Noe Valley Voice May 2007

James Lick School Celebrates 75th with Santana

By Kate Volkman

Were you a Skipper, Pirate, or Bulldog? Your alma mater, James Lick Middle School, turns 75 this year. And you're invited back for a multi-event celebration, also open to the general public, which will take place Saturday, May 12, on the school grounds at 1220 Noe Street.

You'll be joined by one of the school's claims to fame, alumnus and legendary musician Carlos Santana, who will lend his name to a peace garden that will be dedicated that afternoon. Plus, you've got a good chance of running into fellow alumni Noe Valley butchers Isaac and Josh Epple, of the Drewes Brothers shop on Church Street. There have been no reports that alumnus (and TV star) Benjamin Bratt will be present, however.

"We could have chosen to do something small," says 75th anniversary committee parent Chris Loughran, "but we chose to do something grand."

Something grand is a daylong party, starting at 11 a.m. with a carnival in the lower yard. (Parking will be available in the upper yard.) The opening ceremony for the Santana Peace Garden will kick off at 1 p.m., and will be followed by student performances at 2:00 and an alumni slide show and presentation at 2:45.

The carnival will consist of game booths and a bouncy house, sponsored by Beyond the Bell, James Lick's after-school program. It will raise funds for an end-of-the-year trip to Great America. Food booths offering barbecue, tamales, salads, and other snacks will be manned by parents and students from the PTSA.

The Santana Peace Garden will celebrate the school's values of peace, diversity, creativity, equality, truth, and knowledge. Starting with this year's graduating class, each eighth grade will create a mosaic art wall illustrating these themes. Local artist Paul Lanier, who helped design a similar mosaic mural at Alvarado School in 2000, is the lead artist working with this year's class.

"Many of the students in our school come from neighborhoods where violence is commonplace," says Principal Carmelo Sgarlato. "The goal of the garden is to be a place where students or anyone can reflect on the qualities that sustain peace."

Situated in front of the school's entrance, the garden will welcome students, staff, and visitors. It was designed and planned by James Lick parents, including landscape architect Jim Stickley. A commemorative sidewalk mosaic will be front and center, with the garden filling the planters to either side. There will be a variety of plants, palm trees, benches, and the art walls, according to Stickley.

At the 2 p.m. stage show, student performances will include groups from the Blue Bear School of Music, music from various rock bands and the choir, an excerpt from the spring performance of Grease, and Ballet Folklorico. Additionally, the annual spring fashion show, coordinated by crossing guard Vanessa Williams, will be presented. And there will be other performances from invited guests, including indigenous Mayan dance group Chan Kahal.

A slide show featuring many years of James Lick memorabilia will follow in the auditorium. Several alumni have donated old photographs, clothing such as an honor society sweater and a beanie cap, pins, and an attendance card from the 1950s. Loughran remarks, "The clothes are so small! Our kids are so much bigger now."

Throughout the day, students will give tours of the art deco building. The school was named for carpenter, piano builder, land baron, and science patron James Lick, who was the wealthiest man in California when he died in 1876. His will stipulated that his wealth be used for the public good.

The current structure was completed in 1932, hence the 75th anniversary. However, James Lick has existed as a school since at least the 1890s. The original structure, a grammar school, was at 25th and Castro streets in what is now the upper yard/parking lot. Over the years, the school has served grades 1­7, 7­9, and now serves grades 6­8.

The school's team name and mascot have also changed over the years. In the 1950s, they were the Skippers. By the 1980s, they were the Pirates, and in the 1990s they became the Bulldogs.

Aside from hairstyles and clothing, there are two areas in which James Lick Middle School has changed dramatically over the years: ethnic diversity and academic focus. The old-time photographs show that students in the 1930s and '40s were almost all white. Now, there's a mix of mostly Latino, African-American, and Asian students, with white students in the minority. "As we prepared the 75th anniversary yearbook, that was the first thing these current students noticed," says yearbook teacher Tobi Hacker. "They didn't identify really at all with the students from earlier decades."

