New plans for former black school

Federal grants given to renovate building for social service program

Shady Side

January 16, 2000|By Amy Oakes | Amy Oakes,SUN STAFF

Miss Matthews sees the old Lula G. Scott Center on Shady Side Road and remembers her days teaching there in the small schoolhouse. Elaine Brown easily recalls the two women who taught her there -- more than 50 years ago. Her older sister, Barbara Johnson, laughs about having to walk 30 minutes with her siblings to get there.

For these women and many other African-American residents in the small bayside community of Shady Side, the center is part of their story in Anne Arundel County. Named after a local teacher and community activist, the building was the "colored" school in Shady Side until it was integrated in 1966 and later closed.

"To the blacks, it's our heritage. It's where we went to school," said Yvonne H. Matthews, 65, who still lives in Shady Side. "We want to keep the building there because it's a part of our legacy."

Residents of the Shady Side Peninsula have received more than $500,000 in federal grants to renovate the aging building so it can house a social service program for young mothers. Many in the community have worked hard to guarantee, however, that the renovation work will not interfere with the architectural integrity of the building.

The school was built in the 1920s by the one-time president of Sears, Roebuck and Co., Julius Rosenwald, who donated thousands of dollars to build schools throughout the South for black students. There were 24 built in Anne Arundel County and 292 statewide.

Mohan Grover, a business owner involved in the conversion project, said an architect has been hired, and the work should begin in six months. Renovations include floor and ceiling repairs, and plumbing and air-conditioning upgrades.

"We're trying to preserve this old building as is and still fix it where it needs to be fixed," said Grover, who owns the grocery store down the street from the former school.

Sherri Marsh, an architectural historian for the county, said the center is one of five Rosenwald schools left in the county. A similar renovation project is taking place in Queenstown.

"Lula Scott is probably the best, most intact of the ones in the county," Marsh said. "Many have been converted into church meeting halls and other things."

Matthews said two Rosenwald schools were built in the area for black children -- Shady Side Elementary School and Churchton Elementary School. They were built in the standard Rosenwald style of two rooms, a coal stove, windows across the front and wood desks with metal legs bolted to the floor.

Rosenwald had donated $700 for each school, Matthews said.

"He wanted to do something for the black race," said Matthews as she flipped through a collection of articles and booklets about the school. "We didn't have anything back then."

In 1953, the school in Churchton was moved and attached to the Shady Side school. A kitchen and indoor plumbing were installed later.

That same year, Matthews began her teaching career.

She started teaching third-graders, but soon switched to special education and never looked back. She loved working with the special-education pupils, she said, recalling the time they started making leather bracelets and key chains to sell.

"It was the best thing that I could have done with my life," Matthews said. "I saw children who had no hope and ended up being some of the best students."

She also remembers her first month's paycheck for $108. "I was shocked; I thought teachers made more," Matthews joked, but added that she never regretted her choice of profession.

The school was renamed the Lula G. Scott School in 1956 and was integrated in 1966. First- through third-graders were moved up the street to the Shady Side Elementary School for whites. The fourth- through seventh-graders continued to be taught at the Scott school.

"This was a very segregated community," Matthews said. "But we just went on and taught kids and forgot about what color they were."

When the school closed in 1971, Matthews continued to work for the school district. She retired 10 years later.

The school has held two reunions for former pupils and teachers, many of whom live in the area. In August 1998, Matthews said, about 300 to 400 former pupils gathered to celebrate their old school.

For Elaine Brown, who attended the school in the 1940s and has since moved to Churchton, the school reminds her of her two teachers, Miss Wiseman and Miss Burnell. She remembers sitting in the first- through third-grade classroom and doing her lessons while listening to what the older pupils were doing in the other room.

"We gained a lot of knowledge there," said Brown, now 64.

Brown said she walked to school with her sisters, Barbara Johnson and Patricia Gross. Johnson said she didn't mind the long walk because it gave her a chance to see her neighbors and talk to other pupils.

"We were all family," Johnson said.

Johnson's great aunt was Lula G. Scott, called "Aunt Lu" or "Miss Lu" by most. Aunt Lu, she said, was well-known and active in Shady Side.

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