Monday, January 5, 2009

Valley School Memories

Darwin writes: "Ironically, the 'looking up' picture of the building is taken from the exact spot where kids went to smoke various things. They were often targets of large paper or Styrofoam cups filled with water dropped from one of the top windows, which was the student lounge. Photo by Jar With Most (a.k.a. Tom Wirt).


Darwin reminds us that the now-demolished St. Matt's School was also home to the Valley School for many years...
I'm a Valley School alumni (Class of '82) and I spent a number of years at the old St. Matt's. I have many fond memories of my time spent in that building. At the time, Valley was going strong and that old building rang with life from top to bottom.

It makes me sad to see they tore down the place. I saw the pictures of the demolition and recognized the blue color of the walls of the classroom where I struggled through 3 years of French with Madame Heitman. It's like they tore down a piece of my childhood. I always felt that big old pile of bricks was more like my second home than just a school. From that school as a base, I explored the best remnants that late seventies/early eighties Downtown Flint had to offer. We'd sign ourselves out in the main office at the top of those long granite stairs and head out into the world.

We were regulars at Halo Burgers, and spent a lot of time at the Montgomery Ward's lunch counter too. I remember 99 cent Spaghetti Wednesdays and Fish and Chips Friday, Not to mention all the lunch and after school hours and quarters burned on the Asteroids machine at Perry Drugs or the Gorf machine at Doobies.

We hit the A&W, taunted the inmates at the jail, never got questioned at Hat's or the Torch. We never ripped off the blind attendant who ran the concession stand in the basement of the PO across the street. It just wasn't done, no matter how bad you wanted a Twinkie or a bottle of pop. We spent many an hour at the park up on Church Street playing softball or baseball and practicing soccer for our hopelessly outclassed small school sports teams. To train for a distance race, I once ran around the school building 100 times on that wonderful blacktop. When the Red Dragon Hobby Shop opened downtown to complement Bachman's Hobby Shop, I was in geekboy heaven.

I can still almost hear the creak of the old tongue and groove hardwood floors in some of the classrooms, and see the marble mosaic tiled floors worn smooth in the main hallways and on the stairs; the massively overstocked library; and the huge circular hand washing fountains in the boys room. If someone saved the front doors, you can scrape off the new paint and find the green layer of paint that I put on them so many years ago.

I never knew it as St. Matt's, only as Valley with its Led Zeppelin mural painted hallways, student decorated lockers, bright red carpeted rugrat dungeon, massive basement art suite with potter's wheels, kilns, and silk screening presses, the darkroom, and the ever popular 3rd story student lounge.

Well, at least the Gym is still standing and it's gleaming, ferociously waxed floor — home to many intense basketball and floor hockey games, as well as the karate tournament that paid for our graduation — and the dank, never quite clean locker rooms (with showers that no one ever used!) will live on to remind us of what once was.

20 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing your memories with us, Darwin. Never was there, but surely felt that I was.

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  2. Wow, I never knew Valley was there. I knew a few people at Valley but had no concept as to where the school was.

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  3. Darwin, thanks for your memories. So many buildings full of memories are being lost. It's beyond sad.

    You say you never knew the building as St. Matt's - I never knew the Academy building as Northern, which seems shocking now! But then, things in memory necessarily start and end with our experiences of them.

    When you brought up the Asteroids machine, I was immersed in memories of Playland. Has there been a discussion of Playland on Flintexpats?

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  4. Likewise, I had friends at Valley, knew one of the teachers, and played against Valley in soccer but never knew exactly where it was located. Was St. Matt's the only location, or did Valley move a few times. Does Valley still exist?

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  5. Valley School relocated to old St. Matt's site as early as '73 or '74. Can't remember where it was before that.

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  6. Thanks for the comments. After reading all the stuff about St. Matt's, it suprised me that no one knew or mentioned the Valley School connection. I just didn't want my alma mater forgotten in a pile of brick dust.

    I am happy to report that Valley School still exists to this day (www.valleyschool.org). Much reduced, but still here, with many of its traditions intact. After St Matt's they ended up out on Reid Rd in Grand Blanc, then the MSD campus, the former Cody School, and now currently in a church out on Ballenger near Schumacher's.

    In fact, the current Headmistress (we never called them "principals" and thought it was quite an appropriate title after one of our Headmasters caused quite a scandal by running off with the librarian) was hired in as a gym teacher when I was at Valley all those years ago. I admire her and all the other dedicated parents, teachers, and supporters of Valley for keeping such a unique place alive in Flint.