"The biggest highlight for the school is that we've been improving our test scores steadily," says parent and former PTSA president Heidi Anderson. She adds that the school is also known for its Spanish-immersion program.

Loughran points out that in recent years the school has made an effort to offer electives in music, visual arts, and peer resources, which are made available to all students by adding an extra period to the school day.

One of those electives is yearbook, and this year's editorial staff will proudly offer pre-purchase of the 75th anniversary yearbook during the celebration on May 12. Yearbooks will be available for pickup in early June.

The Santana Peace Garden Committee, led by landscape architect Jim Stickley, will sponsor a volunteer workday on Wednesday, May 9, starting at 9 a.m. All are welcome to participate.

Remembering middle school requires reaching back into the far dusty corners of one's mind and digging up some awkward memories of adolescence. Perhaps he's blocked them out, because Drewes Brothers proprietor Isaac Epple says he doesn't have any memories that stick out, despite the fact that he graduated from James Lick Middle School in 1988. Surprisingly, it's the alumni of the 1950s and '60s who have vivid mental pictures of their days at the school, which is now celebrating its 75th year in the imposing ivory-colored building on Noe Street.

Rose Shuck was Rose Marie Wielgosz when she attended what was then called James Lick Junior High, in the late 1950s. The school mascot and teams were called the Skippers, and Shuck still remembers the school song. "Skippers stand together, don't forget James Lick," she sings.

"I was going to James Lick when we had that big earthquake in 1956," Shuck recalls. "We were in science class up on the top floor, and the teacher said that in the previous class, things were rattling in the display cases. We were watching a movie, The Metamorphosis of the Monarch Butterfly, when the projector fell off the table and everything was shaking. We had to grab the desks in front of us to keep them from falling over."

Shuck also remembers her teachers. "We had a wonderful drama teacher, Mr. G., who would talk to us about poetry. My homeroom teacher, Mr. Martin, was a wrestler in his previous life. When he was angry, he would pick up his desk and slam it down. They were very dedicated teachers, as they still are today," she says. She knows because she has two grandchildren who are current students at the school.

"One thing that's definitely changed is the classes!" Shuck laughs. "Back then, all the girls had to take home ec classes. There was one class of cooking where we made horrible inedible messes that we were forced to eat. Then we had to sew a circle skirt with the crinoline and whips underneath. We had to make a blouse--it was mandatory. We couldn't take shop classes, but the boys took wood shop and metal shop in the basement."

Perhaps Shuck's most vivid memory is PE class. She says, "We had to take showers, but we didn't actually want to take showers, so we would pretend. We'd get in with our gym suits on and run the water and get our hair a little wet, so it looked like we took a shower. And oh how those gym suits were ugly! They were royal blue bloomers with elastic leg bands."

Joe Cepeda attended James Lick in the early 1960s. While he was a student, gym classes became co-ed. Up until then, there was a divider down the center of the gym, and boys would be on one side and girls on the other. "When they started co-ed gym, it was very controversial," he remembers. "We'd wonder, why are those girls sitting up in the gallery? Turns out they were menstruating, and they had gotten excuse letters from their moms."

As for clothes, "Kids wore peg pants and Pendleton shirts, which are these outside shirts from Oregon. Boys wore nice dress shirts to school, and wingtip shoes! I dressed better in junior high school than I do now," Cepeda laughs.

"But the style started to change with the British invasion in 1963, '64. I remember the first two kids who showed up with Beatles haircuts. They were turned straight around home with letters to their parents. Girls still wore stockings with garter belts and white socks. Everyone wore Chuck Taylors [Converse sneakers]."

His most vivid memory, of course, is the day President Kennedy was assassinated. "I was in Social Studies class in Room 310," he remembers. "First, the principal came around and said the president had been shot. Then he came back and said the president was dead. They sent everybody home for a couple of days."