Old School: The Making of Hume-Fogg Academic

In the autumn of 1983, a few pioneering  teachers and students took a chance on each other and showed up at a decrepit behemoth of a building in seedy downtown Nashville.

What happened next was bloody well magical.

HFA

A weird thing happened to me in high school. Brace yourself for it: I enjoyed the experience.

For a lot of people, this is almost impossible to fathom: that those four decisive years of adolescence could have been anything but awkward, painful, and best forgotten.

Until I was 14, I’d lived the classic nerd-kid story: I liked to read books. The kind without pictures. And for that, I wore Otherness like a Maori chin-tattoo. Nobody bullied me, but I was never quite One of Them. The social life of school was a party I wasn’t invited to.

All that changed in August of 1984, when I climbed the castle stairs at 700 Broadway. Hume-Fogg Academic High School was the city’s first public academic magnet, an experiment then in its second year. That year, we were only three small classes in that grand old edifice. We were a closely knit cadre of explorers pressing into the unknown together, and we were having a marvelous time.

The faculty entrusted us with unprecedented freedom and responsibility: We were to take charge of our own learning, in classrooms and stairwells, wooded paths and artists’ studios, and most of all, at our desks at home, late into many a night. In those four years, kids became published writers, accomplished musicians, and national merit scholars—and later, trailblazers from working-class homes who were the first high school and college graduates in their families. Cycles were broken, and new ones drawn.

HFA Colored pencil

And we wrote. How we wrote! Essays, poems, stories, and twenty-plus-page journals, in which we free-associated our thoughts about the literature we consumed. You heard that right—we were adolescents, having thoughts worth recording; we were learning to tame the chaos of a teenager’s mind, to corral it, and to render it ably on the page.

“When you just take a test, it means nothing to you except a grade,” said Bill Brown, a poet and writing teacher with a preternatural gift for conducting exalted word-music via children’s pens. “When you make something you’re proud of with your own hands and your own mind, then you’re getting an education. Then it means something to you.”

It meant something to us, all right, that Brown (somehow) managed to make poets out of us kids from Donelson and Bordeaux and Antioch; but what meant even more was that he seemed to live his own life as an epic poem, as a high-stakes tale starring quotidian hero-mentors and everyday adventurers of the mind.

They all did, that original HFA faculty, and they helped us imagine such lives for ourselves.

“When you want to build a ship…awaken in men the desire for the vast and endless sea.” —Antoine de Saint Exupery

“When you want to build a ship…” wrote Antoine de Saint-Exupery, “awaken in men the desire for the vast and endless sea.” But those yearned-for seas aren’t necessarily what you’d expect. In a lot of prestigious schools, the stated goal is: Get kids to Harvard, to Wall Street, to the halls of power. That wasn’t what HFA’s founders had in mind, specifically (unless that was what a student himself wanted).

HFA facade age filter

When I interviewed our former teachers and principals for the mini-documentary posted below, I asked them the same question: What did you want for us? “Happiness,” said retired English teacher Alan Kaplan, “a life of the mind.” Former HFA principal J.D. Taylor told me he imagined that a lot of students would end up doing satisfying work that wasn’t necessarily lucrative, and that many of us would live according to our own visions of success, and not by society’s measure.

Secretly, I think, they hoped we’d be a little bit like them.

In fact, many of us did go into education, or we at least carried the love of it into our lives, as parents and part-time artists and curious souls of all kinds. And I do mean “all kinds”—because although we shared a mission for four years, we, as a whole, were not at all alike. We were wildly different from one another, and yet, we still managed to be kind to each other, and to forge community out of colorful miscellany. (Insert pointed societal metaphor here.)

My Hume-Fogg era was the best of times, but it was not the best time of my life—because even a happy high school experience should never be as good as life gets. It should, ideally, be the opening passages of a book you can’t bear to put down, an inciting incident that moves your story forward, inexorably, to a life of epic intellectual adventure.

Hume-Fogg was not a perfect society. But it was a pretty darned harmonious one—a safe place for nerds, we liked to call it. In the video that follows, you’ll meet a few of the people who created it.

