We've been writing a lot lately about problems with Quincy's aging schools.
In talking with school personnel, one issue that gets mentioned frequently is the lack of central air conditioning in many schools and how teachers and students must contend with noise from window units.
Marty Rubottom is an expert on this subject.
Rubottom has been teaching third grade at Dewey Elementary School since 1993. During her first few years at Dewey, she didn't even have an air conditioner in her classroom. Instead, she toughed it out with everyone else on those sultry late-summer days when temperatures would soar into the 90s and 100s.
"It was so hot that when I would go around the room to help the students, I would be sweating," she recalled.
"One time my sweat fell on a little boy's paper. I'd really been working hard to get him to write something, and he said: ‘I finally wrote something, and now you've ruined it.' I said: ‘Sorry. I'll be careful where my sweat falls from now on.' "
The Quincy School District didn't start buying window air conditioners for classrooms until just a few years ago. Back when she was starting out, Rubottom said, "if you wanted air conditioning in your room, you had to buy your own air conditioner."
One August day in the late 1990s, it was so unbearably hot that Rubottom finally asked a friend who runs an air conditioning company what it would take to install a window unit in her classroom. He told her that because her room was on Dewey's top floor near the roof -- and on the sunny side of the building as well -- she would need a heavy-duty air conditioner. "One of the regular ones isn't going to work," he told her.
"Great," Rubottom replied. "Now we have to get an even higher-priced one."
Rubottom's husband, Jim, overheard that remark. Since August also happens to be their wedding anniversary month, he suddenly had an idea for an anniversary gift.
"He kind of jokingly said, ‘Would you like a diamond necklace, or would you like air conditioning in your classroom?' " Marty recalled. "I said, ‘Well, I guess it's air conditioning in my classroom.' "
That very same air conditioner is still humming away today. And it is certainly loud enough.
"When my kids do their little poetry presentations, I have to turn everything off" so everyone can hear, Rubottom said.
"The kids actually complain because takes about 15 to 20 minutes to do the poetry presentations, and they're sitting there going: ‘Mrs. Rubottom, you gotta turn it back on.'
"I tell them: ‘Well, we are either cool or we hear. One or the other. Which is it going to be?' They all say: ‘Cool!' And I say: ‘No. We're going to listen. You can suffer for a while.' "
Rubottom, who has worked in the same classroom at Dewey every year except for her first year in 1993, is thankful to have her trusty window unit when the days get hot. And she'll forever be grateful to her husband for buying it.
"My husband is wonderful," she said. "I mean, he has bought so much for me for school. In fact, the air conditioner is now on its last legs, so just this year he bought me a tower thing that helps the air conditioner circulate more cool air, so now we have that, too," he said.
Rubottom plans to retire in a couple of years, and she's praying the window unit will hang in there until she leaves.
"Sometimes my husband jokes that I'll make more in retirement because I won't be buying so many things for the classroom," she said.