lunch?
PO: They no longer had the lunchroom so they had to take their own lunches.
TB: So at some point in time there had been a lunchroom?
PO: Yes, because at one time they included sixth-grade. One time they had eighth-grade and they were using part of the Old Main.
TB: Who do you think were their favorite and most influential teachers and why?
PO: I think Synva K. Nicol and Katherine Casanova. I asked my daughter, who was a fourth-grader at the time and she also mentioned, Mrs. Limbacker, who was only there for one year, but she thought she was one of the nicest ones sheíd had. I think Ted Mork was one of the most influential with both Bill and Maura for reading. And there was Mike Murphy who was there.
TB: So Ted Mork both taught at Western and taught in the Campus School? Or he taught at the Campus School and then later ended up teaching at Western?
PO: I donít know which way that went, but he was faculty and he was at Western. And those are full time positions, whereas my physical education or art or music was part time. And those specialists came in for just small portions.
TB: So at Campus School he mainly taught reading to the students?
PO: I think he was a fourth-grade teacher; which meant a core program and he did a fine job throughout the core.
TB: As parents what did you like about the curriculum or think was most beneficial for your child?
JO: I think the reading, they learned to read and keep books.
PO: They had supplementary French. I was personally delighted that they had a good physical education program from Kindergarten through sixth and fifth-grades. I think that that was a big help. They had good field trips. They safely conducted a lot of varieties of programs with the different types of student teachers there, so you didnít suffer problems with student teachers that you can sometimes have. Though they were a guinea pig group and did demonstrations, I think it was augmenting their programs.
TB: Do you think your children were ever confused about who their teacher was or who the student teachers were? To a child I think everybody seems like the teacher. Do you think that they always knew for sure who their real teacher was?
PO: I think that more or less they knew that each quarter there would be new group of student teachers, and they accepted them. The room teacher made sure that they felt comfortable with that status.
JO: I think they became used to change from the beginning. Thatís the way things come, different people come and you have them for a while then somebody else comes.
PO: I think that an interesting is that when my son married, his wife-to-be asked, whoís this woman in California? And he said, ďSheís my first-grade teacher.Ē She was startled that Bill would send his first-grade teacher, Katherine Casanova, a wedding invitation.
TB: Wow. So they definitely stayed close all that time.
JO: Oh, yes. And we knew her well.
PO: I had been a single teacher and I knew these other single teachers. So as we had family, often weíd come to a holiday and Iíd think, ďThose ladies wonít be having any special place for Easter dinnerĒ or whatever and Iíd say, ďWould you like to come to a picnic?Ē or ďWould you come to this or go on these trips, go to the Stommish?Ē It would be a nice outing for them and they got along very well, but kept their position nicely, and the kids liked them.
TB: Iíve heard a lot of good things about her (Katherine Casanova). What types of special programs, if any, were the parents invited to attend?
PO: Well, you (James OíBrien) were pretty good at coming to a lot of these, but I think they certainly enjoyed coming to the early morning Christmas sings with Evelyn Hinds, having the children sit on the floor and do Christmas songs from various countries. By the way, Evelyn Hinds (Wellman) the music specialist, was another one of their favorites. They had different field trips. There was a time when they were doing some construction on the campus and they put up big boards, so the people could walk safely past some of the construction. Gene Vike was the art coordinator at that time so he had them all decorating all these boards. It was a wonderful special program and I think the kids responded very well.
TB: Heís another person then, if he was involved in Campus School ended up also being, on the Western faculty.
PO: Well, he was on the Western faculty first. Gene Vike had a wife, Marglen, who taught second-grade; [she] was the one who did some teaching at the Campus School.
TB: Do you remember what sort of corrective behavior they might have used with misbehaving students? Or what the discipline was like at all?
PO: As far as I saw, it was time outs; that type of thing.
TB: Sat in the corner or something?
