McKaig recalls that the dress code was far more strict. It was commonplace for girls to wear dresses, pantyhose, and dress flats or low heels, and boys generally wore khakis with belts and dress shirts. Things loosened up a bit when headmaster Doug Eveleth made the decision to permit students to wear jeans on Mondays only.
For the first several years of her career at PD, McKaig says that teachers had a wide range of responsibilities in addition to their teaching duties. “Betty Jo Steele was a full-time math teacher, head of the Math Department, served as admissions director, composed all of the seniors’ college letters, directed student activities, and handled attendance for the entire school.” McKaig herself has worn many hats. At different times during her career, she has taught journalism, drama, Yearbook, and SAT prep, and this was on top of teaching all of the Latin classes that the school offered. She was also the faculty leader of the Keyettes, theater director, and Middle School cheerleading coach.
Roberta McKaig in her role as the Yearbook adviser in the 1980s.
Each job came with its own set of challenges. As a Latin teacher, she spent years without her own classroom and had to carry her materials from place to place. As the theater teacher, she conducted rehearsals in the drama classroom because the only stage was in the Ridenhour gym, and it was constantly in use. Often, the first time the actors would use the stage with an open curtain was on opening night.
So, while she was definitely busy, McKaig says that the pace of life back then didn’t seem as intense as it does today, but she thinks this could be because everyone was equally involved. McKaig says that she actually misses teaching the other courses because they gave her an opportunity to know more of the students than she does now.
The World Language department in the 1980s.
As the school has grown, some of its traditions have changed. McKaig remembers fondly how Homecoming was more of an all-school affair. Each grade in the Upper School had to come up with its own chant and dance, and the number of points awarded to a class was closely tied to the percentage of students who participated. One year, the entire senior class went onto the gym floor to perform a dance set to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” that included moonwalking and a fog created with dry ice. Each class would also create “spirit links,” which were chains of rings made from red, white, and blue construction paper. During Homecoming Week, students would bring garbage bags filled with paper chains and would hang them in the hallways of the school – there were often so many spirit links draped along the ceilings that people would have to duck under them to get to class.
Roberta McKaig teaches class in the 1980s.
McKaig also notes that there seemed to be more time in the day to appreciate the talents of individual students. Several times per year, each class would be shortened by five minutes so that the mid-morning break could be made an hour-long, and during these times, students would display their talents. She vividly remembers stunning performances such as a male soccer player sitting on a stool in the middle of the gym singing a beautiful rendition of “Once, Twice, Three Times a Lady,” a basketball player singing James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain,” and a young woman signing “Even Now” by Barry Manilow. McKaig says, “It was before we had facilities [like we do now], but we had heart.”
McKaig has always been amazed by the talent of the students at PD. “I’m always blown away by how these young people can be athletes and students at our level and still have the time to develop these talents – it’s just mind-boggling.” And, she says that the students today are in many ways even more accomplished than they were in the past, but the difference is that there is less time in the day for the entire school to appreciate one another. She says that although the Performing Arts Department puts on incredible performances, these usually happen in the evening. Therefore, the people in the audience are mostly parents, siblings, and a few friends and teachers, so a good portion of the student body has fewer opportunities to see how talented their peers are.