Transcript:

Onscreen text: “I am indebted to my father for living, but to my teacher for living well.” —Alexander the Great

NARRATION: It was the 1980s. Hair was big. Shorts were small. Downtown Nashville was a seedy ghost town. And city schools were struggling to find their footing, in the decades after desegregation.

(music: Headmint, “Number 6”)

J.D. TAYLOR: The magnet school, originally the idea was to put black and white students together on an equal footing, which was a tough thing for us because there was still this mentality, and this is even frightening today to even think about, but in those days, there was still a lot of common thought that black students couldn’t do what white students did. That was just ridiculous from the beginning.

NARRATION: Ridiculous. And Wrong. And a few bold educators set out to prove it. The city’s first magnet was set to launch in 1981, at the site of West End Junior High. But the day before the school should have opened, the courts stopped it, and told the city to put together a new busing plan.

J.D. Taylor, Hume-Fogg’s first principal, says it was devastating to have to start all over again. He wasn’t sure he could face it. But in April of ’83, the board told him he could have his magnet school—IF it could be ready by that fall, in a derelict monster of a building nobody else wanted. So he and assistant principal Mildred Saffell-Smith said, “OK,” headed to 700 Broadway, and got to work.

J.D. TAYLOR: We went to look at the building, and she broke into tears, because, we can’t do this! The building was horrible. Just horribleAnd the downtown was horrible, because then we had people sleeping all over the streets and the lawn. Wasn’t like it is today.

MILDRED SAFFELL-SMITH: Those first few weeks, getting ready for school to open, even being in the building, with the students, (long pause) I want to say, ethereal?

I had a sense of quiet adventure I guess, about what was taking place. You gotta remember, the setting was Hume Fogg High School. Four Floors132 students! Four floors! We could all get into two rooms. So it was like there was something going on, but you couldn’t see it. You could feel it, but you couldn’t see itWhen classes changed, you knew that classes where changing, but where are the people? Where is the noise?

But what I will say about the smallness of the number, it made for an intimacy, a closeness, a bonding that probably would have never happened like that with a larger group. We knew every student by name, we knew their parents, we knew what their class schedule was—  

J.D. TAYLOR: I knew every time somebody failed a test. I knew if somebody really got out of line a little bit. And sometimes just kind of saying Ahem! Maybe we’d better look at that, we didn’t have to make a big to do out of it. But I think just knowing that we were all there together and in it together and really depended on each other. I think that’s what made it work.

MILDRED SAFFELL-SMITH: We give a lot of lip service to multicultural education now. And cultural diversity and what all of that means. I think a person of average intelligence will agree that there is strength in diversity. Whether they accept that totally or not, what I saw at Hume Fogg, that first couple of years during its inception, was kids coming together, irrespective of where they lived, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, with just one purpose.

JD TAYLOR: And we didn’t know where this was going, but we knew it was not going where other schools have gone.

music: Bards of a Feather, “The Cruel Mother”

NARRATION:  They also knew, to make it work, they’d have to find a bunch of risk-takers who loved their subjects, loved teaching kids, and were willing to try something crazy and impossible. They hired 13 of Nashville’s best teachers, and called them the “Original 13.”

Alan Kaplan was one of those 13. He taught English for the first few years and was assistant principal after that. He used to joke that starting Hume-Fogg was like building an airplane in flight—they pretty much made it up as they went. But that summer of ’83, two crazy administrators and their lunatic 13 had a chance to map out what they thought a dream school should be.

ALAN KAPLAN: The kind of vision I had for Hume-Fogg was a place where it was OK to be smart. Very bright kids very often at their zone schools encountered negativity, hostility from their peers, they weren’t comfortable, people treated them as outcasts or they were made fun of, they were picked on, and the response very often was withdrawal and being very quiet or being afraid or becoming aggressive about it and back in their face, and yeah I’m smart, what of it?

We worked hard to try to create that environment. I think a lot of us on the faculty had come from those kind of experiences ourselves!

