Our school is proud of the traditions, high expectations, and inviting atmosphere that make it a good place to learn and grow.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

In Case You Missed the Daily Home Coverage

R.L. Young has provided 80 years of education to Talladega's children
By Chris Norwood

TALLADEGA — The world was a different place in 1929. Herbert Hoover was president of the United States, Bibb Graves was governor of Alabama, and what we know as Alabama 21 South was a dirt road.
Just outside of Talladega, off that dirt road that would become 21 South, the Bemis Brothers Bag Company was building a plant and a surrounding village to house it’s employees and their families. That village included a school, which was built for about $53,000.

That school is now 80 years old. Now known as R.L. Young Elementary School, it began life as the Bemiston School, and served the children of the mill village exclusively until it was deeded to the Talladega City School System in 1955, according to current principal Pattie Thomas.

For the past week or so, the school has been celebrating “80 Years of Excellence,” complete with a memorabilia room with all sort of exhibits from every chapter of the school’s evolution over the years, and culminating in an aerial group shot and birthday celebration Friday.

“Raymond Leroy Young was going to be the plant’s general manager,” Thomas explained. “He helped lay the groundwork for the village, but he never got a chance to see how any of it turned out. He was killed in a train wreck on his way here.”

Russell Wells took over as the plant’s first general manager after Young’s untimely passing. According to the school’s history, Mrs. Young apparently did make it Talladega, however. Her name comes up after being elected secretary-treasurer of the first ever Bemiston Parent Teacher Association in October 1929. It is not clear what happened to her after that.

All four of the school’s teachers also attended that meeting, as did the district PTA manager, Mrs. William McDonald of Gantts Quarry. The minutes are only one of the hundreds of items throughout the school’s history on display this week. Many of them were provided by J.W. Baker, who has spent virtually his entire life in the Bemiston community.

Bemiston’s first principal was Ross Brown, who held the position until 1936. He was succeeded by R.T. Butler, who served as principal from 1936 to 1945, which included Baker’s tenure there.

“You have to remember, when Bemiston started out, it was basically a private school. You had to family living in the community and working in the mill. We didn’t have any discipline problems then, and the principal never had to touch us. If we were acting up, Mr. Butler would just call Mr. Wells and have him call your father into his office at the plant. You never wanted to be called off the floor into the manager’s office, so you’d go on home and solve the teacher’s problem for them.”

The original school building lacked a lunchroom, so meals were provided in a kitchen situated where Thomas’s secretary’s office is now, and food was distributed to the classrooms via lunch cart. The children ate at their desks.

Although the Depression held most of the country in it’s grip in the early 1930s, the workers at Bemiston tended to be relatively well off. A veteran of that period was quoted extensively in a story published in The Daily Home after the plant closed in 1979.

Mill employees were paid about $12 per week, but rent on a two-room house (often with a garage, although as Baker pointed out, almost no one had a car at the time) was only $2.25, including water. Coal was a dollar per ton, and the power bill rarely topped 15 to 20 cents.

Bemiston had its own security and fire departments and a grocery store as well, and of course the recreation center, which is still there and was recently recognized as a landmark. “Just about the only thing we ever had to go into town to buy was clothes,” Baker said. The village lacked a movie theater, but would show movies upstairs at the recreation center every weekend to make up for it.

In the 1950s, Bemiston was annexed into the city of Talladega and the school became public. The name was changed at that point. The school continued to thrive even after the Bemis plant closed at the end of 1979.

Major expansions were undertaken in 1982, 1986, 1997 and 2007. A library, cafeteria and larger kitchen have been added, but the original building still houses classrooms and the original auditorium, which Thomas pointed out is “used every day.”

Some traditions have changed slightly. The annual Fall Festival, which goes back to the earliest days, now takes place at the school rather than the recreation center, and the Jelly Bean Field Day is now the Good Citizen Luncheon.

“One of things I really want to emphasize is that throughout its history you have a common thread of service to others,” according to Thomas, who also attended the school and taught there before being named principal in 2007. “We have high academic standards, and a tradition of challenging and preparing the kind of minds that teachers are going to want to see in high school and beyond. Parent involvement is also a key element, and a long tradition here.”

The school has an experienced staff, with a combined 400 plus years of service, and no recent or pending retirements.

Baker agreed on the tradition of excellence. “I can remember Zora Ellis, when she was still a teacher, saying you could always tell which kids had gone to the Bemiston School. And she didn’t give out a lot of compliments, either.”

Superintendent Joanne Horton said, “First of all, I want to congratulate Ms. Thomas, her staff and all the students on this occasion. R.L. Young is the jewel of its community, and the excellence and instructional values have not changed down through the years. And they will keep moving forward, with the rest of the system, to meet the needs of a changing world.”

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Congratulations for such wonderful effort on the part of so many people. I grew up on East Damon Avenue, and attended Bemiston School in the early 1940's. All I have are wonderful memories of that great village, the dedicated teachers, and the opportunity to begin a life of education is such a setting. I am glad such places still exist.