Two West Chester elementaries celebrate 50 years

This article can be found published on the Daily Local News‘ website.
Glen Acres Elementary School kindergarteners perform a song and dance at the school’s 50th birthday celebration. (Tracey Dukert)

Glen Acres Elementary School kindergarteners perform a song and dance at the school’s 50th birthday celebration. (Tracey Dukert)

Known as the “Golden Jubilee,” celebrating 50 years can be a significant milestone.

It wasn’t a marriage anniversary, but a birthday for two elementary schools in the West Chester Area School District.

On June 2, both Glen Acres Elementary and Penn Wood Elementary threw a birthday bash for the students and faculty at its respective school for a day filled with fun and memories.

Glen Acres originally opened with just 20 classrooms and its dedication took place on Jan. 15, 1967.

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Today, the school is larger after a “generous addition” in 1996-97, according to the school’s website, which included a new gymnasium, an art room, two music instruction rooms, two small group instruction rooms, a large group instruction room and two additional classrooms.

The school also received a facelift at that time.

“This year, we were celebrating our 50th year and all year long, we basically were planning a big celebration that we did on June 2 in our school,” said Ken Fuette, a teacher at Glen Acres who helped organize the celebration. “It involved everyone in the school – all the students and the staff, as well as former teachers and administrators.”

Among those in attendance at Glen Acres was two of the former principals, along with the current one.

During the morning assembly, every grade level took part.

“For example, our first- graders had to write and select students read what they thought Glen Acres was like 50 years ago,” Fuette said. “Then we had our fifth- graders also do something similar, but they presented what Glen Acres would be 50 years from now in the year 2066.”

The first-graders believed that in 1966, the students had to sit in only wooden desks where students were constantly getting splinters. The fifth-graders felt that in 2066, the school would be served with a tram to take the students around the school and they would order lunches using tablets and robots would deliver.

“It was really interesting to see what the kids thought the school was 50 years ago and what they picture it as 50 years from now,” Fuette said.

West Chester Mayor Carolyn Comitta stopped by as well, presenting the school with a key to the borough and a proclamation declaring June 2 as Glen Acres Day in West Chester.

After the assembly, a ribbon cutting was held for the dedication of a new outdoor classroom and picnic space on school grounds in an area that had been neglected for several years beside the playground.

“It was one of those days that celebrated who we are as a school community and we were trying to pay tribute to the past of Glen Acres, looking to our present and our future at the school,” Fuette said.

Penn Wood originally opened on Feb. 28, 1966, with 12 classrooms which were open-ended, meaning without doors or doorways.

Just two years later, six additional classrooms were added with another major addition in 1988.

Today, after a renovation just a couple of years ago, all the classrooms have now become traditional closed rooms with individual entrances. The renovation, done in two parts, also added two new music classrooms, four new student restrooms, two new faculty restrooms, a new cafeteria storage area and a new teacher workroom.

“It’s celebrating a tradition of a school that has, I think, over the time maintained its character because of its setting,” said Ellen Gacomis, principal of Penn Wood. “The school sits on an original land grant from William Penn. The community and the school district has, for the most part, honored that over time. Our setting is very, very special to us and we use our outdoors and indoors for learning as much as we can.”

Penn Wood may not have had the mayor stop by, but that doesn’t mean the students and faculty didn’t have their own fun during the day, especially with the Time Tunnel, which featured artifacts and memorabilia from over the last 50 years.

“We had LIFE magazines from the 1970s, Golden Books, the typewriters, the rotary phones – you name it, we had it,” said Kristin Ray, a teacher who helped organize the day. “We had the cameras and how they have evolved, a record player and, since Jen (Greene) and I are from the ‘80s, we had ‘Saved by the Bell’ and all those old shows, butterfly hair clips, scrunchies and Cabbage Patch Kids.”

Though many of these items found in the Time Tunnel would still seem normal to the teachers, it was a point of fascination for the students.

“It was really interesting to see the things that they knew, for example, Rubik’s Cubes are popular now, so they were excited to see that,” said Greene, another teacher and organizer of the day. “To be honest, they were a little creeped out by the Cabbage Patch Kids and Barbie because dolls look so different now. They were enthralled that the record player worked and was actually playing music.”

Even though Penn Wood’s celebration went through the entire school day, it also extended into the evening to allow former staff and alumni to come see the school again and how it has changed.

Current fifth-graders gave guided tours to the nearly 200 people who came out for the evening reception, which just capped off a full day of merriment for the two schools in the district.

“Everyone worked so hard to put a celebration together,” Fuette said. “It was a big project, but it was well worth all the effort. It was just a great day for everybody.”

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Categories: Community, Education, History

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