ALICE SANFORD: The idea that you could take kids from any part of the county, from any socio-economic background, as long as they’re smart kids, and you can make a difference, is just a really powerful idea.

BILL BROWN: And the 1st 2 years, we killed it, the kids. The first 4 years! Parents would line up in front of our after school and say, “Why should a freshman in high school write a 25 handwritten page journal on 1984?” And we would say, “Because that’s what the best schools in the country are doing!”  

ALAN KAPLAN: And pretty soon, we had a curriculum that would’ve choked a horse! I mean, it was incredible! And You guys just did itIt was, “Ooookaay! And you did it!” And it was like, “Whoa! They’re actually doing this stuff!” It was amazing to watchIt’s a miracle that we didn’t kill more of you. I mean it really is.

You know, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but we did some cruel and unusual things to you that we would never have done to students at other schools. And you did them and you did them well, and that just amazed us. We were delighted.

MILDRED SAFFELL-SMITH: When I would sit in a classroom, I would think sometimes, “How do they know these things? I could not be a student here! I would love to be a student here. I could have done more, I could have been more if I’d had an experience like this! This is incredible!”

I thought that, but I don’t think it ever occurred to kids. I don’t think it ever occurred at all. They were just kids being themselves, doing what they do, and loving learning, for the purpose of learning, and doing it with serious intent. It was absolutely amazing.

I definitely saw at that school, which was so important for me, that every child had a placeEvery child felt ownership. Everybody had a friend, everybody had a circle. They were included! They were wanted! And what I saw was, in some students, they would have not felt that ownership, that inclusion, if they had been in their school of zone.

LYNDA WAGSTERHume-Fogg was absolutely a special place. The acceptance of faculty among each other and students, the camaraderie that we had, was something that I had never seen in a high school before. And it was a joy to witness, and be a part of it.

BILL BROWN: I think that every teacher that worked at Hume-Fogg would say this (and we have had this discussion before): Every child in America, in Nashville, should have the right to have a magnet school education.

Why wouldn’t we have magnet schools for the first five stanines, where the teachers are picked, where the teachers agree on “I will teach this way,” where the sizes are limited, the class sizes, where every child has the opportunity to work with an expert on a subject because they love that subject. And then that dream of Hume-Fogg could be made possible. Because we showed what kids could do coming from every junior high school. 

(music: Bards of a Feather, “The Little Beggarman”)

NARRATION: Most of us will probably never know all the quiet acts of heroism that went on in those creaky old halls. Dr. Saffell-Smith hosted a girl-bonding slumber party, to help kids stick it out that first lean year. She set up a relief bucket for a homeless man who kept “anointing” the stairwell. A big-hearted janitor agreed to keep it emptied. Teachers helped kids find places to live, helped them with money. One even adopted a kid who was living in a homeless shelter. Brown and Kaplan read essays aloud and graded them together—until their wives told them they needed to get a life.

What’s so amazing is, this was their life: Spending their free time team-grading essays for fun, taking students to the woods, to Spain, to math contests and Certamen. Making the world a little bit safer for nerds. Doing something that mattered in the world. And showing kids what that looked like. 

LORI BEAN FLEMMING: My name is Lori Bean Flemming, I graduated from Hume-Fogg in 1988, and I’m a principal at Warner Enhanced Option School in East Nashville.

NARRATION: You may remember her as “Loria.” Stick-thin and athletic, she had ringlet curls and a playful sense of calm that made her seem mature and childlike at the same time. Those are the same qualities that make her a great principal now. She talks about how important it is for educators to take care of the whole kid—their academic and emotional needs.

Flemming has wanted to be a teacher since she was six years old. She was the 11th of 14 kids, a bookworm who hid in the library while her brothers threw rocks at each other in the yard. Her friends teased her by calling her “schoolteacher.” But her junior year, she found out she was gonna be a mom.

LORI BEAN FLEMMING: It was really difficult to tell my parents I was pregnant. And when I told my mom, she looked at me and she said, “How are you ever going to be a teacher now?” And that just broke my heartAnd her very next sentence was “I’m going to help you.” And she did.

