Guilford Elementary celebrates an anniversary, recalls the 1950s

NEIGHBORS

October 22, 2004|By Lisa Kawata | Lisa Kawata,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WHEN GUILFORD Elementary School opened in 1954, the children and teachers were all black, the principal lived across the street and teachers visited their pupils' homes to give progress reports to their parents.

In 1954, Disneyland had not opened; neither had the McDonald's chain of fast-food restaurants. Alaska and Hawaii would not become states for five more years.

When Guilford Elementary kicked off its 50th birthday celebration Oct. 8 with a parade, singing and activities that recalled the 1950s, the school's 400 pupils and their teachers marched around the parking lot carrying homemade banners on which these facts were recorded, along with others chronicling five decades of the school's and the nation's history.

The fourth- and fifth-grade chorus led the school in a new song written for the occasion by music teacher Jackie Cousins and two of her pupils - third-grader Nathan Borowski and his sister, Madeleine, a fifth-grader. In the evening, children and their parents put on poodle skirts and white T-shirts with leather jackets for a '50s-theme family sock-hop, sponsored by the PTA.

"The teachers are awesome," said Jennifer Lastova, who came to the sock hop with her husband, Mark, and their children, Scott, a third-grader, and Katie, a kindergartner. Scott was one of the young readers reciting notable events of the 1960s during the morning celebration. He remembered some of his facts: Barbie got her new boyfriend, Ken, and Nike shoes were invented.

Guilford's history and its reputation for caring about its children go back to the late 19th century, when a one-room public school for black children was at Guilford and Oakland Mills roads.

With the help of the community's black residents, who raised much of the construction money, the tiny school moved to Mission and Guilford roads in the 1920s.

Howard County elementary schools went to the seventh grade then, and black children attended for seven months, in contrast to the nine-month school calendar for white children. In 1943, the Guilford School parents campaigned to get a well dug on school property, and for additional teachers through the years. Because of crowding, a new location was sought.

"This is a special school. The community sticks together," said Joyce Minor, who had only to walk across the street to attend fifth- and sixth-grade when the new Guilford Elementary opened in 1954 farther north on Oakland Mills Road.

Her father, Morris Woodson, was principal.

"The school was the center of attraction," said Minor, who remembers attending movie nights and festivals there. "There wasn't much to do in the county back then, especially for blacks."

Being the daughter of the principal, "I was kept in check," Minor said. "It seemed that he spent most of his waking hours here." Her dad knocked on the doors of many of their neighbors during the school year just to see how families were doing, she said.

Before becoming Guilford's principal, Woodson was the elementary supervisor of the county's "colored schools," as they were called before desegregation. He kept the position during his first year as Guilford's principal.

Minor returned to her elementary school in 1965 to work as a teacher's aide for five years. By then, Howard County's public schools had been integrated.

Herman Charity, executive assistant to County Executive James N. Robey, attended first through sixth grade at Guilford, from 1955 to 1961. He played in the band and was captain of the safety patrols, which also earned him the job of the school's junior fire marshal. He was involved in student government and performed in Guilford's drama club.

"I remember how caring the teachers were," Charity said. "They used to visit our homes to give our parents a progress report," he said, adding that he did not always appreciate the attention.

"I was a good student, but I liked to have fun," he said. His favorite was sixth-grade teacher Leonard Moore.

Fifty years ago, it cost about $216,000 to build the 11-room school on Oakland Mills Road. Today, it costs more than $1 million just to buy furniture for an elementary school.

Even then, redistricting was a problem for county children; when the Elkridge and Meadowridge "colored schools" were closed, their pupils were transferred to Guilford Elementary. By 1955, 350 children attended Guilford, and in 1959, an addition was built. Since then, it has been renovated at least twice; the school is scheduled for another renovation during the next two summers.

Despite the changes, big and small, the little school by the railroad tracks has maintained its reputation as a nurturing place.

Principal Genee Varlack attributes this to "the willingness and availability of staff members to not only care, but to form relationships with pupils and families.

"Some parents still come back, after their students have gone on, to get our advice because of the experiences they've had with us," she said.

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