by Victoria Chappen
I was born January 2, 1920 in Erie, Pennsylvania, at a New Year's Day party that went into the wee hours of the morning. Among the guests was the doctor who would deliver me. (It seems I was scheduled for early February and not for January.)
Well, at the apex of the party, I decided to enter the gaiety and to join the merry makers. That was the beginning of my desire to be with people. I had sparkling, penetrating dark eyes, no hair, and I looked more like a boy. From a book my mother was reading, she named me Victorine, the name of the heroine who followed her fiancé, Thrasyvoulos into the War of 1821, dressed like a male soldier. (The Greeks had been enslaved by the Turks for 400 years and revolted to throw off the Turkish and they were victorious!)
When I was able to walk I would follow my two older sisters and brother wherever they went, even to school. My brother, Stephen, would take me into his classroom (third grade) and the teacher would give me a white chalk to write on the black board. My uncle had taught me to make stick figures and that is what I would draw, making the whole class laugh. Well, the teacher had to send me home and my heart was broken. That was my last jaunt to school at age three.
Then my parents decided to relocate directly across the state to the northeastern part to a small city, in the anthracite coal region called Carbondale. It was in the Blue Ridge Mountains and had a beautiful dry climate most of the year and huge snow drifts in the winter. There I was taken to school by my brother and entered into the first grade, a five-year old knowing only Greek. The teacher, Miss Hyschneider, sat me down at a front desk and I proceeded to cry as my pretty brown cape, made by mother, wrapped around me. A neighbor boy, Leonard Boyle, helped me with the reading lessons and soon I was off and running to unravel the many wonderful stories. In addition, I became so proficient that the teacher would have me read to the class, especially when she would leave the classroom. Many times I would read the story several times awaiting the teacher's return.
In the third grade, I finished my seat assignment and then I walked around the classroom helping my fellow classmates. Well, the teacher called me to her desk, told me to put out my hand and she slapped it with a ruler. I asked her why she slapped me, and she replied because I was out of my seat. I thought I was her helper due to the duties she gave me. As you can surmise, I was a confused little girl.
In the ensuing grades I was put in charge of writing the names of misbehaving pupils on the blackboard. I didn't like doing this and I would erase the pupils' names and give them another chance.
In the sixth grade I was one of the pupils who worked for the principal. Miss Alice Rashleigh was a tall, stately woman who was firm, fair and very patriotic. Her grandfather had been the first mayor of Carbondale. She made a lasting impression on me as a role model. When I became a principal, Mrs. Rashleigh was my silent mentor. She and my father were my mentors. Papa used to tell me "a good captain shows his mettle in a storm". Many a storm I passed through successfully, helping vigilant, calm, cool, and collected.
Then off to Jr. High School I went for 7th and 8th grades, where I encountered wonderful teachers who gave unstintingly of after school time helping pupils like me. Upon graduation I gave the valedictory address, dressed in a long coral chiffon gown. Wow, I felt all grown up at age 13.
Now I was all excited to go to the big school, Benjamin Franklin High School. This was a great challenge with so many course offerings. I enrolled in the academic program, became editor of the newspaper, member of the Glee Club and volleyball and basketball teams. These were fruitful years. I was a model student or so the teachers thought, until they saw me in the principal's office early in the mornings for skipping school or the like.
One day at an assembly meeting of all students in the auditorium, the principal paused in his remarks, pointed his finger at me and called out, "where were you going yesterday afternoon at one o'clock?" Well, he expected an answer and I gave him one. I was terribly embarrassed and the teachers made it worse by saying "not you, Victorine". Well, that took care of my skipping school.
All my life I wanted to be like other people and do what other people do. My parents brought me up in a strict and protective atmosphere. Many times I felt stifled and longed for the day I would be independent. That was to come at a later date.
Another confession....In Chemistry class, Mr. Quinn, the teacher, taught us how to make a 4th of July fire cracker, then he left the laboratory. Well, Eleanor Chambers and I cooked up the idea of spreading it in the concrete hallways and when the students changed classes, the scuffling of shoes would ignite the firecracker substance and cause a raucous noise. Well, that did it! The principal came out of his office and wanted to know who did this prank. He surmised it was I. He didn't punish us but he made the teacher clean the hall as we watched. It came graduation time and I never expected to be valedictorian but I was.