NARRATION: She left Hume-Fogg for her zone school, but she felt lost there. She needed a place where people knew her name, and cared whether she succeeded. So she called Dr. Taylor and asked to come back senior year.

LORI BEAN FLEMMING: You know, at Hume Fogg, I never felt set apart in any way shape form or fashionAnd coming back and being a new mom, I just got more support that way, I felt. Workload didn’t get any easier! But all in all, the emotional, the social—that type of support—was there. 

The adults in the building were very supportive in their words and in their actions, encouraging me because they knew how hard it would be if I didn’t finish school, you know, if I didn’t go to college. There are so many statistics about teen moms and graduating and all of that, and I’m not a statistic.

It’s really easy to get caught up in things and have things for excuses as to why you didn’t do. And I didn’t need to have a “Why I Didn’t Do.” I needed to do.

(music: Bards of a Feather, “Tom Morrison’s”)

NARRATION: Flemming graduated first in her class at TSU and breezed through grad school at Vandy. Now she’s doing a life’s work she loves. That’s exactly what the original 13, and all the others who have taught and administered at 700 Broadway over the years, have always wanted for their students. That’s what they had, and still have. Because sure—for most of us, Hume-Fogg is a memory. But really, it’s a work in progress—for hundreds of new students every year, and for Original Thirteener, Alice Sanford.

ALICE SANFORD: My favorite philosopher, Bob Dylan, once said, “That which is not busy being born is busy dying.” So Hume Fogg still feels as though it’s busy being born.  I think of it as something that’s still moving forward, something that’s still changing. Do I like my students? Yes. Why do I keep teaching? I like my students.

BILL BROWN: All of this had to do with our love for life. It was the greatest gift that could be given me, to have the students that I had at Hume-Fogg. It became my life, pretty much, and still is to this day.

ALAN KAPLAN: I taught for 36 years. And could I have made more money doing anything else? I’d like to think I could’ve! But the reality is, it’s what I wanted to do. And what I want for all of you is to be as happy and as excited about doing what you do as I was doing what I did. That’s the goal I have for all of you.

(music: Bards of a Feather, “Bonnie Barbry-O”)

ALAN KAPLAN I am incredibly glad I did it. It’s probably the most exciting thing I’ve done, and I never ever wanted to do it again. I don’t think I could’ve gone through it a second time. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

 Credits:

A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” —Henry Adams

Dedicated to all Hume-Fogg teachers and administrators, past and present. 

Written, Produced, and Directed by

Kim Green, HFA class of 1988

Editor and Post-Production

Simon Gugala

Audio and Narration

Kim Green

All technical failures courtesy of

Kim Green

Special Thanks

Bill Brown, HFA English and creative writing

Lori Bean Flemming, HFA class of 1988 and principal of Warner Enhanced Option school

Cara Highsmith, HFA class of 1989

Alan Kaplan, HFA English teacher and assistant principal

Dr. Mildred Saffell-Smith, HFA’s first assistant principal

Alice Sanford, HFA Latin, 1983-present

Katherine Sanford, HFA class of 1988, current guidance counselor

Dr. J.D. Taylor, HFA’s first principal

Lynda Wagster, HFA math

Josh Culley, HFA class of 1987, Bards of a Feather founder

Music

Bards of a Feather

Headmint

Aerial Photography

Dave Green

Chief Instigator

Rupert Byrdsong, HFA class of 1987

Archival photos

Metro Historical Commission

The Echo

Michele Busen, HFA class of 1987

Lisa Curtis, HFA class of 1988

 

HFA sign close up

Fellow Hume-Foggians: Please share your memories below in the comments section! My experience is not everyone’s, and I’d love to hear yours.

