South Terrace Elementary celebrates 50 years filled with memoriesThis week, the district celebrates the 50th anniversary of South Terrace Elementary, with an open house slated for 5-7 p.m. Thursday, April 4, at the school.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
The year was 1961, and the elementary school in Carlton found itself virtually spread all over the district — and beyond. Every class section in the school was sharing classroom space with at least one other section. Both morning and afternoon sections of kindergarten were being housed at the Carlton Civic Center. And both sections of the third grade were holding classes at Washington Elementary School in Esko.
A story in the Carlton County Vidette reported the rapidly expanding student population of the district, along with the subsequent need to adjust to the space limitations of the old elementary wing of the school, were creating an expense to the district of some $300 a month, plus the cost of transporting the third-graders to Esko — an amount expected to exceed $3,000 for the term.
In response to the overcrowding, that same year Carlton School District 93 proposed — and successfully passed — a bonding proposal to build a new elementary school with the cost not to exceed $600,000, to be located in a new residential section on the south side of town known as South Terrace.
This week, the district celebrates the 50th anniversary of South Terrace Elementary, with an open house slated for 5-7 p.m. Thursday, April 4, at the school. The fete includes a music program at 6 p.m., a candlelight walk on the nature trail at 6:45 p.m. and the launch of 50 floating sky lanterns at 7 p.m. Refreshments and self-guided tours are also on the agenda, along with displays of memorabilia and photos.
But perhaps the highlight of the day for many will be renewing old friendships with teachers, staff and students from over the decades since the school first opened its doors in October 1962.
Retired teacher Geraldine Selen remembers that time vividly, recalling how she and fellow first-grade teacher JoAnne Pearson both began teaching in what was once the kindergarten room at the elementary wing of the old Carlton School downtown.
“We had a makeshift plywood barrier between our two classes,” she reminisced, “and since Mrs. Pearson’s class had the door in their half of the room, my students had to walk through her class in order to go out to the hall!”
Pearson related how Superintendent Robert Anderson came to the school one day and showed all the teachers the plans for the new school.
“He asked me where I wanted the first grade to be,” she said, “and I told him I wanted it near the outdoor exit to the playground.”
And true to his word, Anderson assigned her to Room 26, at the very end of the hallway nearest the door to the playground. Pearson taught in that very room all of the years she worked there — that is, except for one, when the flat roof leaked so badly she had to move her class into another room.
Another thing Pearson said teachers told Anderson when the school was being planned was that they didn’t want to have so many bulletin boards in their rooms, because bulletin boards, of course, mean more work for teachers.
“The new school had some very nice bulletin boards, but the rooms weren’t full of them,” related Pearson. “But when Mr. Anderson first came around to look at our rooms, he just shook his head, because the nice white walls of our classrooms were full of our kids’ drawings!”
When Selen moved to the new South Terrace building, she said it was “a miracle!”
“Especially after being stuck in the back half of the room at the old building!” she added with a laugh. “It was a beautiful school, and I felt so liberated to have my own private classroom.”
Selen and Pearson didn’t stray too far from each other, though. Their classes in the new building were located at the end of the same hallway, right next to each other.
The principal at that time was a veteran named Miss Shosten, who retired after a couple of years in the new building, paving the way for incoming principal George Legueri.
“One of the things I enjoyed most in the new building was the bathroom situation,” admitted Selen. “The bathrooms were practically right outside my classroom door, with separate stalls for the girls and boys and a washing area in the middle with a huge, round fountain where the students would step on a foot pedal and the water would spray out from above. It made that whole process so much faster, and it made supervising them much easier as well.”
Selen said the new school also allowed teachers more room to spread out. Class sizes varied from year to year — on a good year, she said, she’d have 21 or 22, but sometimes they expanded to around 29 or 30.
“Those were the good old days when we could teach children at their own level rather than as one big group,” Selen reflected. “Children are all so different, and though you don’t have time to teach each one of them individually, it helped to be able to pair them up and teach them at the rate to which they were the most suited.”