My next step was college. In 1937 I enrolled in Marywood College in Scranton, Pennsylvania, run by the Immaculate Heart nuns. It was a small women's college situated on the top of a high hill. I commuted with other girls from Carbondale. It was a chore but it promised a good education followed by a degree. There, too, I became involved in several extra curricular activities and graduated with three majors and two minors, with honors. I wanted to teach so I enrolled in the Schermerhorn Teacher's Agency in Philadelphia. It was the middle of August and still no leads were forthcoming. My father suggested that we go to the Agency in Philadelphia and ask why. Well, when we got there I was ushered into the president's office and he proceeded to tell me why I was not notified of any position for the following reasons:
1. You are a Greek Orthodox Christian.
2. You attended the Episcopal Church.
3. You went to a Catholic College.
4. No one would ever entrust their children to you.
Well, I was crushed! (I remembered my father telling me early in the summer that if he paid the politicians $3000 I could have a teaching position at the high school from which I had graduated. I told him I did not want him to buy a job for me.) Now I wondered if I had made the right decision.
My father said, "we'll go back home and we'll drive to the surrounding school districts." It was toward the end of August and I had little hope. Nevertheless, I met with the various superintendents unsuccessfully as they had completed their staffing. The last stop we made was in Hop Bottom, Pennsylvania. Because a teacher had just resigned, I was offered her job. What a break! It was a country school where farm children were bussed in. I had a great year. The kids, teachers and principal were great.
I still correspond with two of the teachers. I resigned and that summer enrolled in the Teacher's College of Columbia. I got a job at a high school in Syracuse, New York where I taught business subjects for three years and after the first year was made head of the business department. I loved the kids and the kids loved me. They would crowd into my homeroom after school just to talk with me. One day the superintendent was in the building and walked by my homeroom. He called me out in the hall and said, "you must not keep the students so late". It was about 6 p.m. I responded, "they're keeping one".
I was happy to be in Syracuse which meant I could continue studies toward the Master's Degree in Business Administration and Education. I did not write a thesis but took the Master's Degree Comprehensive Examination and placed second.
A short time later in 1945, I decided to pursue a Master's Degree in Guidance and Counseling. I had just completed two introductory courses, when I received a telephone call during summer vacation at my home in Pennsylvania, from the superintendent offering me the position of Director of Guidance. I told him I didn't think I knew enough to undertake such a task. The superintendent then responded that when he called Syracuse University for names of candidates, Dr. Milton Hahn, Director of the Psychological Services Center told him to look no further as he had the best candidate for the job on his staff. (I had just finished his course in Introduction to Guidance and Counseling). Wow! I was flabbergasted!
Well, I threw myself into the job. At first I followed the plan of the previous male director and gradually I embellished it. Always the question I asked myself "What can I do to meet the needs of these kids." What a challenge!
The faculty members were all seasoned teachers. The predominance of white hair kept me out of the faculty room. I was overwhelmed! (It was in January of 1942, and at age 22 during my first year of teaching that I ventured into the teachers' room and the teachers greeted me with, "we've been waiting for you!"
I observed that too many students were dropping out of school because they couldn't pass the required Regents exams. The year was 1945 that I had a meeting with the teachers and presented my plan of setting up non-regents courses of study. I had the approval of the administration. The teachers enthusiastically joined in and worked in subject area departments to alter courses of study and to provide the necessary testing for each curriculum area. (Who says you can't teach old dogs new tricks?) The teachers were outstandingly proficient in this unheard of project. This innovative approach stopped the flow of drop-outs!
Now there were two kinds of diplomas; Regents and Non-Regents. We even changed the grading systems. In cooperation with the English classes, I gave a battery of tests to grades 9-12 students consisting of intelligence, aptitude, interest, and emotional adjustment, the purpose being to develop individual student profiles so that the guidance and counseling of each student would be most relevant. This was followed by establishing a career library as well as college, technical and vocational school libraries.
Students were taken on field trips to visit and to become acquainted with local industry, corporations and other work places, such as Carrier Corporation and the General Electric Company.
Scholarships were sought and extended to students going to college. Eventually, when the program was well established, Syracuse University sent their doctoral candidates to intern with me for three weeks.
Four years later in 1949, the New York State Education Department rated my Guidance and Counseling Program as being "outstanding". They offered me a position to go around the state to help directors establish similar programs.
While a graduate student in a Labor Relations class at Syracuse University, Professor Sydney Sufrin, advisor to Franklin D. Roosevelt, cautioned us to steer Italians and Jews away from teaching positions because they would not be given employment. Then he looked at me and asked how I got so far in the field of education. I replied, by sheer hard work. As much as I tried to fit in, somehow I was always reminded that I was different. Nevertheless, it didn't daunt my endeavor to help teachers and counselors give their best to kids.
I completed the Master Degree in Guidance and Counseling, took qualifying examinations and was admitted to the doctoral program. After embarking on this venture with some classes out of the way, I decided I needed a change. I resigned in 1953 and went to Greece. I wanted to see the country from which my parents had emigrated to America. It was an eye-opener and a challenging adventure. I was to learn much.
I got a teaching position at a prestigious private boy's school, Athens College, whose president was Dr. Homer Davis. I taught there in the afternoon and in the morning I taught the first grade curriculum to five-year old children who were not registered as kindergarteners so the class was designated grade one. I knew I couldn't handle kindergarten so I decided to teach them the first grade curriculum. They all passed; all 33 of them.