PO: Oh, I think they had a place to go away from the rest of the crowd. I think we tried (Iím thinking as faculty), to prevent those kinds of things. You were trying to be ahead of it. So that, if I knew in my little PE program that somebody was having major troubles in tumbling rather than make him feel foolish, I would take this Kindergartner or second grader in and have him work on that forward roll in the silence of the empty room, with no crowd. And he thanked me for it later. Some other people were called in for different behavioral problems, but I didnít get too many of those or hear much about it.
TB: Were there parent volunteers in the classroom or was there a PTA or any kind of other organization for the parents?
JO: I donít think so.
PO: I think they would ask for the parent involvement when they thought it was appropriate. Then theyíd come with cookies or whatever that was involved. But no, there was no special room program like that. Cupcakes for all were permitted for birthdays.
TB: What were some of the differences that you perceived in the Campus School from the public schools?
PO: I thought some more variety. Later on in the public schools I was glad when they moved into some foreign language options too before school. That was part of what the Campus School had available. I think that one of the drawbacks was that they missed out on some of the all-city type competitions or groups of things, but those are so broad based that if you wanted to be concerned about that aspect, you could make sure they got into something musical or athletic or recreation or something.
JO: Well, they wouldnít have athletic programs would theyÖ from Kindergarten through sixth, theyíre pretty much contained in the school room, arenít they?
TB: Thatís true. I did interview someone that had went when the school was Kindergarten through eighth-grade, and they did participate, apparently, in some athletics, but they got beaten badly because itís such a small pool of people. Letís see, any thoughts about what the transition was like then for your children when they began to attend public school? Was it easy or hard?
PO: That was the year the public school levy failed. And that was just when these children had moved on. I could speak to that because as a sixth-grader, Bill moved right to the middle school and now he was suddenly going to meet new people anyway. And that proved not to be that much drawback. Heíd already known some of these people through church or through Boy Scouts or something. Maura was a fifth grader in Mr. OíNeilís class, I believe, at Lowell School. Our second grader moved into a third-grade with a man that was suddenly facing forty children, he had no aides, no extra help. (And Lowell School is one of the better schools here). He actually had a nervous breakdown by the end of the year, it meant that even though they got him as many student teachers, whatever help they could, it was just too much. She continued to be a good reader. She went on into science and math. I donít think she suffered. But it was the hardest on her of any because of the problems that the school district was facing at that moment with that particular funding cut.
TB: Now, what about the report cards that students got. I understood they were not alphabet, A, B.
TB: Did you find that satisfactory as parents?
PO: You answer that question.
JO: I donít remember.
PO: Well, you saw them.
JO: Yes, but they did pretty well, so it wasnít anything we got troubled about.
PO: It didnít bother me. I didnít know whether it bothered some of you academics more. You wanted it to be 100%, 90%, A, B, C, D. And I didnít care. I thought we were trying to show level of achievement.
TB: And did the children have any problem when they went to public school then and got letter grades? Did that bother them?
JO: Not that we know of.
PO: I think we were able to cushion that transition all right. We said, ďYou should be able to get Aís, but if youíre not getting up to that (because we expect a lot of you), do your best,Ē and they did. They came through; they were on honor rolls and so on. I donít think they felt the pressure from home nor from the grades themselves.
TB: Overall, what do you perceive as the strength of the campus school and then Iím going to ask, overall what did you feel the weaknesses were, if any?
PO: I think you should speak to that.
JO: Yeah, but Iím not a clear mind.
TB: Itís been a long time, Iím sure, since your kids were in Campus School.
JO: No, I think the teachers were able to help the individuals enough, but it was hard to remember how much they improved because you see them every day.
PO: I thought, roughly, they had good quality teachers. I had seen it over the years. I saw only a couple of people that I thought could well be replaced. But essentially, I thought they had really quality teachers. And those teachers compared with any of the quality teachers I knew throughout the other fields. I think one of the big drawbacks was they became more elitist.