    My daughters marvel at my tales of the fun high school I attended where we had no letter grades, student painted walls and lockers, student v. teacher dodgeball games, a student lounge, an open campus, etc. They're convinced that I'm just making this stuff up. Valley was, and is, a unique place for learning. I learned a lot at Valley, and not all of it came from a book.....

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  7. I thought Valley moved to the Michigan School for the Deaf building...

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  8. Würstside WarlørdJanuary 6, 2009 at 4:07 PM

    Valley has moved a bunch o' times- Anderson Elementary in Grand Blank, Lowell, MSD, and the Unitarian Church have all housed the school. As far as I know it still exists. Hippy profs and assorted commies gotta send their kid somewhere... and rest assured it won't be any of the Flint Community Schools.

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  9. I feel compelled to respond to Würstside Warlørd's comment.

    Contrary to his comment, all Valley kids weren't prof's kids or the spawn of commie pinkos. While we certainly had our share of rich kids and trust funds in waiting (the Mayor's son, and many a doctor and lawyer's kid included), we weren't all East Village beret wearing, latte sipping beatniks. I remember all the stereotypes and rumors about Valley. I can see some of them still persist to this day. My friends told me how lucky I was to go to Valley because the drinking fountains dispensed Coke, and all the kids got free cars from GM when they turned 16 because some of the GM bosses' kids went there.....

    One thing Valley has always embraced is diversity, and I'm a great example of that. Valley's always been a mix of all Flint's races, classes, religions, and creeds and out of that mix good things emerge. Valley's slowly disappearing because it's an expensive proposition for parents and in these dreadful economic times in Flint, that's a tough sell. When I attended, there were hundreds of kids at Valley. Today they're down to a couple dozen. What a difference a few decades makes. But is that slow disintegration really different than many other things in Flint these days?

    I went to Valley on a scholarship because I worked hard and had good grades, like a lot of the other kids I knew there. I'm a 3rd generation Flintoid. Before I went to Valley, I was a proud product of the Southside (Vermilya Ave-right off of Lincoln Park-still miss the pool and hockey rink) and the Flint Public school system: Neithercut Elementary (including the Walker ATP Program), McKinley Jr. High, and even Central for my junior year when my scholarship ran out. Dad pounded metal as a millwright out at Chevy Van Slyke, and Mom ground out parts at AC, Step Dad worked at CSX out at the Dort Train Yard, not to mention my Sit Down Strike Veteran Grandfathers at Fisher Body and Chevy. It doesn't get a lot more Flintoid than that does it.....

    I had awesome grades and limited opportunities in Flint Schools. The folks sent me to Valley because they wanted something better for me than what they had, and more than FPS could provide. Mom especially believed that education was the only way up. I was lucky to get the chance to go to Valley. I met and befriended a lot of different kids at Valley-rich, poor, black, white, asian, latino, catholic, jewish, hindu, muslim, atheist, whatever. I got exposed to ideas and opportunities there that I would have never seen in Mr. Eufinger's History class at Central or riding the magnet bus to Northern while listening to WDZZ to do my Trig class. At Valley I was never the "Poor Kid". I was just another Valley Gator celebrating Wazenflune like everyone else.....

    One of my former teachers at Valley is now the Head of Mott Middle College working with some of the most troubled, at risk kids in Flint to both prevent them from dropping out and even getting them in to college occassionally. If that's not helping to make a difference in the old hometown, I don't know what is. Not bad for a pinko liberal commie professor type....

    One thing Valley taught me was that the world was a very big place, full of lots of different people, and massive opportunity beyond GM and the borders of Grand Blanc, Davison, Swartz Creek, and Mt. Morris. In retrospect, what a lesson that turned out to be.......

    Today, I've got a degree from UM-Flint, and a PhD in Biochemistry to boot, and I have travelled to places (while not carrying a rifle like my brothers did) I never could of dreamed of as the son and grandson of Shoprats. Would I have done that as a pure product of the FPS? I honestly can't say. Most of all, there's a much better future for my kids than I could have ever imagined. I certainly didn't consider myself or my family rich, commie, or hippies and I still don't. But, I guess I'm proud to be a product of that nest of Communism and Hippie goofiness-The Valley School. It doesn't make me any less proud of my Flintoid blue collar heritage and street smarts, and I hope that some of that rubbed off on all those rich kids.....

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  10. Würstside WarlørdJanuary 7, 2009 at 6:33 PM

    The commie pinko comment was a joke (not the hippy part though, that is 100% true), however, Mr. “Darwin” your reaction is well, rather defensive. I have a list with the names of over 200 individuals associated with the Valley School who are known Reds. Darwin, are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?

