Waterloo looking back 40 years

Anniversary: The Columbia elementary school is marking its first four decades at 7 p.m. May 20.

May 05, 2004|By Tawanda W. Johnson | Tawanda W. Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When David L. MacPherson opened Waterloo Elementary School as its first principal in 1964, he encountered some obstacles as he tried to accommodate about 600 pupils and 22 teachers.

"It was a challenge," the retired MacPherson said during a telephone interview from his home in Ellicott City. "The students came from various districts. They were all bused to the school, and we had to do some melding."

At that time, Howard County schools were in the beginning stages of desegregation - 10 years after the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that ended school segregation throughout the country. And although many African-Americans faced resistance by whites as they went to school, MacPherson recalled that Waterloo had no problems.

FOR THE RECORD - In an article in Tuesday's Howard County edition of The Sun on the 40th anniversary of Waterloo Elementary School in Columbia, the name of fifth-grader Amanda Hodgkinson was incorrectly spelled. The Sun regrets the error.

He is expected to share that story, as well as others, during the Columbia school's 40th anniversary celebration at 7 p.m. May 20 at the school. The event will feature a student string ensemble, speakers that include former administrators, teachers and students, a PowerPoint presentation of the school's history and light refreshments.

MacPherson recalled that he did not have much time to prepare for the opening of Waterloo, the first county school built on the east side of U.S. 29, followed by Thunder Hill and Phelps Luck elementary schools. "I had to go through a lot of student records before the school opened," he said.

After the first day, minor glitches needed ironing out.

"The intercom system was not hooked up, and we had to go around to all the rooms to tell the teachers about meetings," said MacPherson, who worked at the school for eight years before teaching at other county schools until his retirement in 1993.

Over the years, Waterloo has undergone tremendous change, with renovations and additions in the late 1980s and 1990s.

According to Maureen Stewart, Waterloo's media specialist who researched its history for the celebration, officials spent about $1.7 million in 1985 when the school added second- and third-grade pods, an art room, gymnasium and kindergarten classrooms with playrooms, and moved around some administrative and play areas.

In 1997, $1.6 million was spent after school officials decided to add fourth- and fifth-grade pods, a teacher workroom and lounge, and a recreation program.

Waterloo opened with 36,000 square feet and now has 60,000 square feet, said Stewart. About 600 pupils attend the school, which features a Gifted and Talented program, student council, after-school activities and accommodations for students with special needs.

Reading specialist Becky Shipp came to the school 1975 and remembered having to move out of the building in 1985 to former Waterloo Middle School while the first renovation was completed.

"We thought it would be more trouble than it turned out to be. ... One reason was because the school had stairs," she said.

But that was not the case, and the schoolchildren "liked the lockers," at the middle school, Shipp said.

Shipp added that the anniversary will be good time to rekindle friendships.

"The best part of the celebration [will be] seeing former students, staff and parents. We teachers never lose interest in our former students, and it is always a pleasure to see them again," she said.

Band teacher Bill Beachy began working at Waterloo in 1973, and he said he has watched with delight as students' musical interests have grown along with the school.

"Saxophones have always been popular," he said.

When he started teaching his band class, drums and flutes were all the rage, he said, adding that the string ensemble will perform classical and folksy pieces during the celebration May 20.

"It's going to be a lot of fun with the different generations getting together," he said of the celebration.

Fifth-graders Amanda Hodgkin and Garrett Brooks are also looking forward to the festivities.

"I think it's going to be a blast," said Amanda, who will be among the student speakers.

Added Garrett: "It's really cool that the school has lasted 40 years, and my class is going to play the drums [for the celebration]."

Waterloo Elementary is at 5940 Waterloo Road in Columbia.

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