Project connects kids with history

Pupils to honor Mount Airy Elementary's 70th year


Pauline Buckman may not have been a teacher, but she said her classroom - the school cafeteria - was one place where all of Mount Airy Elementary's pupils spent time when she was in charge back in the 1940s.

Helen Simpson, 89, a lifelong Mount Airy resident, credits her longevity to the lessons about good eating habits learned in the lunch line.

"She told the kids she has lived to 89 because of eating according to the food pyramid," Buckman, 87, announced during a recent visit at the school.

Buckman and Simpson were among the local residents who stopped by to be interviewed by the school's fifth-graders, who are conducting research to help mark the school's 70th anniversary this week.

A "History Hike," planned as the celebration's culminating event, is scheduled for Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Visitors will find nuggets of school and town history along a path that will be dotted with the pupils' exhibits on the school's grounds.

It has been seven decades since the school was rebuilt after a fire that broke out shortly after midnight Feb. 10, 1935, according to a booklet, Years of Progress, A Brief History of Education in Mount Airy, compiled by Margaret R. Miller in 1985.

The rebuilt school - known as Mount Airy School then and housing first through 11th grades - was rededicated Dec. 12, 1935, Miller wrote.

The pupils' exhibits will highlight historical findings that they have made during two months of research that included oral histories, local literature and newspaper articles, said Betty Bloomfield, the school's gifted and talented teacher.

"The kids want to get on the computer and do research, but they're realizing these are not the types of things you can research on the Internet," Bloomfield said.

Part of the children's legwork has included taking a tour of Mount Airy with local historian Oscar Baker, who pointed out significant landmarks and regaled the pupils with his recollections of the town's past.

They also visited Pine Grove Church Cemetery, where they met with Mime Ashcraft, a historian from the Carroll County Historical Society and an expert on cemetery history.

"The connection [the children have made with] the community is awesome," Bloomfield said. "They've learned what Mount Airy was like. ... I think they'll be more appreciative of their elders."

Fifth-grader Kaitlyn Pacheco, whose assignment was to research the history of local businesses and their influence on the Mount Airy community, said she was struck by how much life has changed during the past century.

"It's really cool because we get to see how it was back then," she said. "It's cool to see we have people who remember it and are around to tell us about it."

She found it intriguing that downtown Mount Airy was home to a chicken hatchery when Simpson was growing up. She was also surprised to learn how much the world has changed in Simpson's nearly 90 years.

"Having a bicycle was an amazing thing [when Simpson was a child] and now everyone has one," Kaitlyn said. "The world really has grown in less than 100 years - in good and bad ways."

On a recent day during class, Simpson brought dozens of old black-and-white photos that depicted important glimpses of the school and town's history. As she passed them around for the children to see, fifth-grader Josh Purvin grew curious about her collection.

"My husband had collected them and enlarged them," she explained.

When Josh asked Simpson about the most-memorable dates that come to her mind, she grew quiet. Then she went on to describe a troubling time in history.

"December 7, 1941. Pearl Harbor," she said. "I was married in June of that year. We were visiting my husband's folks around Christmastime. We had spent the weekend and had just finished dinner. I remember, I was wearing a wool dress, it was red and black. I sat on the end of the sofa and turned on the radio. [The attack on Pearl Harbor] was the news. We were horrified."

Simpson talked to the children about the importance of saving memories, even bad ones, for future generations.

As part of the anniversary project, the pupils will be invited to add an item to a time capsule that will be stored in a classroom that has a "secret side room" for 20 years, Bloomfield said.

Fifth-grader Madison Foley said she is most excited about the prospect of being alive when the capsule is opened for the school's 90th birthday.

"Twenty years from now, we'll look at it and will get to see things like how we used to dress," she said.

She is also hoping that when that day comes, pupils will want to talk to her about her experiences at the school.

"I learned that just because a person lived a long time ago doesn't mean it's boring," she said. "It's fun and exciting to learn what happened, if people could realize that older people are something you'll always want to have."

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