    All joking aside I gotsta take umbrage with your portrayal of the Flint COMMUNITY Schools. You could have received a SUPERIOR edumacation at MANYFlint Schools. No bout adoubt it. Valley, Mumford, New Trier, Cranbrook, Columbine, any of those joints would have benefited from guys and gals like Mike Zuzak, Mary Lou Roth, Marty Jennings, Dick Brown, Florence Wilkerson, George Nassaf, Sue Goering, Charles Kimes, Dorothy Parks, Carl Terwilliger, Mary Hall, Bob Carlson, Doc Collins, Mazie Harrison, etc etc ad infintitum. That them there were some the best teachers EVER. Golden Apples all the way…. and hey, take it easy on Coach Joe. He wasn’t THAT bad. The dude was a football coach for gawds sake. An excellent one at that. You may not have appreciated him as a teacher, but he is a hell of a decent man.

    Believe it or not the Flint Community Schools had a little bit o’ everything too. Not just tokens either. Ya got your whites and blacks and Muslims and Jews and Richy Richs and Halls Flats Greasers… even a few Asian kids. No beatniks or latte sippers, but I seem to recall one idiot kid who did indeed sport a beret. In addition to the spawn of lawyers and line workers we also had serial killers (Ronnie Johns), future mayors (Dayne Walling), porn legends (Sinnamon Love), no-hit pitchers (Jim Abbott), and true geniuses (Geordie Calhoun).

    What ifs abound, but rest assured had you spent any time in Joe Pavelich’s lab at Northern, biochemistry fer sure would have been your bag.

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  11. Darwin, I wish I (or my parents, neither w/substantive Flint history) had known about Valley.

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  12. Thanks for the kind words about Valley. I am currently a teacher/parent at Valley. We have survived some lean times, but due to the grace of dedicated people were are still able to educate students in a warm, caring environment.

    I wanted to extend an invite to you to visit. We are in the Unitarian church on Ballenger Hwy. Nancy is still involved with the school and remains in contact with many alumni and former teachers. Unfortunately, Wazenflune is over.

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  13. I wanted to thank Darwin for so accurately and vividly portraying "Valley". I do know because I was there from the year of its inception in 1971 until I graduated in 1976. We started with just 71 students. One year later my mother, who was on the founding board, opened the lower school, grades 1st -6th in one large room. I do think that one of the greatest strengths of the school was in the allowances it made for us in our tender teenage years. No mistake was dealt with in an overbearing manner. There was a pecking order of sorts but it really came down to finding where you best fit it. Compared to many larger schools it was gentle and it offered one the chance to regard their teacher as their friend. I spent most of my days in art room when I should have been elsewhere according to my schedule. I went on to Art School and today I paint full time and own an art gallery. As you mentioned , we had no grades so outcome was rather irrelevant. Perhaps a good lesson in engagement in process rather than performance.I'm sure many of my teachers pulled their hair out over my seemingly careless attitude. So sorry. When I look back I am so grateful that enough good people came together in the name of reshaping the standard learning experience. They all worked very hard for very little to see what would happen when you take away the desks, the threats, the formalities and traditional incentives.
    Thank for taking the time to share your experience.

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  14. Valley School!

    I spent 10 years of my life attending Valley K-9th grade. 9 of those years were spent downtown and I have only the fondest memories. I didn't know about the building being torn down until after the fact. I'm bummed that I didn't get a chance to walk the halls before they tore it down. I still have dreams to this day that take place in that amazing school.

    Thanks for the great picture!

    Several of us are trying to plan a reunion for anyone who had a connection to Valley. We are planning on having it in 2010. If you have any interest let me know!

    Great blog by the way.....!

    Nancy Melet Daly

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  15. Valley School Early History--In the 1960's, I had been teaching at Dye
    Elementary developing a multi-age program focused on individual growth
    and creative thinking, when I was approached by a group of concerned
    Flint parents who wanted to offer this type of education to their
    children. After many meetings and some research we found the greatest
    need at the middle school level and discovered that St. Matt’s was
    available. We opened our doors in 1970 with about 60 students in
    grades 7 through 10. In 1971, I joined the faculty as Lower School
    Head and we added another 60 children. By 1973, we had grades K thru
    12. Those were exciting times. We felt like pioneers. We were
    especially thrilled to be located in downtown Flint rather than some
    bucolic isolated "elite" location. This experiment was fraught with

    challenges, especially for some of the parents and board members.
    Would the students really learn? Yes, most of them did learn. Would
    all this freedom lead to drugs and “god forbid” sex? Probably would
    have happened anywhere and did. How could we motivate students if we
    didn’t give grades? Actually, all our seniors who wanted to go to
    college were accepted. Could we finance scholarships to guarantee
    opportunities for students who wanted to come but could not afford the
    tuition? I guess Tom is an example of that success. I think the most
    frequent doubt was whether or not we were preparing our students for
    “THE REAL WORLD.”

