West Friendship's old-school ties

Public school with a strong academic record celebrates its 80th anniversary

Education Beat


In 1925, when several one-room schoolhouses were combined to create the West Friendship Consolidated High School, Calvin Coolidge was president, a car cost less than $300, and "Sweet Georgia Brown" by Louis Armstrong was a hit song.

For the first couple of years, the six-classroom school housed grades one through nine, but in 1928, grades 10 through 12 were added. The first graduating class, in 1930, had 13 students. Desks had inkwells, teachers could hit students on the wrist with a ruler if they misbehaved, and the bus was an open-sided vegetable truck.

Eighty years later, West Friendship Elementary School is now the oldest public school in the county, beloved as a small neighborhood school with a strong academic record.

Families return for generations, and parents keep volunteering long after their children have moved on, said the principal, Corita Oduyoye. "Once you become a part of the West Friendship family, you become vested and you never want to leave," she said.

The school celebrated its 80th birthday Friday with a 90-minute assembly. Children sang songs and recited poems, politicians gave speeches, and proclamations were declared. Letters of congratulations from Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes and even Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne, were read aloud.

Some of the school's alumni were also on hand, including Donald Ridgely, 69, who attended West Friendship Elementary in the 1940s, he said, and now takes students on field trips as part of his job as bus driver.

Del. Gale H. Bates, State Sen. Allan H. Kittleman and Sandra H. French, formerly of the county Board of Education, all parents of West Friendship children, were among the officials on hand. Kittlemen started his remarks by saying hello to his two sons in the audience and reminding the kids about basketball, which he coaches.

"We have had children here for 10 years, and it's an awesome school," Kittleman said. "Some people say it's too small, it's too crowded, but we love it here," he said. "It's perfect."

Bates said her two sons, who attended West Friendship in the early 1980s, have gone on to become a doctor and a librarian. "You are all getting a great start here," she told the pupils.

The event started with the pupils sitting cross-legged on the floor of the crowded cafeteria, singing a modified version of Cole Porter's "Friendship." Then kindergarteners lined up on stage and sang "Happy Birthday."

First-graders recited a poem, and second-graders, including a girl who said she was a fourth-generation West Friendship attendee, told of recipes from their great-grandparents that had been made into a book.

Third-graders showed their math skills with posters showing that 10 groups of eight equal 80, and that 80 years is the same as 4,160 weeks.

Fourth-graders told what they liked about the school, their comments ranging from "no bullies allowed" to "we have a lot of cultural arts activities and field trips."

And fifth-graders told a little history. They explained that the building, constructed on the same spot as the original, opened in 1978, and that pupils attended the former Lisbon Elementary School during renovations. Eighty years ago, West Friendship started with 100 students. It now has 414.

Tracy Buck, the PTA president, told the pupils that they are lucky - and not just because they would be eating cupcakes before lunch. "You are so lucky to be part of the school here," she said. "We have 80 years of very good academic strength here, and I see it continuing every day."

French, who was PTA president when her children attended from the late 1980s to the early 1990s, spoke of how the school continues to improve. "When I was in the PTA," she said, "we used to sponsor beautiful balloon races." Kids learned about geography and weather because they would attach postcards to the balloons. When the postcards were sent back, pupils would put pins on a map showing where the balloons had landed.

"But you know what?" she said. "It was a mistake. We learned that it was not good for the tortoises and fish and all the other wildlife. So we don't do that anymore."

She told the kids that school was a place to learn about responsibility, and how one person's actions affect others.

"You are making West Friendship special every day," she said. "It's not just people who went before you. It's what you do now."

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