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The Quiet Afternoon

FIRST-PERSON

Posted: April 27, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: April 27, 2014 2:00 a.m.
 

As I look back I can see them just as so many years ago.

They lie quietly, as they did every afternoon, three or four rows deep on portable cots. No one is speaking; it is not permitted.

This is quiet time and they have to lie still for one hour covered by one thin blanket no matter the weather.

They are required to lie on their right side which means they are facing in. If their eyes were open they would see the plain rear wall, but looking around is not permitted either; the eyes are to be closed.

They are lying on their right side because there is less strain on the heart and the eyes are closed to induce sleep. The primary object of the Hazelbury Road Open Air School was to strengthen and improve the health of the children in their keep.

The ages range between five and twelve years old. The students have a variety of ailments from chronic asthma to other lung and respiratory diseases.

It is called the Open Air School because keeping the children as much as possible in an outdoor environment is the major philosophical guideline of the school, along with the secondary tenet that keeping a very structured day is beneficial to the children.

Thus the day starts early with breakfast and all the rest of the meals being provided at regular times.

When classes cannot be conducted outside they are held in classrooms with long fold back windows which present no barriers to keeping the weather out.

If it is raining the desks are moved away from the windows so that those on that side are not soaked. Heavy fog is the only time the windows are closed.

A teacher firmly warns, “Turn over Tommy and stop moving your legs;” “Annette, stop fidgeting dear.”

The sheds they now occupy have only three walls with an open front. If they were given permission to turn over they would see a regal stand of Lombardy Poplars.

The trees, planted many years before, stood very tall and stately in a straight row, a beautiful deep green, all of their branches reaching high towards heaven and held very close to the trunk, a trunk which was not visible because the foliage was so dense and profuse.

“Annette, I won’t tell you again,” said by the teacher in hushed tones so as not to wake any kids actually sleeping.

If you listened carefully you could hear many different noises and each season has its own collection of sound effects.

In the summer the drone of a high flying plane can be heard as it flies above. In the fall soft breezes rustle the leaves and birds can be heard chirping.

Of course winter produces its own special melody of effects; the wind is strong and blustery and produces an ever changing cacophony of sounds, a constant conversation between the wind, the rain and sometimes sleet or hail.

In spring the sound is of a strong breezes and the pitter patter of the gentle rain as it bounces off the roof.

When one of the children decides to take a quick peek over his shoulder he is firmly told to “turn over and close your eyes.”

“Miss?”

“Hush girl, what is it?”

“I have to go to the bathroom.”

“You know you should have gone before, you’ll have to wait.”

They are only thirty minutes into rest time.

“Mi-iss, I can’t wait,” comes an urgent plea from the girl.

“Get up quietly then and hurry you silly girl.”

The girl, Vicky, makes her way along the row as the boys in the row turn their eyes up for a quick glimpse under her skirt as she passes above them. She is wearing green ones today which they will get to see again as she returns.

Eventually the hour is up and it is back to class. It is usually English in the afternoons and since there is a little sun shining the desks are taken out onto the field to continue the day.

If the above account sounds a little austere I have left you with a false impression. It was indeed very structured, but the teachers (I believe there were only four) were all very kind and thoughtful.

They were ever mindful of the delicate condition of many of the kids in their charge. The school, in north London, did an excellent job of improving the health of a lot of sick and fragile boys and girls.

I never knew a child who wanted to leave, except to get a better education.

For us, this was a very special place.

Editor’s Note: The writer, Cal Greenfield, attended an experimental day school from the age of 7 to 12 years. Originally, the Hazelbury School in the U.K. was opened for children with Tuberculosis. Once the TB epidemic was brought under control, the school was opened to other children with chronic diseases like related to the heart and lung, or like the writer’s – bronchial asthma. Children were referred by their doctors.

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