Twice a week I had lunch with the Greek Minister of Education who was formerly Prime Minister of Greece during the Greek Civil War directly after World War II. The purpose of having lunch together was for the Minister Papandreou to improve his English. The Communists wanted to take over Greece. The Civil War lasted from 1945 to 1949 where brother fought brother. Former Prime Minister Papandreou often told me colorful stories about how he had saved Greece. It was an enriching experience.
The superintendent and president of the Board of Education asked me to take over the high school as vice principal. The principal was to be an Englishman who had taught at the high school for quite some time. The conditions were that I guide the principal in his duties and to make all decisions. I refused the position because it just wouldn't work. Talk about male chauvinism!
Believe it or not, I wound up working for Admiral Williamson, the U.S. Naval attaché of the American Embassy in Athens, Greece as his secretary. He knew about my refusal to accept the vice principal's position of the high school, as he was a member of the American Community Schools Board of Education.
This was a completely different world that had always piqued my curiosity. What a different world of work. Fascinating! I arranged receptions and cocktail parties and invited the international world via their embassies and councils, etc., in Athens as well as the high positioned and outstanding Greeks. In addition, I arranged all Sixth Fleet receptions and dinners. Then, too, I handled all the Admiral's correspondence. He was a great person to work for; so was his wife.
I returned to the U.S. in 1960 and decided to get back to being a Director of Guidance and Counseling. Well, after three interviews upon hearing superintendents tell me, if they couldn't find a man with my qualifications, they would hire me. That did it! I sought a counselor's position and wound up in Clark, NJ. I told the high school principal that I would like the ninth grade and I wanted to start the kids out on their high school ventures.
It was a great year. I interviewed every ninth grader and helped set them on the right course of study by vigilantly following their progress. The kids would be lined up at my office door in the morning before school officially started. The three other counselors would ask me how I did it. My reply was, help them.
The next year I was responsible for 11th and 12th grade boys. I always had a soft spot in my heart for boys as I found that many female teachers did not understand them. Boys, in my opinion were more sensitive and needed more caring than girls. The girls were more independent and mature and could take or leave the teacher.
Then the third year, I was given the senior class. Again, I worked through the teachers of school subject departments. I took the interested students in business, home economics, industrial arts, etc to work places where they filled out applications followed by interviews.
I strongly believe that schools should help students open the door to the work place. It's a big world out there. It was a comprehensive high school and again I helped them in seeking jobs through career information, schools, and places of work.
As for the college-bound students I sent away for many college and technical schools catalogues and raised $300,000 in scholarships to enable many students to enroll in college.
Then the senior class dedicated their yearbook to me. That was the last straw! The Director of Guidance was giving me a hard time and it peaked with this honor. I resigned; but before I resigned, the superintendent asked me to be Director of Guidance of a brand new high school that was opening. At the same time I got a letter from the superintendent of the American Community Schools of Athens, Greece to open a brand new elementary school down by the sea to service American families living in that area where there was a large American Air Force Base.
I chose the elementary principal's position, because in all my years working with high school students, I found many who had difficulty in reading. Besides, I believe the elementary school is the foundation for continued successful learning. I also observed that remedial reading classes were made up of boys mostly. I asked my brother, a doctor, why this was so. His answer was that boys' nerve endings are not complete until about age seven.
Well, off I went to meet a new challenge! The school consisted of grades 1-6. What I didn't know was that I would be getting the problem teachers from the main campus schools which were in a suburb north of Athens. I soon found out who the ring leader was of the teachers who were giving me a hard time.
My first year was rather arduous, but in time they settled down. In three years we had outgrown the school. I rented houses in the vicinity. Parents from across town were moving down to the seashore area to enroll their children in my school, because we promoted individualized instruction, plus the teaching of Greek and French language and culture in all grades and the fusing of arts and crafts, physical education, music and language programs into special projects and a wonderful Spring Festival.
A large elementary school was built on the upper part of the large U.S. Air Force base. I had my say in the construction of that school. It was like a college campus with overhead coverage so that the students could easily extend their learning at a large, well equipped media center. Teachers worked closely with the media center librarian. The teachers were all American with the exception of the French and Greek teachers. Field trips were greatly used to extend lessons. There were 700 students in grades 1-6.
The teachers were great! Every classroom was a living-learning environment with fish tanks, caged rabbits, plants growing and the like. The teachers as well as the kids loved coming to school. When a child was sent to my office for misbehaving, which was rare, my admonition was "I don't think I can let you come to school tomorrow. The utterance from the child was, "oh, please don't do that!"