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40 thoughts on “Old School: The Making of Hume-Fogg Academic

  1. While I was unable to attend the Oct. 12 HFA 30th Reunion, in a way I was there by proxy. That same evening was a reunion for the Class of 1973 from Stratford High School, where I began teaching in 1967. As I mingled with my former students from SHS, I kept thinking, “These were Hume-Foggers before the magnet school was even thought of!” How lucky for me to hone my teaching skills on them for the first nine years, only to find myself using them over and over again at Maplewood and Whites Creek, and then revelling in the magic of my last nine years at HFA. I call SHS and HFA the “book-ends” of my career. Alan Kaplan, a college friend and fellow English teacher in Metro, convinced me that HFA was a place where I could thrive. My interview with Dr. Taylor sealed the deal, and I joined the “great experiment on Broadway” in its second year. I have never worked so hard, planned so much, and “danced” so fast in all my life. The students were aghast at having to write so much. I was aghast at having to read so much of what they wrote, especially when we went through the journaling and essay writing processes. But write they did…(yawn!)…and read…I did…and then I discovered a way to scan and digest whole pages of words that were sometimes brilliant and sometimes hopeless drivel. Result??? It all worked wonderfully well, and I am forever indebted to Alan and J.D. Taylor for convincing me that I would not only thrive but SURVIVE the Hume-Fogg experience.
    p.s. There is no spell check…consider this a rough draft.

    Janet M. Noble

    • Thank you so much for this, Mrs. Noble! I’ll never forget the time you reassured me that it was worth your time to help me through theatre class, even though I was terrible. “I’m not here for the Shelly Browns. (sic—was that her name? The incredibly talented actress?) I’m here for the Kim Greens.” You knew I was terrified to be on a stage, and you knew that, in a way, I needed you more than the gifted and fearless performers did. I’ve never forgotten that.

      • Kim, I finally had time to absorb the video in full… and congratulations! Perhaps you should continue the project (or saga) highlighting the growth of the experiment. You captured the spirit and “voice” of what happens in that building every day.

        After I reitred in 1993, I returned as a substitute for about four years. Had I not done so, I would definitely have been in deep depression and “withdrawal” without the infusion of energy that exists at HFA. I also realized that just as Mrs. Bell had predicted, with the retirement of the original 13 and those of us who came after them, whatever “hole” was left was quickly filled with even more energy and great ideas. The same has been true with the students. While I hold all of you from my nine years at HFA as “my special kids,” the real magic is that subsequent classes have picked up where previous ones left off and have just continued to conquer the unknown.

        Yes, I remember that young girl (Kim) standing in front of theatre class literally temblling! As I said in my first commentary, my previous experience with theatre classes at Stratford had helped me see that ALL of us have fears of new experiences. I also remember my own inner trembling as I faced my first classes at HFA, wondering if joining the amazing project there was really within my ability. The success of a student who reached for a goal that seemed impossible always made my “job” a joy. How many times did we Englsih teachers talk through a thesis statement or the development of a paragraph with a student whose blank stare gradually came to life as understanding replaced bewilderment? Those “lightbulb” moments have always reinforced my idea that what I really wanted to be was a teacher.

        Jani, keep your own joy of teaching uppemost in your mind as you share learning and literature with others. At the time I had no idea how you and all of the others would take hold of the union of our spirits: faculty, students, staff, and great ideas came together in force. Whether we were in the language/social studies side of the building, in a science lab, in the math wing (in the shadow of a “gentelmen’s club”), in the antique gym…or depending on the counselors/secretaries to always be there, getting a “hey, baby” from the staff in the cafeteria, counting on the custodians to lend a
        hand with everything, or sitting in a corner “journaling,” we were among friends who valued whatever we did and expected great things to come from our time together. The video is a terrific example of a great idea in bloom…it sounds like an essay!

        Thank you, Kim and contributors, for the wonderful video which does indeed bring tears to our eyes. AND thank you to my fellow faculty members and the wonderful students who gave me the
        most challenging/best nine years of my life. Janet M. Noble

    • Mrs. Noble, for the longest time I kept asking myself, “Why on Earth did I choose to teach English of all things?” I loved art. What did English have to do with art? I was so naive– even when I accepted the value of poetry as fine art. But paint me the creative, free-thinking fool. Then it happened. Somewhere in all my foolishness came this realization: Everything I love to do springs from the same fountain of curiosity. You and Brown helped me see that. I hope I can instill in my students that love of reading, writing, exploring, and learning that you and so many of the old HFA faculty instilled in me. Eternal thanks!

