THE NEFF ZONE -- BY JIM NEFF
CADILLAC NEWS -- AUGUST 31, 2019
The beginning of a new school year always requires a shift in family schedules. Getting students to the places they need to be at the proper times often requires the skills of an air traffic controller and an overabundance of parental patience. However, if you think your student/parent schedule is complicated now, just compare it to what happened in the Cadillac Area Public Schools in the mid-1970's.
What triggered this memory relates to my research for the Cadillac KISStory Project. A Cadillac High alum recently came across a file folder full of rough drafts of items to be published in 1975-76 editions of the Cadillacan, the Cadillac High newspaper. Many of those items related to the KISS visit, so I was given the folder. In addition to the KISS material, though, there were articles about numerous other subjects.
One of the most famous quotes from the KISS visit in 1975 was spoken by then Cadillac High School Principal John Laurent: “I have been trying to bring the student body together for a couple of years and KISS did that in one day.”
Looking back, most people assume Mr. Laurent was talking about bringing about cooperation among diverse segments of the student body, and that was part of it. There was another part, though. Mr. Laurent faced a situation no CHS principal before or since has had to manage – split sessions.
Many of the articles written for the Cadillacan back then dealt with split sessions. In short, due to a lack of classroom space and operational money, for a couple of years Cadillac High became what amounted to two schools. The seniors and juniors attended classes from 7:15 AM to 12:15 PM. The sophomores and freshmen went to school from 12:30 PM to 5:30 PM. Five hours straight of classes. No breaks. No lunch, just small mid-session snack served in classrooms.
Beyond the double use of high school classrooms, the logistics were “challenging” to say the least. Custodians could only work at night. Bus drivers began their days in the dark and ended in the dark and the busses were in constant use. A family could have a student on a “regular” elementary schedule, another on a high school morning schedule, and another on a high school afternoon schedule – a CASPS trifecta. Sports that required gym time could only practice before school (5:00 AM) or after school (6:00 PM). I could go on, but you can imagine how difficult it was trying to run a high school under these conditions. Mr. Laurent needed to use every organizational skill in his Marine background.
Student comments taken from Cadillacan articles depict a sad situation due to split sessions. One student wrote: “Split sessions is a rotten schedule. Our closest friends have become casual acquaintances that we pass by and say 'hi' to in the hall as we rush to class.”
A student who attended school on the afternoon shift also spoke about feeling rushed: “Getting home at 6:30 at night leaves very little, if any, daylight left to do any daylight-necessary chores. That leaves only the morning to get them done. Some of my days run something like this: Get home from school, eat, do leftover household chores, do homework, go to bed, get up, shovel snow, eat, finish homework, go to school. I cannot remember a school day when I had some free time to just kick around.”
As for sports, the solution was to drop freshmen programs. A student observed: “Freshmen sports are gone. Freshmen no longer have an identity of their own. Maybe it will take this to draw attention to all of the drawbacks of split sessions.”
When to hold assemblies and meetings was also a headache. A student council meeting in the middle of the day meant some students would miss classes. Said a council member: “Extra-curriculars are suffering and school spirit is dwindling. A positive student government cannot be attained. At a student council meeting there are just those who do not care. Everyone seems to go to school with a rush in, rush out attitude. Going five straight hours just adds to the rush.”
Now, at this point let me add one other wrinkle in this split session equation that is often overlooked. During this period (from 1972-1978) in Michigan it was legal for 18 year-olds to drink. Think about that. An 18 year-old senior in high school could close down a bar at 3:00 AM and then show up for school at 7:15 AM. Or, after five hours of classes, a student could unwind with a few cold ones at a local tavern. It was all legal. (https://study.com/academy/lesson/michigan-drinking-age-history.html)
So, when Principal John Laurent uttered his famous quote, there was more to it than meets the eye. I suspect that one reason the KISS visit helped bring the student body together was that it was just a break from the mind-numbing drudgery of split sessions. It was a chance to smile for two entire days. Thankfully, split sessions only lasted a couple of years and was relegated to the dustbin of CHS history.
Personal note: The Cadillac KISStory Project is rolling along. Keep those personal stories, remembrances, and photos coming. Every story is important. (http://www.neffcadillackiss.com/cadillackisstoryproject).