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.

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 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.

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.”)

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.


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