Given its age, I shouldn’t have been surprised at the news, but I was. The old elementary school where I attended for the first six years of my formal education will be torn down soon.
The building more than outlived its usefulness. Built in 1915, Edgefield served as an educational institution long after students quit attending several years ago. The county office of education took over the empty building for offices. The Stark County Educational Service Center provided a variety of educational services for multiple local school districts throughout the county and beyond.
Hundreds of baby boomer scholars traipsed through the halls and up and down the three stories of steps at Edgefield, and hundreds more before and after that. I can’t speak for them, but my Edgefield experiences provided lots of fond memories.
The storied school’s staff supplied me with a solid foundation for life. Not that I was ever the best student. But Edgefield instilled in me a love of learning, a respect for teaching, and a joy of being with others.
I began my stint at the old brick building as a first grader at age five. My school district didn’t offer kindergarten back then.
I can remember the name of every teacher that I had in all six grades. I even recall the principal and the affable custodian, Bill Meola. I feared the former and worshiped the latter.Bill was an excellent custodian and a great human being. All the kids loved him for his kindness and his skill at keeping the building clean. Somehow he ensured Edgefield avoided the usual institutional smell.
His was not an easy job either with the school overflowing with runny-nosed children. The school had a kitchen but no cafeteria. At the appointed time, we lined up, trudged quietly down the steps to the first floor, and filed through a buffet-style line. Only, it wasn’t a buffet by any stretch of the imagination. I haven’t eaten a stewed tomato since.
We just took what was placed onto our compartmentalized light green plastic trays. We retreated back up the steps to eat at our classroom desks. Occasionally someone slipped and spilled their tray. Mr. Meola was right there to clean up the mess.
I don’t want to sentimentalize my experiences at Edgefield. Still, the interconnectedness of the school’s atmosphere, the reliable teachers, the instructional routines we developed, the rules we followed, the games we played at recess, the sense of personal worth that helped formulate who I became, what I appreciated in life, and instilled in me the value of a good education.
All of that must have had a subliminal influence on me. Despite having graduated from college with a journalism degree, I became a public school educator for 30 years. I taught how I was taught.Classes were large by today’s standards. It wasn’t unusual for 35 to 40 students to pack each self-contained classroom.
In every class, we sat in straight, long rows of wooden desks with steel frames. The teachers taught, and the students obeyed. Those who didn’t felt the sting of the paddle that hung at the front of Mr. Bartley’s sixth-grade classroom.
To this day I can smell those mimeographed worksheets the teachers handed out. Chills still run down my spine at the thought of white chalk screeching on the slate blackboard worn smooth from years of erasing assignments.
In the winter, students would place their wet gloves on the old silver radiators to dry after building snowmen at recess. Throwing snowballs was a no-no of course.At Edgefield School, students were taught the three Rs and much more. Being polite and using proper manners were also priorities. In today’s terms, the instruction at this grammar school was basic but holistic. Being a good citizen was paramount.
Nostalgia can interfere with reality. Regardless, old Edgefield can be torn down, but no wrecking crew can ever destroy my cherished school memories.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2019