When I stumbled upon Atlas Obscura‘s posting about a dilapidated school in Harlem along with the a decomposing auditorium, the assembly of yester-year washed upon me.
We sat in rows as the familiar voice of Mr.Silverstone- (elementary principal with a receding hairline) who often donned Bill Cosby-esque sweater inspired ties, announced an impromptu Assembly ! Oftentimes, we had school-wide assemblies scheduled monthly or so, but the surprise ones were the best. We squealed with delight as the class lined up by the door for our teacher to lead us down to our World War II era auditorium. Our school building was completed in the mid 1940s by an initiative of the WPA.
When you are in 6th grade, an Assembly gives you a break from classroom mundanity of looking at the white chalk on blackboard landscape- no SmartBoards or even Whiteboards in 1995 NYC Public Schools. No collaborating in small groups, no co-teaching, minimal group work, no Macbooks and smartphones ( like my middle schooler have today) Sigh.
My friends and I leveraged our gossiping time since the entire school was in one space. We commented on the cleavage revealing blouse of choice our big-breasted Social Studies teacher decided to wear, tracked the 8th grade Science teacher as he attempted to flirt with my quirky 6th grade Language Arts teacher- Ms. Sweet. Best of all- we could spy on the boys we had crushes on from the older grades, that we otherwise did not see much. “Did you see Michael after school the other day, he was smoking a cigarette and hanging out with high schoolers!” / ” I heard he started going out with blonde Anna!”
We did not have to many school clubs but the privilege of being part of the Assembly team was a high honor.
Prologue: the Assembly begins with a petite white/black and red clad cohort carrying an oversized American flag down the aisle of the wooden amber toned auditorium. It took 3 kids to hold the flag, still it was a bit wobbly upon the descent toward the stage. The New York State flag followed behind. I would wear a red lapel that Mom and I picked up at Berta’s on Brighton Beach Avenue (now a Citibank). As we filed in, stage left, the National Anthem began and the entire school was prompted to rise and sing in unison. Reflecting now- it seems like an odd ritual- these days most schools have dropped this Cold War era tradition. My mother- growing up in the 1950s USSR had strikingly similar rituals and garb to me in 1990s NYC- strange.