Richmond, Mary: Phalsbourg Elementary School, France

I was assigned to teach a self-contained eighth grade class at Phalsbourg Air Base in France in 1962. It was a small school on a small base. It was K-8. The teachers were very young, single, eager and competent. We had a great school which was visited by Tom Drysdale. He was very impressed by our staff.

The first thing everyone did after arriving at the school was to by a new Volkswagen Beetle. The cars had to be picked up in Paris. No one wanted to drive in Paris so I spent several weekends driving from Paris to Phalsbourg with new VWs.

We all lived on the same floor of the BO. We weren’t allowed to cook, but we had many fabulous meals cooked on illegal hot plates and electric fry pans. The week before the first Thanksgiving, the teachers had a complete BOQ cooked dinner, turkey and all the trimmings. I still do not know how they did it.

We went to most of the festivals in France, Germany, Holland and Austria as a group in our new Volkswagens. One time, we got back to the base on a Monday at 8am after a weekend at the Holland tulip festival. We were at school teaching by 830 am. This was cutting it a little close. The stories of our adventures would fill a book.

I was supposed to teach all the subjects for the eighth grade. However, I was not able to teach shop, homemaking and French. I enlisted a father who was a skilled woodworker, a mother who was a magician with the stove and oven to assist me. Every Wednesday afternoon, my class walked a short distance to the housing area for shop and homemaking. The boys made some beautiful things and the girls shared some of the best baked goods any of us ever tasted.

French was another story. I asked a very beautiful young French dependent wife if she would teach French to my class. Three times a week, we would have French conversation lessons. Everyone had a great time. My class actually learned a great deal of French which they used in the Alps while skiing. With some difficulty, I got my class into a two-week free “Class of Snow” that the French government ran mainly for the poor children of Paris. We spent the two weeks in the Alps, learning additional French and my students also learned to ski! They also learned to “negotiate” in French as both the Americans and the French kids were tough and had issues to “work out”. However, we all departed as friends.

I was raised in the Hawaiian Islands and had never lived with four seasons. The Alsatian Mountains and Phalsbourg had perfect seasons. The students and faculty took full advantage of the heavy, long-lasting snow and some of the snowball fights were legendary (Physical Education class).

In the spring, we would hike through the fields on and off base collecting wildflowers, smells and all the wonders of the season. We visited Strasbourg, toured the canals, and waited for the cock to crow at noon high on the cathedral. Being eighth graders, the students rented rowboats in the park which resulted in them sinking one boat in a water fight. I thought we might have a lesson on French prisons. It took all the charm of our beautiful French teacher to extract us from that adventure! It pays to have beauty on your side!

We had field trips to castles, a canal boat trip (it was carrying coal, but that is another story), WWI battle fields and a concentration camp. We still had time for math, science, English and the other required subjects.

Phalsbourg was a very special time. All have moved on, and it will never happen again. Phalsbourg closed three years later and I was transferred to Chicksands, England; Lakenheath, England; Morocco and Spain. I was a teacher and an administrator. DoDDS was the adventure of a lifetime.

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