30 Things Only New York City Public School Kids Will Remember

Bust out that green MetroCard, “borrow” some more Jansport strings, and take a trip down memory lane.

1. You secretly enjoyed filling out Delaney cards at the beginning of each year/semester because it meant 15 minutes of not having to do actual work.

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And you always had that one quirky teacher who asked you to add something totally weird to yours — like your favorite flower or board game.

2. NYPD vans/cars parked outside your school were an everyday occurrence.

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No need for alarm, folks. This is just the NYC version of detention.

3. The days of your youth are filled with memories of stair cages and bars over the windows.

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Weird, but you never really thought twice about it until you realized schools on TV/in the movies had open, bar-less windows and staircases sans a weird cage around them.

In fact, the entire building was pretty decrepit. I’m talking to you, great asbestos scare of the mid-’90s.

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Come to think of it, it was amazing you were ever able to foster a sense of childlike wonder and overall happiness, actually.

4. A class of 40 kids was the standard.


A small school by NYC standards probably had about 1,000 students.

5. You developed a unique sense of slang.

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It’s brick out. Gully. Brolic. Mad hard body. Type ___. Calling people “son.”

6. There was a window-pole monitor.

For those big-ass windows, son.

7. Your school “playground” was a tiny slab of concrete.

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It built character.

8. School lunch choices were a motley assortment of meals you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.

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Cheese in the middle of a fish disk, washed down with 70-degree chocolate milk, anyone? Spotting the elusive pepperoni pizza or Jamaican beef patty was like hitting the jackpot.

(And you always snuck an extra butter crunch cookie.)

9. Your high school had a nursery.

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Because teen pregnancy is a thing.

10. Creepy old desks were the bane of your existence.

Reaching deep into the back of your desk to find something was your first true brush with terror.

11. And there were never enough lefty desks.

Sucked to be left-handed you — the dearth of lefty-accommodating desks throughout your public school education probably shaved two years off the back end of your life.

12. You either totally looked forward to (nerd!) or totally dreaded (underachiever!) the annual storytelling contest.


(FYI, one of these BuzzFeeders may or may not have made it to the district championships in third grade. NBD.)

13. There were zero communal art supplies.


Unless you count a handful of Crayola-knockoff colored pencils and crusted-up finger paint left over from the class two years ago.

14. SING!

Even the non-theater nerds looked forward to it.

15. You had the best school trips a kid could ask for.

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The Museum of Natural History (dinosaurs and ^the Hayden Planetarium!), the Empire State Building, Ellis Island, the Met, the Hall of Science (giant bubbles!), the Statue of Liberty (though flashbacks of climbing those stairs still traumatize you to this day)…

16. Your student MetroCard had more value than gold.

And you always tested it out on holidays to see if it would still work on your day off.

17. Applying for high schools consumed 90% of your life circa age 13.

Reading through that giant book was equal parts terrifying, exciting, and utterly confusing. What do you MEAN this school will only accept me if I have it down as my No. 1??!?

…which also included studying for specialized tests (shout-out to Stuy!) and the TACHS test for Catholic high schools.

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Other kids were playing tag and frolicking through the park without a care while we were studying for 12738921 tests and playing Tetris with public high school choices 1 through 10.

18. The word “Regents” overwhelms you with an inescapable sense of terror.

Because the SATs and ACTs weren’t enough? F u.

19. Your days started and ended with a metal detector.


And the threat of actual gang activity was a real thing, so watch it with the bandanas. (Unless you went to a super-geeky school that everyone made fun of. What up, Townsend Harris.)

20. Your social status was defined exclusively by the number and variety of strings on your bookbag.

The majority of which were borrowed (aka stolen) from your less-cool peers. Bonus points for putting a lighter to your multicolored string to split it into a couple different strings. Mad hard body.

21. The principal had to explicitly forbid grinding at your school dances.

Which left you confused as to how, exactly, you should move your body to music — so you just ended up grinding anyway. (What, were we supposed to waltz to dancehall reggae?)

22. Getting from one class to another was a serious mission.

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Six floors + no elevator + massive, slow-moving crowds + taking the long route to “accidentally” bump into your crush + realizing the book you needed for class was still in your locker/cubbyhole three floors below = 15–20 minutes.

23. You kissed your friends on the cheek to say hello.

And were totally confused when you tried to pull this move with your new college buds and were immediately branded a grade-A creep.

24. You became immune to witnessing/hearing about fights after school…

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…if by immune you mean YOU RAN TO EACH FIGHT WITH DELIGHT. Two mean girls fighting? Basically Ali vs. Frazier every single time. [Ed. note: We do not condone acts of physical violence as a means by which to settle an issue. It was simply a part of our childhoods, and we didn’t know any better.]

25. Nextel chirping was a daily background noise.

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26. Your school had “drug-free” dances…in, like, elementary school.

Thank you, New York City school system, for instilling in me a curiosity about what exactly “drugs” were by the time I was 8 years old — and why they were something you shouldn’t be bringing to dances in the third grade?

27. You cut school — but it wasn’t always so easy.

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It involved devising a plan so your parents never heard the NYC Board of Education “your child was not at school today” message on your machine. Or if you left early during the school day, this meant knowing which train station didn’t have a police officer waiting to catch your truant ass.

28. The bodega was your go-to meeting spot before and after school.

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Even before cell phones and beepers, you always knew where you could find your people.

29. “Middle school” is not in your vocabulary.

You went to junior high, son.

30. Your friends were from every cultural and religious background under the sun.

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Which is a pretty amazing thing. (Especially because you learned how to curse/say gross things in a million different languages by the time you were 15.)

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