Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Margaret Beeks Elementary School turns 50

By Marty Gordon

Blacksburg’s Margaret Beeks Elementary School celebrated its 50th birthday with a party Wednesday night.  Alumni, teachers and community members celebrated with a walk down memory lane. Individual classrooms were dedicated to specific periods from the school’s existence, while a hallway showcased student artwork with themes from the last 50 years.  The halls were filled with newspaper clippings from the News Messenger dating from the early 1960s to 2012.

Nancy Ward taught at the school for 33 years and has returned as a substitute kindergarten teacher. She has seen her share of changes.

“We no longer have chalkboards or hand cranked Xerox machines. The curriculum has changed, and there are no longer record players in the classroom. Things have changed since I first started teaching here.”

One of her biggest joys is now teaching the grandchildren of several original students.

Margaret Beeks Elementary School in Blacksburg is 50 years old this year, and Jeanne Truesdell (right), a member of the school's PTA/PTO put together an historic timeline that was unveiled during this week's special celebration. School officials honored her with bouquet of flowers. Also pictured: Teacher Bill Sembella.

“I see a lot of them,” said Ward. “I also have the fond memories of bringing Clyde, my donkey, to class. The kids loved seeing him over the years, and many remember those times.”

The school is named after Margaret Jerusha Beeks, a long-time teacher who spent 45 years in the educational field and never missed a day due to illness. She taught in Montgomery County and at schools in South Carolina, where she was born. She retired in 1962, the same year the elementary school named after her opened. Ms. Beeks died in 1992 at the age of 99.

The school was the first integrated elementary school in Montgomery County, and had over 800 students in the late 1960s, with as many as 44 in one classroom. Now it houses just over 300 students with a teacher-student ratio of 1:19.

Wednesday alumni, teachers and community members were able to take a walk down memory lane. The halls were filled with newspaper clippings from the News Messenger dating from the early 1960s to 2012. Individual classrooms were dedicated to specific periods from the school’s existence, while a hallway showcased student artwork with themes from the last 50 years.

Allison Ward and Krisha Chachra both attended the school 30 years ago and have fond memories of their time there.

Ward said it brought her a lot of joy to be back at the school during this week’s birthday celebration. “I can remember walking these halls, and now I’m seeing my two kids grow up here.”
Chachra credited her elementary art teacher, Ms. Sinha, for helping her become interested in art. “I learned about the love of art and its difference from her. Now I can walk into an art gallery in any city in the world and know who the artist is. She taught me differences in Degas, Picasso and Cezanne.”

Getting an early start with community service, Chachra served on the MBS safety patrol in a leadership position. Now she serves on several local boards and Blacksburg Town Council. She says the Margaret Beeks days might have peaked her interest in community involvement.

More birthday events will be held throughout the year.

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