A week or so before school started, I was asking my youngest cousin how she felt about beginning 6th grade at a middle school. She was so nonchalant about it despite the fact that she had missed orientation, had no idea what classes she would be taking, and knew she’d be changing middle schools this year or next. I marveled at her relaxed demeanor because the summer before I entered junior high as a 7th grader, I was a wreck!
The newness and uncertainty of what I would encounter at Fleming Jr. High stressed the shit out of me! Nowadays, they acclimate kids to switching teachers and classrooms. Back then, my classmates and I went from a self-contained K-6 education to being thrown into a three building, multi-storied school with six different periods for each of our classes, all fit between passing periods with tardy bells. Not to mention I would have to learn how to open a locker; which was the scariest part for me.
I would work myself into a fit of tears over the stress of owning a locker. I was extremely short for my age, so I was concerned I’d be assigned a top locker and not be able to see the combination lock. And oh man was the combination lock a whole other mess in itself! Being the nerd that I am, I was super stressed that I wouldn’t be able to master the complex task of working a combo lock. Thus came Daddy to the rescue!
My dad was, and still is, the highly respected Athletic Director for San Pedro High School. Besides bestowing upon my brothers and me the love of sports and athleticism, he also would come home with all sorts of fun sports and school related paraphernalia, and for this tragic time in my life, he brought me home a few combination locks to practice on. After mastering those locks, I felt way more secure about using a locker at school, and a huge chunk of my worries dissipated.
I don’t remember where my first locker was situated, but I do recall that I was tall enough to see the dial clearly, and with my summer of practice, was able to open it easily. Since I came from Lomita Magnet and qualified for Honors courses, I had elementary school friends in every single one of my classes. And to make everything even better, due to the fortunate proximity of my classrooms, there was plenty of time during the passing periods to get from one class to the next. That is, unless you’re a shy, awkward, scatterbrained nerd, like me.
After giving us newbies a week or so of free passes to being tardy, the school started implementing the Tardy Sweep. If you didn’t make it to class by the time the tardy bell rang, you were required to sit in a detention room all period. Of course, even though I knew I had more than enough time to get to each of my classes, I still felt nervous about this new rule and would pack up quickly, never lingering to chat with friends at the end of class to make sure I was not caught in that sweep.
One day after 3rd period English, it took me longer than usual to put the papers away in my notebook and I noticed that my friend Carrie left for 4th period History without me. I was a bit bummed, but understood, since I, myself, got nervous waiting for slow friends to pack up their belongings between periods. I quickly gathered my things and rushed out the door to catch up. I saw her and a few other friends ahead of me, but they were walking in an unfamiliar direction. I figured our teacher must’ve moved class for the day and I missed the announcement the day before. Being shy, awkward, and embarrassed to approach them, I just kept a few paces behind them instead of jumping in and inquiring where they were going. I followed them all the way across the campus right into a class with a teacher I had never seen before, and classmates I didn’t know. That’s when it dawned on me that it wasn’t time for History! My 4th period was Leadership, which was located directly downstairs from my 3rd period room and ALL the way back across campus.
I quickly bolted from that room and walked as fast as I could to my class (running was against the rules). The tardy bell rang when I was only a few doors away from my class. Despite the bell, I walked in the doorway, pausing to face my teacher who was sitting across the room at her desk, and I explained, “I thought it was a different period and I walked to the wrong class.” To which she replied, “Sorry Erica, but you’re tardy. You need to go to Detention.” Knot in my throat and tears welling in my eyes, I swallowed, blinked away those tears, and began my walk of doom to the detention room. Halfway there, I ran into our Vice Principal who questioned my being out of class. I explained my situation and then he asked me my name.
“Schatz?” he asked with a sense of familiarity. “Any relation to Bob Schatz at San Pedro?”
“Yes, he’s my dad,” I meekly answered.
“I know your father,” he retorted. “Good guy. Come on, I’ll take care of this.”
That man accompanied me back to my classroom where, without an explanation, insisted my teacher let me stay in class despite my tardiness. As I took my seat, she shot me a dirty look, as if I went running to tattle on her and got her in trouble. I couldn’t help but smile sheepishly all the while turning a deep crimson.
After those first few weeks of Junior High School, I was comfortable and accustomed to the new routine, and I loved every bit of my time there. I was glad to know being Bob Schatz’s daughter gave me some leverage, but I never had to use it again. Besides having the perks of my dad’s status throughout my school years, he was, and still is, a great father. From something as small and touching as bringing home combination locks, to being a non-judging, unconditionally loving rock of support when I finally found the courage to end a six year abusive relationship a few years ago, he has given me so much of the confidence that I have today. Having Mr. Schatz as my dad may have saved me in Junior High, but him just being my daddy has saved me in life.