    • I can still do a paper for you Ms. Noble, just for old times sake. I can even make it one long sentence……hehe! Would have loved seeing you!

  2. Kim, this is beautiful and actually brought tears to my eyes. It is such an accurate reflection of what it meant to be a part of sucha special place. The lessons from Bill Brown and Janet Noble stick with me even today. I just loved to read and write and they taught me that there were no wrong answers in that!

  3. Thanks so much for posting the video. Seeing all the pics and reading everyone’ s comments before and after the reunion has made me feel a bit homesick for those years. So many memories and emotions. The experience of Hume Fogg changed my life completely. I don’t think I had ever been in a school environment that actually expected me to think, participate and especially write! I had never even written an essay until my sophomore year when I walked into Mr. Kaplan’s class, much less written a journal that someone would read about my thoughts. The main lessons I learned was that I was capable and someone expected me to be accountable to do what I was capable of doing. To this day I regret that I wasn’t a better student and didn’t take full advantage of the education I had, especially as I see the “typical” public school system that my children attend.
    I can however critique their written papers like a pro since I learned from the best.
    I was thrilled to see Loria Bean- I always wondered what happened in her life. Loria- I can still see you running those laps on the track, writing our rap songs.
    Kim- you did a great job. Thanks for all your hard work. Hope to see you at the next event.

      • I just read this, again, and, at virtually every sentence, I found myself utterly amazed at your writing skill. GIFTED, in every sense! I, weirdly, had a dream about you, just last night. I don’t remember what it was about, or what we were doing, I just remember seeing you, and hugging you with reckless abandon. 🙂 ❤

  4. Loved seeing the HFA architectural details I’d forgotten (Bill Brown’s glass-front bookshelves, the arches in the library) and the pic outside Agner’s, as well as hearing from these legendary teachers. Thank you for making this!

  5. Reblogged this on Children First and commented:
    She came to Hume-Fogg Magnet High School in just its second year of operation. The students and teachers there were sharing a truly unique experiment: building one of the best schools in the country from scratch.

    Thanks to Kim Green (of The Greenery blog) for putting together this REMARKABLE documentary. It’s short, well shot and features lots of interviews with HFA’s original faculty. You need to watch it.

  6. This just made me cry hard. It’s so comforting to see how Hume-Fogg has impacted everyone. I graduated in 2010, I’m an English Major at MTSU. Every time someone asks me what I want to do, I say get back to Hume-Fogg, because they are the only individuals that I can share my passion for literature with. This was incredible. Thank you for this experience.

  7. thanks so much for making this, kim. goosebumps for days! it was magical, absolutely. and it is good to see in the comments that recent grads still feel the same way.

  8. I am an HFA graduate from 2007 and currently finishing up my Masters of Arts in Teaching degree at ETSU to teach history and government. I only wish I can be as qualified and effective as my HFA teachers during my tenure. It was a great learning and molding experience. I was able to know Mr. Kaplan during his last two years at HFA. I can still hear him now, “Well that was a decent response, but why? How? And Why again?” He always pushed students to expand their minds and make sense of everything.

  9. Hi Kim,

    What a great tribute to Hume-Fogg that you wonderfully put together! You know, many folks like me didn’t even know the history of how the school was established. At that age, we were probably all focus on learning and not failing but I know we all believed how special the place was. After watching the video, I’m sad that I missed the recent reunion.

    Thanks again!

    • Don’t be sad! Most of what’s happening, reunionwise, is happening virtually. You’re here for that! But if you’d like to write a nice note to some of our former teachers, I’m sure they’d be thrilled. 🙂 I have addresses.

  10. Pingback: Hume-Fogg’s Magic | Modular Designs' World | a blog about more than carpet

  11. Hi, Kim! HFA is interested in interviewing you about this for the Knightly News school paper… I sent you a facebook message with more details. 🙂 Thanks!

