New school adds chapter to former principal's legacy

Site of old three-room, segregated school now boasts $18 million facility in Hanover

April 11, 2007|By Susan Gvozdas | Susan Gvozdas,Special to The Sun

The opening today of an $18 million Hanover school will mark the end of a bittersweet journey for a former student who remembers when it was a segregated three-room schoolhouse.

Irene Hebron and her future husband, Frank, started first grade together at Harman Elementary School in 1933. Frank Hebron returned after graduate school to teach at Harman. He later became principal of the new school when it was built in 1955, and he became supervisor of county schools in 1962.

Frank Hebron died of a heart attack in 2001, but his wife believes he will be watching over the dedication of the new Frank Hebron-Harman Elementary School.

"In spirit, he'll be there," said Irene Hebron, who lives in Dorsey. "He'd be delighted, laughing and raving, and he would have to see everybody as usual."

Legislators, school district officials and other Hebron family members will join Hebron at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 9 a.m. today to open the 80,000-square-foot school. Tomorrow, more than 450 students will have their first day of classes there.

Since their old school building was demolished in April 2005, the students have attended Meade Heights Elementary School on Fort Meade as the new building was being built at 7660 Ridge Chapel Road. (The 727 Meade Heights students were moved to the as-yet-unopened Seven Oaks Elementary School.)

The student video club was allowed to tour the school, with its rich cherry wood tones, beige walls, tan lockers and navy-blue floor tiles, and to videotape a segment to show their classmates what has replaced their old school.

"They're very excited about it," said Assistant Principal Chris Yancone.

The Anne Arundel County Board of Education approved the renaming of Harman Elementary in April 2005. Hebron is the second African-American educator in county history to have a public school named in his honor, joining Walter S. Mills of Mills-Parole Elementary School in Annapolis.

The original Harman Elementary was a Rosenwald school, one of 4,977 African-American schools established in the rural South from 1917 to 1932 through matching funds from the Julius Rosenwald Fund, created by the philanthropist and early president of Sears, Roebuck and Co. It was located on the site where St. Mark's United Methodist Church now stands, according to the school's Web site.

Hebron, the youngest of 15 children, attended Bates High School in Annapolis and then Maryland Teachers College at Bowie. He earned a master's degree in supervision and administration at Columbia University in 1952. Hebron taught at Harman Elementary and became the principal shortly before the new school was built. It opened in 1954, the year the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling that struck down school segregation, but Harman remained segregated until the 1960s.

A gregarious storyteller, Frank Hebron loved working with children, said Irene Hebron, who taught in county schools for more than 35 years.

"Everywhere he went they loved him - the teachers, the parents, the students," she said.

The first in his family to attend college, Frank Hebron was a role model for his two sons as well as his nieces and nephews, said his nephew Frederick Hebron. Frederick Hebron, 60, who lives in Columbia, attended Harman Elementary in the 1950s when his uncle was principal.

"He expected a lot of us," Frederick Hebron said. "There was quite a bit of pressure to stay in line."

At the time, Frederick Hebron did not particularly like the oversight - his uncle quickly reported his misdeeds to his father. But Frederick Hebron grew to appreciate his uncle's strong guidance and spearheaded the effort to have the school named in his honor.

"He had a great love of people, and it actually permeated what he did," Frederick Hebron said.

Frederick Hebron will present a $7,500 check to the school today from St. Mark's to develop the school's media center. The church, which Frank Hebron attended, raised the money during a fair last year.

After 50 years, Harman Elementary was in poor condition when the school board finally approved a new building. Cinder-block walls were deteriorating. Rusted playground equipment had been removed over the years and not replaced. The school's old boiler kept one side of the L-shaped school icy cold and the other steamy hot, said Denise Keim, president of the Parent Teacher Association.

"In the small part of the L, kids had to sit in coats and gloves and in the other part, it was like a sauna," Keim said.

When it got hot outside, the whole school would swelter, said Susan Brown, the principal's secretary. Window air-conditioning units weren't installed in the classrooms until June 2003.

The new school, designed for 700 students, has a separate cafeteria and gym and a health suite with room for storage and three cots. The old school's nursing office had room for only one cot.

External and internal security cameras have been installed throughout the school. Each classroom has a speaker system in the ceiling and a mounted computer projector, which replaces old overhead projectors. Instead of transparencies, teachers can scan in documents and have them projected onto a large screen at the front of the classroom.

Each teacher has a laptop computer that allows access to a video database of educational videos.

"We have kids who have never seen the ocean before ... so all this technology helps," Yancone said.

Teachers also have access to two mobile laptop carts with 20 laptops apiece that students can use.

"The new school is gorgeous," said Keim, who has two children attending Hebron-Harman. "It's kind of renewed my faith in the public school system."

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