Staples’ “Compass” Pointed The Way

Over the weekend, “06880” featured a few photos of the original Staples High School building. Graduates who remembered the Riverside Avenue structure from long ago checked in with memories of its wood shop, typing classes, even its layout.

In 1959 — after 2 building projects gave us what is now most of Saugatuck Elementary School — Staples moved to a new campus on North Avenue. It was bright, airy (6 separate buildings), and hauled our high school into the modern era.

When Staples High School moved to North Avenue in 1959, there were 6 separate buildings. Three more were added 4 years later. Between 1978-81, all the buildings were finally connected.

When Staples High School moved to North Avenue in 1959, there were 6 separate buildings. Three more were added 4 years later. Between 1978-81, all the buildings were finally connected.

But though we think of the ’60s as a time of rebelliousness and rapid change — and despite Staples’ reputation for curricular experimentation, an open campus and an anything-goes environment during that decade — in 1964 the school was still a very traditional place.

Alert “06880” reader Paula Pastorelli Schooler kept her copy of “The Compass” — Staples’ student handbook — for 50 years. The other day, she gave it to me.

Back in 1964, the school year started on Wednesday, September 9 — 2 days after Labor Day.  The school day began at 8:15 a.m.

An early section of the handbook covered air raid drills. “The seriousness of (this) demands speed, absolute quiet and complete cooperation on the part of everyone,” the Compass warned.

Staples HS Compass handbookStaples students were expected to work hard. “Don’t short-change yourself,” the handbook said. “Attending each and every class helps you take advantage of your fair share in getting your costly education. Get to class and on time.”

Students were to sit with their home rooms for assemblies. “To avoid confusion” in the cafeteria, students were not allowed to move tables. Anyone breaking a bottle of milk or spilling food was expected to obtain clean-up materials from the custodian on duty. Due to heavy enrollment, “loitering” at the tables was not allowed. “Please do your socializing outside,” the handbook requested.

There was to be no “talking, whispering, or any other means of communication” between students during study hall. Only one boy and girl at a time could use the restroom (“the nearest bathrooms,” too). Select students served as proctors,  monitoring study halls.

There were 3 types of dances:  those sponsored by classes and the student government; those sponsored by private groups like fraternities and sororities, and “canteen dances.” (However, another section of the handbook noted that Staples “in no way recognizes fraternities and sororities.”) The minimum dress requirements were jackets, neckties and slacks for boys, dresses or skirts for girls.

Possession or use of explosives resulted in immediate dismissal from school. Fighting on school grounds was grounds for suspension, “regardless of who ‘started it.'” Students would also be suspended immediately for “profane or obscene language.”

“Walking on grass or bare earth” was prohibited too, though no punishment was mentioned.

Staples students around 1964, between classes. No one walked on the grass -- at least, not in this photo.

Staples students around 1964, between classes. No one walked on the grass — at least, not in this photo.

Smoking was a gray area. One section of the handbook said it was regulated by the Staples Student Organization. A few pages later, the “Compass” listed banned items — “a lit cigarette, cigarello, pipe, or cigar” — for which the 1st offense was no more than 10 hours’ detention. That doubled to 20 hours for all subsequent offenses.

The handbook also included the Staples Student Organization constitution. There was a Senate and Student Court, with a chief justice from the senior class, justices from all 3 classes, and a court clerk. The court had the power to try all cases involving student conduct described in the SSO constitution, and passed by the Senate.

There were 16 clubs in the handbook. Today there are over 100. There were 11 interscholastic sports for boys, 4 for girls. Staples now supports 35 boys and girls sports.

Staples' 1963 field hockey team.  The other official sports were basketball, softball and tennis. (Track was still a "club.")

Staples’ 1963 field hockey team. The other official sports were basketball, softball and tennis. (Track was still a “club.”)

That was Staples High School in 1964. By the end of the decade, the SSO was gone. It was replaced by an innovative Staples Governing Board of administrators, teachers, students and parents, with power over just about everything except personnel decisions.

The Student Court and study halls were memories too. In their place was a Student Lounge with ping pong tables, a jukebox — and off limits to teachers.

A smoking area was created, just outside the cafeteria. And not only did students walk on grass or bare earth — they had classes, strummed guitars and did other stuff there too.

The 1964-65 handbook was called “The Compass.” Just a few years later — after nearly a century of stability — no one in Westport had any idea where Staples was headed.


8 responses to “Staples’ “Compass” Pointed The Way

  1. Tom Allen '66

    Like it was yesterday. Big changes post-64-65 school year, which wasn’t much different than the 1950s. By 1969, when my younger sister graduated, every vestige of 1964, except for Cancer Plaza, which had been reinstituted, was gone. Thanks to Paula for saving her Compass, and to Dan for posting the photo of the 1963 field hockey team, in which Joy Wassell, Lynn MacClaren, Mary Fedderson, Jackie Saxonmeyer, Mickey Fromson, Debbie Begley, Ellen McCullough, Kitty Carlson and, in the back row, my sister Suzy, are pictured.

  2. Like Tom says — like it was yesterday (though I’m without Tom’s amazing ability to remember so many names and faces.)

  3. We definitely still had study halls in the fall of 1968 (my sophomore year). I remember it well, in part, because I wrote about it for a daily journal we were assigned by Mr. Decker for his English class.

    According to my journal, in study hall “just like in kindergarten, we were assigned 2 to a table (at opposite corners yet!) and supposedly no talking allowed whatsoever. One of the older teachers came around with a sign-up sheet with the seating arrangements.” So we had designated seats according to a chart.

    Also, according to my journal, the teacher in charge “said that I was Steve Cantor and when I told her my name is Fred, the teacher told me to keep quiet.”

    Very different times indeed. Paula, thanks for sharing.

    PS–Margaret H, I know it will come as absolutely no surprise to you that I have kept at least part of this journal. (I wish I had kept it in its entirety!)

    PPS–and thank you Mr. Decker for giving us this writing exercise. It truly did help me develop my writing skills.

  4. Like it was yesterday indeed. What a great place and such great memories. Nice job by Tom Allen on the names.

  5. Joy Wassell Twelves (Tiger)

    Some other faces in that ’63 Field Hockey photo: Joan Walker, Deb Holiday.
    I ran track in the spring, but Track and Field did not qualify as a girl’s varsity sport (pre Title 9), so I was bummed because I had to wait longer to get my letter.
    To this day I am still grateful that we had such amazing teachers!

  6. Bonnie Scott Connolly

    In the Field Hockey photo I think I also see Bea Ottinger, Hilary Nangle and Peggy Cunliffe? I know I should consult my yearbook. I hadn’t entered Staples yet, but a lot of those pictured were still there when the class of ’67 came along. Your memory is amazing Tom.

  7. Margaret Hart Rynshall

    Of course you do, Fred. I’m proud of you. And I still have The Compass from 1969-1970.

  8. Does anyone remember an Engineering course that was first offered at Staples in the 1966 / 1967 school year? It was offered as an alternative to Physics and included lessons on electrical circuits, etc. We used circuit boards with switches, relays, lights, etc. I was wondering if anyone knows where (if) anything like that can be purchased today? My granddaughters would love something like that.