The Outside Lieutenant

[Stumbling across a broken badge, my mind takes me back to my elementary school’s black top, the clip board and time sheets in hand, my first taste of leadership.]

So if you are trying to do the math, I began 1st grade, public school at age 6 in 1996.

My parents both worked, and for awhile I remember my parents having to share a car, a beat up navy blue Ford Spirit.. My father woke us up so early, the sun would still be sleeping. Morning cartoons didn’t even start yet. I’d be watching Bill Nye the science guy or the Reading Rainbow most mornings, miserable. My mom would drive him from Edison, all the way to Bridgewater’s Post Office, he was a mail carrier, and back, to take us to school, or should I say, Latch Key.

Latchkey was a place, usually the gym left open for students who’s parents worked early and/or later than school hours. You could get dropped off as early as 7AM and wait for your parents after school hours, up to 7PM for a small fee.

If the weather was nice, it was great being able to go outside and hang out, but for the most part, it was an unstructured study hall. The older kids with strict parents would stress and cry, racing to get their homework done, while the younger kids would be screaming obnoxiously, play “tag” while jumping over lunch tables around the room until a parent would come for pick up and a chaperon would pretend to enforce some rules.

Latch Key was the only place where students of all ages could actually meet and be together regularly. Most classrooms would walk to the where they prepared our lunches and retrieve their lunch and go back to class to eat (there was not an actual cafeteria room), and lunch/recess was scheduled by grade. Even bathrooms were designated to certain grades, since each grade had its own hallway and kindergarten rooms had their own private bathrooms within the classrooms. This was where I became envious of those older, more “privileged” kids.

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Random class parties would come and go, just as fast as peanut butter became known as a lethal allergy. I needed something to look forward to, something to keep my attention. (I was smart, but no A.T. kid. (Advanced Talent?? idk some “gifted” program I remember only very selective smart kids were able to be apart of, I never knew what they did, but they were always being pulled out of class, but anyways! LOL).

Yes, the annual field day and/or field trips towards the end of each year were held, but it was never the excitement I had imagined, more of the dread of waiting for the school year to just be over. Even though it seemed with each year, the field trips got bigger and better.

The holy grail of field trips was reserved for the fifth graders, Camp Bernie. In New Jersey a few grammar schools got together and would send groups of 5th grade students to an overnight camp for 2-3 days. We learned about survival, made attempts to build our own shelters from what we could find in the woods, made the shittiest tasting tea from wood chips, girls learned how to officially “pop a squat” (not on the agenda, but inevitable, LOL), followed rope trails blindfolded, climbed rock walls, this is where the “trust fall” was probably invented and of course each visit ended with the most epic of ice cream socials, full of drama, first kisses and air humping while most of the adult chaperons huddled in a corner sharing a flask.

Mind you, this was before my public school introduced Spanish or alternative language. Only if your family could afford to buy or rent an instrument, did you take music classes that young. At that time, we didn’t have a track or any real sports programs within the elementary school. My mother did her best and spent prior years with me in the ballet/tap dance studio and until I was 12, on the Pop Warner field during football season (I was a cheerleader).

By the time 4th grade started, I realized one huge benefit of participation and being open to helping others. Also, if you enjoyed reading, the teachers would let you skip out of class, from time to time to go read with a “buddy” in a lower grade that needed help.

As I made way to the library one day with my 7 year old buddy, Patrick, the door was flung open. The door knob smacked straight into the stack of overdue books I was juggling under my chin and I quickly plopped my butt on the floor next to them. As Patrick dove to pick up the pile, everything was in slow motion for me as I looked up.

The bright lights were soon blocked by a tall group of older kids, boys and girls, wearing belts or sashes or some sort. From the floor perspective, they were smiling, heads up in the air, clip boards and pencils held tight, that enough made me envious. I wanted to feel important too!

After they left, I remember trying to distract the librarian with questions about how to become one of them. As I slid the books through the opening of her desk.

Becoming a safety patrol was the only extra curricular I was interested in, screw the political “student council” ass kissers.

Now obviously we had adult crossing guards for the surrounding main roads for students, but once you were on school property, if you walked to school, you probably noticed a few students with white or orange belts, standing every few yards from each other and some with badges, patrolling certain areas or paths.

Every morning, upon waiting for the school to open, if you were not enrolled in latchkey, you were expected to promptly stand in-line, on your designated classroom line, which was located at the back of the school, on the black top, in-front of a large drop off area for parents.

School buses would drop off kids in front of the building and they would then run around the building to find their classmates and get in line. Each class had it’s own safety patrol, and each bus had an assigned patrol. The best part was watching the older kids, keep the younger ones in check, but it worked for the most part.

The Safety Patrols who wore white safety patrol belts, were known as SPAT (safety patrol after training) and were in the fifth grade. Those few with badges were higher ranked officers and were responsible for supporting certain posts that other SPATs were assigned to.

Those wearing orange belts were known as SPIT (safety patrol in training) and usually behind every SPAT, was a younger SPIT learning to take over their post for the following year.

Now one thing I should mention, is I went to this school from 1996-2000. A year before the twin towers attacks. You know, the time before the “snowflake” parents were a thing. Adults used to trust kids more. And I remember giving them plenty of reasons to trust us.

Now if you are still reading, maybe the words Safety Patrol hasn’t made you roll your eyes just yet, and is starting to jog back some nostalgia. If not your own memories, a few from television.