    Tom, I really want to thank you for sharing your memories and insights
    into the Valley experience. Even though I was looking at Valley from
    the “rug rat” perspective, my dreams and hopes for the students at
    Valley were exactly what you have described. Your perspective has
    captured the core of what was the Valley experience. I personally
    never had a doubt that our students would thrive and excel. I’m often
    saddened at the current trend to teach to tests and to evaluate both
    teachers and students solely on the basis of those results. Thank
    heavens that Valley was and I hope continues to be so much more than
    that.

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  16. Wow - lots of Valley alums reading this board. I too have a lot of fond memories of the old school - I started out at "Valley 2" as a first grader at Anderson Elementary in Grand Blanc - stayed with the school at "Valley 3" when we moved into the old Lowell building in Flint, left in 7th grade and came back midway through my junior year, the last year at Lowell and then was a member of the first graduating class at "Valley 4" - Fay Hall on the MSD campus.

    The school has certainly seen some ups and downs but what can I say - I owe a lot to the place.

    The fountains never dispensed Coke - although if you needed to borrow 50 cents for a Barq's root beer in the pop machine right ouside the gym, someone in Kaye's office would spot you a couple quarters.

    We didn't all get new Chevys issued to us either - don't know where that one came from!

    What we did get was a first-rate education from the most dedicated and professional teachers I've had the pleasure of knowing. Shawn has already posted on the board and he definitely ranks up there with some of the great ones - Nancy, Kaye, Hank, Jim, Sue, Laura, the list goes on and on.

    I am still reaping the benefits of my time at Valley and I think you'd be hard-pressed to find an alumnus that didn't have good things to say about the education they received.

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  17. Hi,

    I just came across this page about Valley, and I have to admit that it was refreshing to hear great stories. As a Valley alum (2000), I feel that the school provided me with a great education. I had wonderful teachers (I believe a few of them are still there) and made great friends.

    I came to Valley in 1995, which was during the time they were planning to move to Faye Hall (MSD Campus near Court St. and Miller Rd.). We were at the old Lowell school near Franklin and Dort for a few years. It is my understanding that the move to Faye Hall hurt Valley's finances as they under-estimated the cost. Sadly, I believe the move put the school on shaky ground as enrollment started to diminish (to be blunt, its hard to attract students when there is no gym, parking was horrid, and the top 2 floors were never finished). If they would of had a different plan, they might be on more stable ground today. Either way, its all in the past.

    Someone posted a comment saying that Valley was filled with communists and hippies. His or her comment is completely inaccurate and ignorant. Yes, Valley had people with various ideologies, but everyone's opinion was welcome. To me, that is reflective of the real world and fosters the importance of individual reflection and learning.

    As for the remark that Valley was filled with rich kids, that is another misinformed conception. I happen to be the son of a medical doctor, but my parents decided to send me to Valley because they wanted me to be around those with different backgrounds and circumstances. They are still thankful to this day on what Valley has done for me.

    Overall, I appreciate the comments from others. It is my hope that Valley maintains its mission of providing a quality education amongst the "darkness" of the Flint area.

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  18. Ryan, thanks for the comment. For the record, the commie comment was a joke, based on the follow-up reply from the commenter. Let's hope Valley has a long life. It's a great asset.

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  19. Flint Schools GraduateDecember 22, 2011 at 8:36 AM

    I graduated from a Flint Public School and hold a Doctorate Degree, along with about five of my teachers who went back to school, and several neighborhood kids with whom I grew up. I learned the not so pretty truth about Communism in Foreign Relations class. And I didn't live in Woodlawn Park or Woodcroft Estates. The thing I didn't learn is that regardless of how many standardized intelligence and achievement tests and class ranks you rack up in MENSA range, including MCATs, the Private Prep and Ivy Leaguers with the same or lower scores end up with a significant advantage later in life. It's like the scholastic one percenters without the right pedigree are pushed down the ladder of success by the Preppies/Ivy Leaguers. And no one represents us at the Occupy Protests. We just have to work harder to achieve the same success.

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  20. FYI- Valley School is located on Linden Rd in Swartz Creek MI. It is housed in a Unitarian Church Bldg and had 61 students enrolled during the 2013-14 school year.


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