Students, past and present, bid adieu to Wilde Lake

May 23, 1994|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Sun Staff Writer

The scene at Wilde Lake High School was just like that of any regular school day -- except the "students" were older.

They gathered at what they call "The Rail," a curved steel beam that encircles the media center -- a great place to people-watch. Others milled around the commons area near the cafeteria, catching up on gossip.

The crowd of nearly 500 people consisted mostly of graduates of Wilde Lake, dating to its first senior class in 1973. They returned along with their teachers and administrators for an open house yesterday to take a final look before the building closes next month to be demolished and replaced by a new structure.

Graduates came back with video cameras to capture on tape the classrooms and hallways as they fondly remembered them. Some had spouses and children in tow. All looked around for old classmates and teachers, and talked about their good memories and the people who made Wilde Lake a special place.

Columbia resident Cheryl Ballew, who graduated in 1980, reminisced about two drama and music teachers who had touched her life. She's a teacher now.

"I can't believe they're tearing it down," she said. "There are memories, and you can't take them away."

In the cafeteria, visitors bought "Last Call of the Wilde" T-shirts, emblazoned with a yellow and green picture of their school building.

Students sold other memorabilia, such as plastic key rings, pennants and sun visors, raising money for the prom and other activities.

Even pieces of the school were for sale, with the Parent-Teacher-Student Association offering Wilde Lake bricks at $5 each and pieces of the rail where students congregate for $10 a chunk. Sales were brisk, said Janet Quirk, a parent volunteer, as she fanned a stack of greenbacks.

Wilde Lake opened in 1971 as Columbia's first high school, with 900 students -- including eighth-graders to help fill the building initially. The school hadn't been completed, so bulldozers and jackhammers were a noisy backdrop for weeks into that first school year as construction workers completed classrooms and the auditorium.

It was a nationally recognized model school, with open classrooms, a no-fail grading policy, advisory groups, flexible scheduling and self-paced instruction. Students took as many classes as they wanted, and in any semester they wanted. Teachers were more like sages, guiding their young ones when they needed help.

But Wilde Lake changed over the years. Walls were erected to block noise and the individualized instruction was ended.

And next school year the no-fail policy, in which students had to earn at least a "C" grade or they would have a course listed as incomplete at report-card time, will be gone.

Lee Epstein, a member of the senior class that will be the last to graduate from the current Wilde Lake, said the school's closing marks a chapter in history.

"We are the end of an era, in sort of a way," the 18-year-old said. "It has gone through so many changes and now, the [school] is going to be more traditional. It'll never be the same or as unique or special."

Senior Molly Norton, 18, said she would miss the 23-year-old building.

"I'm sad I won't be able to go back to visit my high school," she said. "It won't be the same."

"They're going to build another school and another Wilde Lake, but the new school won't have what is here now," said senior Kristin Thompson, 18, adding the school was unique because of its doughnut-shaped architectural design.

"You walk around and you see everyone you know," she said. "It's a friendly atmosphere."

Displays of photographs taken during Wilde Lake's early years filled an archive room in the media center -- images such as the long-haired students in high platform shoes and wide lapels dancing at a prom, and members of a football team in their huddle.

Karen McCray Rayfield, who graduated in 1976, remembered how shocked she was her first day at Wilde Lake, which was more carefree than the strict, all-female school she had attended.

She walked around Wilde Lake in search of her first class. Even after someone led her to the room, she said, "the next day I couldn't find it again."

She met her future husband, Dr. William "Butch" Rayfield, at the school. He was a member of Wilde Lake's football team and graduated a year ahead of her.

"The school is so different," she said. "It's really open. It was a fun place to learn. But you had to be someone who was self-motivated. If you weren't self-motivated, you could fall behind."

"This building brought us together in a way the more conventional building did not," said John M. Jenkins, the school's first principal. "The teachers' planning areas were all together. You go to a lot of schools and you have departments isolated from departments and teachers isolated from other teachers."

Not all who attended the open house were nostalgic about leaving Wilde Lake.

"It's going to be nice to go to a new school," said Rebecca Hall, 15, a member of the last freshman class to start at the present Wilde Lake. "I don't think much will change because it will be the same people going to a different school. It will be kind of the same."

She lamented the fact that she and the other remaining students will have to wake up earlier to catch buses to River Hill High School off Route 108 in Clarksville, where students will attend two years before the new Wilde Lake opens.

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