At U-32 in the late seventies, the seventh grade lockers were right next to the school’s smoking lounge. Shawn Potter, class of 1980, remembers, “You could smoke, as long as you had a note from your parents that said you could smoke. So everyone that smoked had a forged noted from their supposed parents.”
Today Shawn is the director of Desktop Services for the state of Vermont. He lives in Barre Town and works in Montpelier. Potter and his eighteen employees budget, manage, and service computers and printers for six thousand state employees.
Shawn has worked for years with groups of workers who need to talk out issues. Looking back at his years at U-32, he feels the school needed to try to break down social barriers.
“When I was there, U-32 was extremely cliquey,” Shawn explained. Bullying was different then; it came in the form of physical violence. “There were parts of the school, as a seventh and eighth grader, you did not go in because, honestly, it was bad. They used to call it greaser hall… a hallway that ran the width of the old school and it was just a bad place to be if you were young.”
Shawn was able to avoid being bullied because of his older brother. He and his friends would come check in on him and make sure everything was okay. Shawn also never joined a clique. He was “more concerned about talking to everybody.” He was in an out of school band, jazz band in school, and played sports.
Teachers weren’t much help. “Students didn’t feel like they could approach the teachers and say ‘I’m getting beat up,’” Shawn said.
While Shawn was there, the school was “what they call open-concept… you would have these areas where you would have three classes divided by eight foot dividers so you could hear other classes going on and it was at times hard to focus.”
The open concept caused troubles for teachers, too. “There were some teachers that were older, that I think came from a more structured environment,” Shawn explained. “It showed in the way they reacted to the students… I think it was hard for them to understand that it was hard for a student to focus and not to blame the student.”
Shawn sees high school as a place for learning. He says that you should always continue your education, and that you are responsible for you learning.
He tells students now at U-32 to not pay attention to their social status. He says that whether you are “cool” or not shouldn’t be an issue. “Be less concerned about what your friends are doing and be more concerned about where you want to go in life.”