  12. Kim, your work on this is wonderful and so moving! My son is on the pathway (hopefully in a few short years) to Hume Fogg. Knowing the history of this amazing high school makes me very proud and I am so honored for my family to one day be a part of Hume Fogg’s legacy. Thank you for putting this together.

  13. I felt among the privileged to have two of my daughters, Laura and Leslie Bell graduate from Hume- Fogg. They were in the first two graduating classes and talking to them over the years I know what it did for them in their future lives. I am so grateful for them to have been there under the direction of these wonderful teachers and mentors.
    Kaye Golden-Wright

  14. I’m behind the curve on getting in on the replies.

    I’m not sure if anyone recalls who I am since I was only there for five months, but I entered the school in the middle of my senior year with the class of 1988.

    As I tell my friends, I was the outcast in a school full of outcasts. (ha ha)

    I really didn’t have the best attitude during my time there. I consider the time I didn’t make the best of there was mostly my doing. Most everyone there was overly accommodating toward me. So, I want to take the long overdue opportunity to apologize if anything I did or said was construed as disrespect.

    I don’t want to drag the blog down with negativity and personal details nor make this about me. So, I’ll use my filters the best I can and try to keep it brief.

    The truth is I was dealing with a lot of problems at home on top of being uprooted unnecessarily with the change in schools. Add to that the additional stresses of: 1) already being a socially maladjusted teenager, and 2) being conscious of what I’m sure many other students viewed as the weirdness of coming to a school that you typically get into only by invitation AND for my last semester of high school, and the perfect storm brewed.

    I’m sure a lot people were wondering why I suddenly came there for the last five months of high school. I’m going to finally tell you.

    I told my mother I was gay. From there, it blew up. My dad then made it about him and looked at it as a reflection of his manhood. So, I was made a pawn to deal with his insecurities.

    Yes, I was there because I was gay. That’s it. Not because I was doing anything else that could have been a lot worse like drugs, stealing, bad grades, or whatever.

    Understandably, I was pretty pissed. Not at the school, but at my situation.

    I won’t go into the rest of it, but it gets worse from there.

    If you’re interested, I’m doing well now. My partner and I just bought a house. No kids but one dog. I earned a master’s degree, am an accountant, and make a good living. I am happy. I have not spoken to my family in years.

    Really nice job on the documentary.

    Regards,

    Steve McIntosh

    • HI Steve,

      Good lord! I had no idea, and I’m so sorry you went through this. I’m glad you posted your story, and I’m also glad life got easier after high school. It usually does, but in your case, in a more extreme way—clearly. It’s awful that your parents weren’t accepting of who you are. Here’s hoping the world at large has been kinder in the years since.

      Thank you for the generous words about the video.

      Best,
      Kim

  15. Steve, while I don’t actually remember you by name, I can say that you are not among the first (nor the last) students for whom your story rings true. For the 26 years that I taught in Metro (four different schools) I was always aware of young people who somehow survived the alienation and family estrangement that came from being gay. There were a few, sadly, who could not find a way to peace. I longed for an LGBT organization 40 years ago so that help and counseling would be available. Our society may have come a long way, but we have more work to do. Congratulations on your current life. Peace! J.M. Noble

    • Thank you.

      For a long time, I wanted to fill in the blanks with the staff and class, but there was a day that posting my response publicly would have looked rather ridiculous. It was a different time back in the late 80’s. Back then, I felt it was something to be embarrassed of. That took a long time to get over.

      I also didn’t know of a way to facilitate clearing up the mystery (I felt I owed that to people) since I haven’t seen really any organized efforts among the class until I came to this page. It appeared everyone went their separate ways. Also, I wasn’t sure if it really mattered anymore, if anyone cared or even remembered who I was. I also realize that in school I wasn’t very approachable and that maybe people were a bit apprehensive. That’s why doing this took so long.

      • Honestly, I think most teenagers are so caught up in their own dramas, big and small, that we fail to pay close enough attention to the quiet despair of our classmates. We all lived in our own heads, to a large degree. Besides, I don’t think you have anything to explain. But if you want to get in touch with people, there are always lots of Facebook discussions among the various HFA classes, if you are a FB user.

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