JB: Campus School brats.
PO: This worried the faculty themselves. Because when I first taught there in 1951-53, they were trying to have sort of a broad social cross section. We had a little more of a variety of types of students from high income, low income, different academic backgrounds and so on. As we grew, faculty sometimes had first options to get on the waiting list to get in and we got more and more faculty children. That, as I say, it became elitist. That was to me one of the big drawbacks that it wasnít representative of the community. I think I liked specialized education; go as far as you can, but I think you do need to have a broader view of community.
TB: Iím just curious, was there a fee? Did you have to pay any fees?
PO: No. The kid just had to be on the waiting list and usually when the child was born you got on the waiting list.
TB: And thatís really true.
PO: Thatís really true.
TB: Iíve heard that story. So as soon as the kid was born you went and got them on the list at Campus School.
TB: As soon as you had a name.
PO: I did think they gave preference to people that were siblings, so that if one of them was on the list, why then the next child could get on. I think that some of the people that came later on the faculty and wanted to get kids in the Campus School and couldnít, were a little disillusioned. They thought it was really a little unfair. I could understand where they were coming from. I didnít have a good answer. It was getting more and more compressed, they couldnít expand it. They were needing to reach out into the community, which they later did, even in student teaching. Early student teaching saw everybody at one teaching school, the Campus School. Everybody did at least three observations during the fall quarter or whatever. But now this became less possible.
TB: Am I correct, there was only one class each of every grade, right?
TB: So itís actually (I suddenly realize), a small number of students that would go through.
PO: Twenty-four, I think, that was the limit.
JO: Yes, so that wouldnít take much of a neighborhood. Most of them lived close, although that wasnít required was it?
PO: No, not at all.
TB: Well, any favorite memories of your childrenís Campus School days?
JO: I canít think of any now. We talked a lot about what they did each day.
PO: I think it was sort of a family type atmosphere. That Christmas caroling before classes began, because some of the dads would walk their kids up and theyíd come over and sit on the floor beside them to sing the Christmas carols with Evelyn Hinds. That was sort of fun.
TB: Yes. Well, can you think of some other questions that I havenít asked you that would help us gather this story of the Campus School experience?
JO: I donít know. It would be hard to get the stories, I guess, of people who didnít like it and then took their children out.
TB: We might find one of those, though.
JO: Oh, yes.
PO: I know one mother who had one child go through the Campus School; and by the time the third rascal showed up, and was a little out of hand, they were asked to have him go to public school. She could give a little different viewpoint if you wanted.
TB: Right. It sounds like these kids probably were pretty well behaved and if not, then they probably didnít stay at the Campus School. It wouldnít be like the public schools, they really have to keep all students.
JO: Yes, they did have some say.
PO: No, we didnít have disruptive behaviors. I feel for the teachers teaching nowadays, thereís some real crises.
JO: But it was a select group, I think. Itís hard to avoid, they didnít take all of the people who could walk easily to the Campus School.
PO: I could suggest the name David Maness, who was one of the organizers of the fifth-grade graduates, when their going to have a Campus School reunion. When the last reunion developed, he made sure that group of fifth-grade people got a hold of their friends, and that was a very fine reunion, over at Miller Hall. And he has quite a lot of material and is willing to share it.
TB: And he lives in Bellingham still?
PO: No, he lives in Mukilteo, works at Boeing. I have an e-mail address I could get you.
TB: O.K. Yes, Iím sure weíll want to talk to him. Thatís all my questions, unless you have something else to say about that.
JO: No, I think they enjoyed it.
PO: I think they had positive experiences and Iíd be glad to share more of the specifics about teaching there, because Iíve got some of the background, another time.
TB: Excellent, O.K. Well, thank you very much.
JO: It was kind of a sad time when they closed it, you know, but I guess it was a necessity.
TB: Iíve heard that space was needed because campus was growing and everything else. O.K, well, thank you.