Pearson was pretty enthralled with the new South Terrace building as well.
“It was wonderful,” she sighed. “We had a really close-knit faculty and staff, just like a family. At that time the school got a lot of commodities, and in the mornings the cooks would toast the crusts from the bread and sprinkle them with cinnamon and sugar. I would go there and eat my breakfast every day. We all worked together, from the custodians to the principal. We were good to him, and he was good to us.”
Pearson said that was a period of time when everyone at the school shared ideas with one another and they knew each other’s families and the families of their students very well.
“One of the things they told me when they hired me,” she said, “was that they really wanted teachers who lived in the district. I had just gotten married at the time, so my husband I built a house there in Carlton.”
She said the folks at South Terrace Elementary have always been very caring about each other and the students, which has created a healthy environment for learning.
“At times, I thought the children taught me more than I taught them,” she admitted. “Living in the area like I do, I still see a lot of my former students.”
Jackie (Soukkala) Curtiss was part of the first class of sixth-graders to graduate from South Terrace and remembers moving to the new school midway through the year in 1962, though the building was not yet completed.
“There was plastic covering most of the rest of the areas of the school,” she said.
She recalled the giant pile of excavated dirt the in the school’s playground area, which she said students loved to play in, and how the building’s flat rubber roof lent itself to frequent leaks.
“There were always quite a few buckets around when it rained,” she said.
She, too, remembers the “bird bath” wash sink in the commons area outside the restrooms.
“We thought it was really state-of-the-art stuff!” she commented, adding the wash sinks are still in use at the school today.
Susie (DeCaigny) Pylka originally attended Sawyer School, but when she was in sixth grade her class was transferred to the old Carlton School in the fall of 1962, where classes were held in the large gymnasium, with large curtains hung between each of the sections. The sixth-graders were then transferred to the still-under-construction South Terrace Elementary in October, along with the third-graders who had been attending classes in Esko.
“We started out in rooms at the back of the school because men were still working on the rest of the building,” she recalled.
The following year, the Sawyer School was closed completely and all of the rest of the students were transferred to South Terrace as well.
“There was no playground equipment during that first year,” said Pylka, “so I recall that we played a lot of marbles!”
“There were multitudes of kickball games as well,” added one of Pylka’s fellow sixth-grade students, Judy Ziegler.
Ginny Oien Vernon, also an early student at the school, recalled how girls of that day had to wear dresses to school, and in the winter they wore pants under them to keep their legs from freezing. She also remembered how, with all the construction dirt around the new school, the students’ worst enemy was a windy day!
Judy Ziegler, part of the first class to attend South Terrace, related one of her most vivid impressions of the new school – “the chalkboards!” she said. “They were green and tan instead of black.”
She, too, mentioned the round hand washing stations. “They were amazing — something so new and different!” she exclaimed.
Over the 50 years since South Terrace first opened its doors, it has remained largely in the same original footprint. An Outdoor Learning Center was added outside its back doors in 2006, and the sixth grade was moved to the high school in 2008.
Otherwise, staff, faculty and students, both past and present, say it has remained true to its community base and has graduated many, many students who have gone on to become productive members of the community — some of whom, such as Pylka and Curtiss, have become teachers at South Terrace.
As for the early teachers such as Selen, she said she loved teaching, but after 31 years with the district she was ready to retire when the time came. She has since returned to the school frequently for the annual Retired Teachers Luncheon at Christmas but has been unavailable to attend the past couple of years.
“I’m excited to go back for Thursday’s open house to see how things have changed,” she remarked.
Though Pearson said she too thoroughly enjoyed her years teaching at South Terrace, she’s enjoyed retirement as well.
“What I missed most about teaching,” she reflected, “was the hugs — and being told how pretty I was!”
During Pearson’s first year following retirement, she was out walking one day when the school bus drove by.
“The bus slowed almost to a stop,” she reminisced, “and all of a sudden these little faces poked out the windows and yelled, ‘Hi, Mrs. Pearson!’ I cried all the way home