Saturday, August 10, 2013

Summer School

Believe it or not, the happiest memories of my high school years in the Chicago area are of summer school. I loved how cool, quiet, and peaceful the school building was during the summer. It was practically deserted, with only a small fraction of the thousands of students who crowded its halls during the school year. And the courses were actually fun.

First, there was driver's education. Yes, when I was in high school, you had to take driver's education. And if you couldn't get into one of the classes during the school year, you had to take it in summer school. (Apparently they don't teach driver's ed in high school anymore, which may explain why these days nobody seems to know what a turn signal is for.)

We didn't have video games back then, but the driving simulators we used came pretty close. Step on the gas pedal, and the movie goes faster; step on the brake, and it stops. A ball rolls into the street: if you don't hit the brake in time, an alarm goes off. You idiot, you could have hit a kid! At the very least, you probably destroyed his ball.

The simulators were fun, but even more fun were the Volkswagen Beetles we got to drive around the parking lot obstacle course. Then there were those great horror movies that showed in gory detail what happened if you didn't keep your eyes on the road, or if you drove when drinking. The only part I didn't enjoy was when we actually had to go for a drive. The surface streets weren't bad, but the expressways scared the hell out of me.

The other summer course I had to take was biology, which was probably my all-time favorite course in high school. It's one of the main reasons I decided to major in biology in college (although I soon discovered that college science courses were nothing like high school science courses, and I changed my major from biology to theatre, then from theatre to English).

We spent most of our time in the classroom, of course, performing mad-science experiments such as stimulating frogs' hearts with caffeine and giving testosterone injections to male chicks. (I sure hope no one from PETA is reading this. If you are, please keep in mind that this was over forty years ago. I'm sure that today's high school biology classes are much more enlightened, and only perform such experiments—if they perform them at all—on consenting frogs and chicks.)

The best part of biology class was the field trips: to Chicago's wonderful museums, and across the state line to Indiana Dunes State Park. At Indiana Dunes, we explored the many ecosystems that can be observed within a short hiking distance. As we passed through a wooded area, our teacher told us to keep an eye out for a rare red salamander that could only be found there.

Of course, this wouldn't be much of a story if I wasn't the one who spotted the salamander. Not only that, I captured it, and offered it to my teacher to keep in the classroom terrarium.

Yes, I was a terrible brown-noser.

Now that I think about it, what we did—transporting a rare, possibly endangered species across state lines—is almost certainly illegal. (Again, I hope no one from PETA is reading this.)

Fortunately the statute of limitations, like that salamander, must have expired a long time ago.

If you want to read more about the ecosystems of the Indiana Dunes, Wikipedia has a nice entry. (Unfortunately, they don't mention my salamander.)

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