Believe it or not, teachers would say they couldn't wait until the weekend was over. I must say it was a happy school! The faculty had a party once or twice a month to which they invited me. It was a happy family. Yes, the odd balls came around. At my faculty meetings I would elicit answers from the teachers to my question, "What can we do to help these kids?"
We started out in traditional classrooms, moved on to open space and team teaching for only teachers who wanted to participate in individualized instruction. With the teachers consent, we developed levels programs in reading and math. There were three levels per grade, and upon completing level three, the student would go to another classroom and higher grade level for levels 4, 5, 6, etc. It was the teachers who wrote the different levels. What a wonderful bunch of educators and kids, plus parents!
In 1973, the American Embassy in Athens asked me to set up a Language House Program for Social Services at Deree-Pierce College. The Embassy contributed $50,000 to this ongoing new project. The new endeavor was concurrent with my principalship and I spent the evenings and weekends living with the young ladies who attended this program. The twenty-five girls who were selected by professors of social work were high school graduates who came from remote locations in the interior and the Greek Islands. When the girls arrived at the college, they were carrying their belongings in shawls and wore long braids down their backs. (Soon I cut their hair!)
I had hired a housemother, an assistant, who provided physical education and outings to museums, and two English language teachers. The American Ambassador's wife, Mrs. Talbot, invited the girls to the Talbot residence for teas and swimming in her pool. She also arranged for the girls to spend weekends with Embassy families to become saturated with English.
After an intensive study of English, they enrolled in a four-year degree Social Services program. Upon graduation, it was stipulated that they go back to their provinces and, in three years, provide social services to the populace. Many of those girls returned to Athens and one became Assistant Director of the National Social Services Department.
In 1975 I was asked to go to the Island of Rhodes from which the Voice of America broadcasted to the Middle Eastern countries. It was a small comfortable grades 1-6 elementary school where parents were up in arms because the principal would not allow children to take home their reading and math books.
I met with the parents several times to unburden their grievances but with the principal and teachers present. After many pros and cons, it was decided to let the children take their books home. The parents were anxious to help their children. Why not!
With the staff we gave a fresh look to classrooms and set up Greek and French Culture rooms and taught the respective languages beginning in the first grade. Field trips were planned to the local archaeological sites. Also a May Festival of Dancing and Music was introduced. Everyone was ecstatic including the kids, and especially the parents. I went away happy, too. So were the principal and his staff.
In 1976 the U.S. Department of Defense established a grades 1-8 school near the United States Air Force Base and asked me to be its principal. Well, my school had to close since 75% of the pupils were Air Force children. Nevertheless, I chose to stay with the American Community Schools.
The superintendent asked me to take over an elementary school on the main campus and another elementary school ten miles north of the main campus. I had my hands full to bring up two ailing schools. The biggest headache was trying to fuse two faculties. There was much animosity that had to be overcome. This was not an easy task as the teachers originally assigned to those schools treated the transferred staff as invaders. It took some doing to bring them together but as they got to know one another professionally and socially, working relationships unproved.
The biggest shock came when the Board of Education and a new superintendent mandated that I fire all Greek American teachers. They were the backbone of the schools and, in my opinion, were outstanding teachers with many years of service. Furthermore, I, too, was a Greek American! I resigned at the end of the school year in 1978.
In time, I set up my own Education Consulting firm and my clients included schools, individuals, colleges and governments such as those in Greece, England and Saudi Arabia. For Saudi Arabia I had to justify the plans submitted by American architects who were competing with English and German architects. This meant providing the curriculum for high school, bringing all textbooks, as well as providing the teaching methodology plus completely stocking the Media Center. Well, the American architects got the contract to build this state of the arts school for wealthy Saudi Arabian girls.
I returned to the States in 1986 and moved to Rossmoor, a lovely Adult Community with many activities. It was my piece of cake! I became involved as a club woman and was on several committees to improve Rossmoor as well as to bring people together to volunteer their time. More specifically, volunteering to make arts and crafts articles to sell at the Rossmoor Women's Guild, the proceeds of which went to $1000 scholarships to 12 graduating seniors of the local high school. Whatever club I was in charge of, I established a scholarship committee. The locals called me "the scholarship lady".
The 4000 citizens of the Rossmoor Adult Community voted me "Citizen of the Year" in 2001 for my leadership and volunteering. Also, I am listed in "Who's Who of American Women.
After 15 years of living at Rossmoor, I moved to Meadow Lakes, a life care retirement community, where I am still being active as a volunteering club woman of 85 years.
It has been a great life! There were ups and downs but most of it was on the plus side. My motto throughout my life has been, "People little or big are a top priority"...
"What can I do to help?"
A superintendent once told me "if you can't go over the mountain, you bore a hole through it." (That was when he wanted to put gravel on the playground and I wanted grass.) We had grass! Yes, I am very persistent in accomplishing "set goals" that will benefit others, especially children.
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