The past catches up with the class of '86, thanks to their teacher

December 02, 1991|By Lisa Wiseman | Lisa Wiseman,Special to The Evening Sun

KELLY LUCKY of Bel Air still gets mail at her mother's house; people from her past are catching up as her life fast-forwards.

She's just beginning to shoulder adult responsibilities that she took for granted when she lived "at home." She's been married only two months, and she's making her own home not far from her mother's. So when her mother recently told her that a letter from high school had arrived at her childhood address, Lucky wasn't surprised.

Until the words on the paper began to look familiar.

"Dear Kelly, I'm in 10th grade in Ms. Pickard's English class at North Harford High School . . ."

The writer is 15 years old, a girl. She loves Madonna -- especially the new song "Material Girl." She'll probably be a schoolteacher when she grows up. She predicts she'll marry at the age of 22.

"When I looked at the letter, I was shocked," says Lucky, who is 20. "I knew it was my handwriting, but I couldn't figure out what it was. When I started to read the letter, I pieced it together and realized that the letter was from a while ago. I kept looking at the postmark to see why I had this old letter."

Long forgotten by former students who are now scattered across the state and country, this was a writing assignment from teacher Janine Pickard. It produced personal time capsules from the 1986-1987 school year: Write about your lives, she had asked them. Tell what you look like, who your friends are, who you are in love with, what your favorite song is, what is going on in your families and what you will do after high school.

"When I first gave the assignment, the students were very skeptical that they would be getting the letters back . . . Some thought the idea was dumb," Pickard says. "I wanted students to see how they have changed," she says. "I wanted them to remember what it was like to be in 10th grade -- to read something that said, 'Do you remember when?'"

The teacher, who is still at North Harford High School, placed the sealed envelopes in a manila folder marked "To be mailed -- Fall 1991" and for five years it gathered dust in a file cabinet. She didn't forget the letters; in fact, in the years since 1986, she has added more packets to the cabinet -- letters for 1992, 1993, 1994 ...

Lucky's letter was among about 30 from the original class; Pickard sent them to the students' old addresses last month. Most arrived at the parents' homes. One mother opened the letter and decided that the words written five years ago by her daughter amounted to smut; shocked, she ripped up the letter.

"Tenth-graders tend to personalize a lot. I knew they would write a lot about themselves. They're very verbal," says Pickard.

The 10th-grade year, for its mostly 15-year-olds, often is a period of awakening and rebellion, first loves and self-discovery. It is also the last time of hope and innocence before adulthood, as reflected in many students' letters. For many in Pickard's class, 1986-1987 was a season of optimism.

Tony Greene, 20, says receiving his letter prompts him to reflect on his high school study habits. "I wish I had done better," says the former jock, whose letter recounts his athletic achievements: "Dear Tony, I'm on the football team . . . I'll be playing basketball next semester. I am about 5'8" tall . . . I hope to be about 6'4"."

Greene grew to an impressive 6-foot-7, and he plays basketball for Towson State University's team, but his goals have changed. Now majoring in engineering and hoping to graduate in two years, he admits, "I didn't take [school] too seriously. I tried to get away with as much as possible, and just have a good time when I was in school.

"I thought Ms. Pickard was just fooling around with the assignment. If I had known that I would get the letter back, I would have written more. I only wrote half a page. I would have written down who all my friends were."

The former Kelly Green never mentioned classmate Gary Lucky in her letter (although she penned "My honey" next to his picture in her yearbook). They'd been dating about four months.

"I don't know why I didn't mention Gary," Kelly Lucky says. "I guess I just didn't picture myself with him . . . I didn't think I was going to marry him back then. Isn't it funny how things change?"

"I know my own views have changed," Lucky continues. "I never thought that I'd be living on my own now. I guess when you're high school, you can't picture yourself leaving your parents."

Lucky learned from her letter that at 15 she wanted to be a teacher. Today, she's a computer operator in Hunt Valley. "I was always afraid of computers. When I was in school, computers weren't really that big. There were only a few of them at school, not like today," she says.

High school has changed in five years, Lucky believes. "I think of all the drugs and violence that are going on right now -- there's just so much of it. I don't remember there being so much of it when I was in school. Kids just seem so much older now. They act older than we did. I think we were more innocent then."

She, too, had lacked faith that she'd ever see the letter again. "You know how you are in 10th grade."

Pickard knows. Although she no longer teaches English, her dedication has kept the letter-writing project alive. In a classroom that smells like ditto machine ink and is painted an awful yellow shade, Pickard's French II students are reciting verbs and dreaming and writing letters to themselves. There's just one catch -- they have to write in French.

The idea sparks mixed reactions among her students, who are writing for the year 1996.

Fifteen-year-old Mike Weller knows what he is going to write. "I want to list all my friends, everyone who is important to me," he says.

Others fear they won't remember enough French in five years to read their letters, but Heather Martin, 15, says, "I think it will be interesting to get the letter back. It will be like a code. I'll have to go to the library, get a French book, and try to break the code to see who I was."

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