Any 90s kids remember the original seasons of Degrassi or the cartoon series Recess? Both who’ve depicted the ideal “Hall patrol” nerd. Well, that wasn’t us.

I don’t remember needing to use hall passes until middle school. So we didn’t have hall monitors then.

As a safety patrol, you didn’t bother other kids for bullshit. As kids, we more or less looked out for the students against outside dangers, the occasional loose dog, incompetent drivers or the most scary “stranger dangers”. Yes, in the 1990s kids age 5-10 walked to and from school alone, and FYI, a lot still do today.

So as you may have guessed, I became a SPIT! I know, I know, awful name.. but I did my time, and couldn’t be more excited to find out what post i’d been assigned the following year..

I remember going into 5th grade, my new teacher, Mr. Ferlicchi, introduced himself to the class as head of the Safety Patrol program. I thought, here’s a chance to show him what I can do! Even though, I was a safety patrol, I was probably 1 of 60, if not more. He had to know my name!

He started calling out names for attendance, he got to the G’s, is there a “Goober” in the class? A Goober?! The entire class started laughing, he read that wrong, made a mistake, almost completely humiliating the ginger kid who sat in front of me, his name was Kyle.

After a pause to calm the class down, he continued. But of course stopped after reading my name a few times, just pointed to me and said, “just so I don’t butcher it, please just pronounce it for me”…

“It’s Jelley! J-E-L-L-E-Y, I am not a condiment.” He sat back in his reclining chair, folded his hands together and placed them behind his head. “Well this is going to be a hell of a year kids!” As the class was in tears of laughter, he gave up on last names for role call, but he knew my name. From then on, he would only address me as Jelley!

There were multiple areas around the school in which kids would enter/exit when walking to and from home, and it was our job to more or less keep an eye out. When our teacher needed to fill more leadership roles(first ones in and last to leave), he sought out us latch key kids.

Eventually, I was offered the Outside Lieutenant position and accepted it with honor, I had 3 zones, cross walks by the playground, cross walks by parent drop off and the “secret path” which was more of a path behind the school that led through a neighborhood’s back yards, surrounding the school.

A friend Steve took the Sargent position, which supported the bus lines, ensuring there was a patrol for each bus stop and the younger kids would find their correct buses. Another friend Shanelle, supervised the class lines on the black top. And of course, Mr. Kyle Goober was enlisted as captain.

Mr. Ferlicchi made us feel needed and that we were making a difference. Everyday he would leave an open invitation to have lunch with him as an optional “safety patrol” meeting. He ate peanut butter, Jelly and banana sandwiches for lunch, every single day.

I don’t think there was a day, unless he was sick and absent that we ever skipped lunch with him. He was a comedian, a mentor, and most of all a friend. He gave us kids, the opportunity to feel part of something. He gave us his time and listened to our thoughts, and he was one of the first people to introduce the “devil’s advocate” to me. Taught us how to debate with facts, not opinions.

I can’t remember the exact subject we were learning, in elementary, besides art, music and gym, you have the same teacher throughout the day. Somehow through math and social studies, in fifth grade we jumped into economics and were learning about stocks and watching them trend.

I will never forget him assigning us homework to pick stocks as of we were going to invest, this was the same time Google bought out Yahoo. He was so thrilled when he saw us kids use his techniques to choose better stocks then his own. He was one of the first people outside of family that told us he believed in us, and I believed him. For awhile, he had us all wanting to grow up playing the stock market with him.

By 10 years old I thought I knew just about everything. Not to mention this was the same year we were all given a little too much information during the D.A.R.E. program(Drugs) and Girls/Boys growing Up program(Sex-Ed). He’d shut down that ego quick, but build you back up so you saw the world in a better light.

The other officers and I became great friends, and we were given access to the school long before most teachers even arrived. Our favorite place? The kindergarten bathroom. This was where we would play “bloody mary”, “baby blue” and all of those turn off the lights to scare the shit out of your friends game. ANYBODY WITH ME? Lol it’s a 90s thing…

Even when we eventually got caught sneaking in the bathroom, some teachers assumed the worst, like 10 year old hook ups.. hell no! We were just being kids..

Anyways, it didn’t matter where you came from or who was your favorite sport team, even though he could argue his forty-niners were by far the best team in the nation, SMH! The fact was, we were all his students, his kids, he cared and we loved him.

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I thank you Mr. Ferlicchi for being there for me and all of those other students that looked up to you. Until now, I realize how much a small responsibility at a young age can altar your way of thinking, acting and teach yourself work ethic without even knowing. I am so grateful for everything you have taught us, that eventually applied in the real world.

I will never forget you and your kindness, wisdom and character.

In 2013, I heard of Mr. Ferlicchi’s retirement. Although, he was still very active in the education community, as you can read below.

Mr. Ferlicchi has a legacy, much bigger than I could of imagined. I’m sure he has a place in many of his students hearts to this day. It’s because of amazing teachers like you, I have no doubt the youth will “Do the right thing”.

#TeachersWhoTeach
#BlogByChoice

Emil “Do the right thing” Ferlicchi [Read more here…]
( 5 years retired, a teacher in Downtown Edison for many years and President of the ETEA for a long time. A staple at School Board and Council meetings eloquently delivering his famous ‘Do the Right Thing’ speeches when it came to school budgets, bond referendums and especially at Council meetings when school budgets were defeated.)

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