It’s Elementary

May 18, 2022


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.

This is long before my time, but you can see the beautiful, functional windows in this photo, probably from the 1950's.

 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. 

My 3rd grade class. How we loved Mrs. Whatley. I know you'll ask - front row, red shirt. 

The invitation said, "Come walk through the halls one last time."

How could we refuse? 

Myrtle Grove Elementary School 2022

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.

Over 100 people showed up to see the old school one last time.

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?

My Mom made this "through the years" collection of all my school photos. One is cute, the others are alarming.

 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. 

The first sign I'd grow up to be a teacher.

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.

Mr. Thorsen was the nicest man and we deeply respected him. He carried a big wooden paddle around in the hallways.

 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. 

5th grade with Miss Davis. Stay tuned later this summer for another story about this class.

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.

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  • Kitty Chew says:

    Great tale! Looking forward to the next one. Kitty

    • Leslie Anne Tarabella says:

      Thanks Kitty! Always a story to tell!

  • I agree with Roxanne, this was a walk down memory lane. I remember those hot classrooms from yesteryear. I have beautiful memories of my elementary school which was much like yours. I loved all my teachers. Discipline was used and parents approved. Reading, writing, and arithmetic were the focus. It now seems things are upside down! Thanks for sharing!

    • Leslie Anne Tarabella says:

      You mentioned discipline, which is curious. Even though the principal carried a paddle around, he rarely used it. I’m guessing there were far less discipline issues then, than now. One classmate in the 5th grade photo had the principal come to the classroom, which was WAY OUT of the ordinary, and they stepped outside the door. We all strained to listen, as the principal gave him a huge “talking to” for using the word, “S-U-C-K-S” which back then, was shockingly horrible. It was a big scandal. Years later, thanks to parents thinking Bart Simpson was cute, all the kids and even news anchors use it. Every time I hear it, I think of poor Tracy who got an earful, but escaped the paddle.

  • Roxanne Bernard says:

    Wow, this was like a walk down memory lane! I was one of the elementary school kids from the 1950s…it was soooo hot even with the windows open. After lunch was a lost cause for the teachers…everyone was in a heat and lunch induced coma! Totally agree with others above on how ugly schools are now, how are the kids supposed to look out and daydream? We have had a few old school buildings around here turned into beautiful condos though.

    • Leslie Anne Tarabella says:

      Condos? Very interesting. You hit on something wonderful about education that is lost on teachers and parents now — time to daydream. MMMmmmm… thinking this may result in a good story. After talking with the administration at my old school, I have hopes the new school will be better than a plain bread box. It actually sounds hopefully beautiful. Thanks Roxanne.

  • Arlene Cocke says:

    I am teary eyed looking at this story. They were blessed to have such a bright child back then. Your teachers did a fantastic job and now we get to enjoy your blogs down memory lane. It is beautiful. My grade school and high school both gone in Ft. Wayne, In. and so am I,could not wait to leave, and get on with the next chapter. I admired all of my teachers, nuns and secular teachers at Central Catholic High! Only fond memories!
    PS, don’t ever stop!

    • Leslie Anne Tarabella says:

      Well, you are just the sweetest. I was far from being a bright light back then – actually, rather skinny and quiet. But I loved being at school every day. Thanks for reading and your kind words Arlene!

  • This is such a sweet story and you were as beautiful as a child as you are now. I could easily have been in the picture from the 1950s if it was a Tennessee school. I loved the school buildings I attended all 12 grades–no kindergarten back then. Teachers were experts at adjusting the shades on the windows to cool the room down on hot days but thank goodness we had big windows to look out of and let the light in. I remember so well the stage where classes performed several times a year and the audience packed with parents, men leaving their hats on a shelf in the rear, moms dressed in church dresses. I remember the Pledge of Allegiance and Scripture read over the loudspeaker each morning before classes began. You’ve made me so nostalgic while reading this and I would jump at the chance to go back for a day as you did. I wish your school could be preserved, Leslie Anne, in some form.

    • Leslie Anne Tarabella says:

      Thanks Dewena. It was indeed a blessing to have some sort of “closure.” If I had discovered after the fact that the building was gone, it would have left a hole in my heart. It was so nice of the PTA and school staff to organize this final goodbye.

  • Oh how sweet, what a wonderful visit to relive special memories! It is so sad how our society loves to tear things down these days…

    • Leslie Anne Tarabella says:

      It’s not just the tearing down, but nowadays, buildings aren’t built to last. Think about the schools in Europe that continue to meet in buildings that are 100’s of years old. We’re a throw-away kind of society. The “new” middle school in Fairhope opened with flooding issues, a leaking roof and a loud band room built next to the special education room, which needed quiet. People just don’t think anymore.

  • This is so familiar. My school in Georgia went through the same thing. A beautiful building, but inadequate. Knocked to the ground and now there’s an ugly new one in its place. Too bad they don’t build them like they used to.

    • Leslie Anne Tarabella says:

      I’ve studied the concept behind the “new” schools with small windows, sterile environment, and I absolutely hate it. The footprint is huge because they refuse to build efficient two story buildings – BUT . . . I have an inside word that “my” new Myrtle Grove Elementary will be fantastic. I can’t wait to see it. – Thanks for the comment Thomas!

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