Elementary school memories: playing the engineer and building an illegal dam

May 15, 2022 — by Jonny Luo
Photo by Annie Liu
I remember squatting around the dam I built with my friends
As AP tests and finals rapid approach, it’s nice to reminisce on childhood recesses filled with diligent scheming and clever uses of sticks and spoons

As students from all grades charge head-first into the emotional roller coaster that is APs and finals season, it’s nice for all of us to take a moment and reflect on our childhood and the happy memories they contain and bring us some happiness amidst the hecticness of May. 

If you’re reading this, stop and take a few moments to take a trip down memory lane and reflect on some happy moments from your childhood. What was your favorite TV show? What are some cherished memories you had with your friends? 

Now that you’ve taken a few minutes to think of your own memories, here’s one of mimine: 

The rain poured outside as my fifth-grade teacher Mrs. Kambish finished her lecture on the American Revolution, but my mind lingered far from mundane descriptions of war generals and analyses of “My Brother Sam Is Dead.” After she dismissed us, my friends and I eagerly rushed down to a patch of dirt next to the basketball courts, where our freshly made dam sat in all its glory. 

Little rivulets of water streamed down the tarmac towards the dirt, trickling into a crudely dug canal where the rainfall flowed into our dam. 

I stood there for a few minutes, soaking wet, grinning proudly at our prized creation before heading to the parking lot with my friends. 

When you imagine a dam, you probably picture towering monstrosities of cement and hydroelectric turbines that are vital to America’s water supply, but my dam was different. It was crude, could barely hold more than two gallons of water and was basically a hole in the ground. But it was my hole in the ground. 

Our project was hatched when my friends and I decided to build a dam in the dirt at Argonaut Elementary School. It was a meticulously planned affair — at least to my 9-year-old mind. 

Every day during recess, my friends and I would file out of class, some holding freshly filled-up water bottles, and walk to the construction site. 

When we arrived, those with bottles would dump their water into the hole designated for the dam, while everyone else would grab sticks, spoons or whatever utensils they could find and start digging. The water softened the dirt enough so that it was easy to dig. Toiling day after day, we always made incremental progress. 

We would return to our classrooms with dirty hands, but we were happy. We’d rinse our hands off and get back to learning.

One day, however, we received bad news. While my friends and I were happily working on our dam, the principal came by and told us to shut down the operation. The government funding had just run out. 

Just kidding — a school employee reported that the dam was a tripping hazard, and we were forced to cover it with dirt, pine cones and a random plank of wood.

I find it kind of funny that the only thing I remember about my elementary school principal is her decision to shut down the dam-digging operation. I don’t remember her face or her name, but I do remember that she said “no” to our dam. 

Now, the remnant of my dam still sits at Argonaut, little more than an unrecognizable divot in the ground, but to me, that divot will always remind me of some of the happiest moments of my life.

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