Last Ellicott Mills middle-schoolers pay homage as an era ends

Neighbors

June 01, 1999|By Sally Voris | Sally Voris,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

THE RED brick building that houses Ellicott Mills Middle School will be demolished this month. For 60 years, the school on Montgomery Road has anchored the Ellicott City community.

This year, the school celebrated its 60th anniversary -- and its final year.

The farewell tribute was organized by Gifted and Talented Program resource teacher Donna Johnson, who is finishing her first year at the school.

When she interviewed for the position last year, Principal David Lovewell specified that he wanted the new coordinator to organize a final celebration.

Johnson was delighted. It was just the kind of project that appeals to her, she said. She likes to organize "huge" events that involve the many talents of pupils. Johnson said she was attracted to the resource position for that reason.

She decided to involve the Ellicott Mills pupils and staff in planning and producing a play, "Ellicott Mills: 60 Years of Success."

Johnson directed the play, which portrays six decades of student life at the school through narration, music and dance. Performances were held Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

The school opened as the second Ellicott City High School in 1939. (The original Ellicott City High School opened in 1902 in a stone building, now a condominium on College Avenue.)

The brick high school served everyone in Ellicott City. It was converted into a junior-senior high school in 1947 and after Howard High School opened, became solely a junior high in 1951.

It was renamed Ellicott Mills Middle School in 1988.

Sixth-graders researched the history of the school, the Ellicott City community and world events, beginning in 1939.

Seventh- and eighth-grade pupils interviewed former staff members and helped Henry Ward, the eighth-grade English teacher, develop a script.

Music teacher Lee Pogue picked songs that captured the flavor of the decades. Volunteers searched thrift shops and pulled costumes from the school's closets to find the appropriate fashions.

The pupils auditioned to be narrators, singers and dancers.

At the beginning, Johnson said, the school was just a building to the pupils. Several were pleased when they heard that the school would be demolished.

Indeed, the old building has problems, they say: The air-conditioning and heating system don't work or work too well, and the clock in the music room can't keep time.

But slowly, the children began to realize that people like themselves had been in the building for 60 years.

Eighth-graders Caitlin Faupel, Amy Allen, Kristina Donahue, Emily Sharpe, Britt Faulkner, Lauren Allen and Sarah Brondo described how children of another time became real to them.

Emily said she learned that pupils during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War were more worried about the battles and the safety of their families than about their studies.

Caitlin said she and her friends had never been touched by war.

Everyone liked the '40s swing music. Unlike some '90s pop music, it "sounded respectful to everyone," Britt said.

Caitlin commented that at first it was "hard to imagine that everything in the play went on here."

In the play, she is the last pupil to leave the school. Her final line: "I guess I'll just take one last look and say goodbye."

Sarah said it was sad that the school would be torn down, and there would be no proof left of its existence.

Others were excited to be the last graduating class, or described how nice the new school could be. A middle school will be built on the site.

During dress rehearsal in the cafeteria Tuesday, Lauren belted out a Motown medley as sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade girls swayed behind her. The children in the audience cheered.

Several teachers, including Mary Conker, who has taught reading at Ellicott Mills for 32 years, lingered at the back of the room.

Media specialist Kathy Manley and math teacher Sue Pope watched with her, and remembered their years at the school.

Manley has been at the school for seven years. This year, she researched its history.

The school opened, Manley said, the year that Academy Award winner "Gone With the Wind" was in theaters. She was given a copy of the first yearbook -- published by the Class of 1940, when John Yingling was principal. Yingling served as Howard County school superintendent from 1949 to 1968.

Included is a calendar of the year's events with the first impressions of students entering the new school: "September 6, 1939: First day in our new school. Upperclassmen just as bewildered as the 30 new freshmen."

The yearbook, called "The Oracle," featured the 48-star American flag on its cover with the motto, "In Union There Is Strength." It is dedicated "To the Eagles, both growing and mature and to our American spirited friends, we publish a synopsis of our past, at both the Old and New Ellicott City High School, to renew in their and our minds, memories of the many happy days spent at school."

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