Many of our classrooms had no air-conditioning — and this was in Florida. The "delicate" children of today with their worrywart parents and lawyers would surely melt under these conditions. But we were tough . . . and we didn't know any better. We were busy having fun and learning at Myrtle Grove Elementary School.
The school building was cleverly constructed with high ceilings to allow hot air to rise. Transom windows over the doors encouraged circulation. Giant windows covered an entire wall in each classroom allowing soft, natural light to flicker across our desks. Blinds were opened and closed as the sun passed over the building and most days, the windows were cracked open a tiny bit or thrown completely open and the scent of azaleas, sweet olive and camellias drifted inside. The building was constructed for optimum function and learning, and we loved it.
And yet . . . all good things must come to an end, and the Escambia County School Board decided to demolish the Myrtle Grove Elementary School building and replace it with another more modern and updated facility.
The invitation said, "Come walk through the halls one last time."
How could we refuse?
I had no idea that Myrtle Grove Elementary is the oldest continually operating elementary school in Escambia County, FL.
That's really something, considering Pensacola is the oldest city in America (no one from Pensacola believes St. Augustine's claim. It makes us mad). The school was founded in 1877 as a one-room schoolhouse then relocated three blocks down the road to the current location in 1938. And yes, central air conditioning has been added. A few noisy window units were actually installed while I was there.
The principal, Robin Malloy, along with the Girl Scouts, led us in the Pledge of Allegiance, then in singing, "My Country Tis of Thee," just like we did as children. We all looked around the old cafeteria into the faces of other "grown up kids," and realized all of us were choked up. We mumbled and sniffed through the school Alma Mater, which hadn't even been composed when I was a student, but it ripped at my heart all the same. This stage is where I was enormously shy but managed to sing and play the piano in the annual talent show. Now I'm a public speaker, (but can't play the piano as well as I did back then),so go figure.
I was so happy to see friends. Tracy and Jana on the left and Tina on the right were always fun and happy. Diane, in the middle photo, is a favorite of mine. Her mother was a teenager when my father was a baby, and she would rock him in the church nursery. Diane was my babysitter. I just love her and her entire family.
We were disappointed the classrooms were locked, but just being on the grounds of the school was enough to make everyone happy.
I opened the door to the teacher's lounge, and it was just the same. I was still afraid to go inside.
There were displays around the cafeteria with old photos and PTA scrapbooks. What would schools do without the parents?
Bricks, wood and cement constructed the school, but our memories and experiences we developed within the school, built us. It was a close-knit community and I can still drive through the neighborhoods and name the families and friends who once lived there.
I'll admit, it's pretty weird now, but my birthday was the first week of school and I loved (still love) a good theme party, so my mother baked a cake that looked like Myrtle Grove Elementary. She made giant pencils out of paper towel rolls and filled them with candy. "I'm the only one to have this building as a cake." I thought as I wandered through the still familiar hallways.
I loved chorus (above) and library day. I was highly honored to be chosen to work in the library one day a week and stamp the books. It was my favorite thing in the world. I would go home and play school and stamp my parent's books with an old rubber stamp. They weren't nearly as impressed as the Kindergarteners.
In Fairhope, a group of us petitioned the School Board and City Council to save our old school building. We wanted them to renovate it and continue using it as a school to alleviate overcrowding at the other schools. Alas, they city bought the building . . . and they are slowly - slowly, trying to decide what to do with it. (great frustration in my head now).
The entire Myrtle Grove community has undergone many changes since I lived there and the shift has unfortunately been reflected in the academic struggles of some of the children. The building itself is beyond saving due to severe water damage from a hurricane, so in this case, perhaps a new school will be a boost to the entire community.
Maybe a new building will be the spark needed to encourage both parents and students to take pride in their neighborhood. Principal Malloy and the other staff members I met were eager to move ahead and have the vision of seeing great things happening in the future. It's that spirit of excitement that will make Myrtle Grove Elementary a great place to learn and grow. Their love and enthusiasm for the school and community made me want to go back and teach Kindergarten again. It's only an hour drive . . . hmmm.
As I pulled away from the school for the last time, I told my husband how I used to love to sit beneath the giant oak trees in the front yard of the school and wait for my mother to pick me up.
I was so happy to have attended the ceremony and visit the old building one last time. I left with the strong feeling that good things are on the way for Myrtle Grove. I can't wait to visit again.