Earlier this evening, as I was driving from my mother’s house to my father’s house, I took a bit of a scenic route. That scenic route took me right by one of my old elementary schools. It looked so abandoned, so blighted. There was a time in my life where the opposite applied. That brings me to this week’s moment in the Flashback Friday series: Elyton School.
How I first came across this moment? I first came across Elyton School late in the Summer of 1991. My mother and younger sister were living in Elyton Village, a public housing community just north of the school. Up until that summer, I had lived with my great-grandmother on Birmingham’s Southside and attended Glen Iris Elementary School. The move with my mother and sister meant that I would be attending a new school. Elyton Elementary was the school that was zoned for where my mother stayed.
What it meant to me then? With the exception of kindergarten, I attended Elyton School for all of my elementary school grades. For the most part, it was a pleasant experience. I actually remember all of my teachers—Mr. Quarles in 1st grade, Mrs. Stewart in 2nd grade, Miss Williams in 3rd grade, Mrs. Sears in 4th grade, and Mrs. Hardy in 5th grade. I actually enjoyed all of them. I was really friendly with the school staff at Elyton. There was Mrs. Powell…she was the friendliest guidance counselor ever. Miss Duncan—the school cafeteria manager—was always nice to me. She always asked me if drank my milk as I was bringing my tray up to the scullery. I even had a good rapport with the principal, Mrs. Robinson. She always stopped me in the hallways and asked me about things I was learning. The person I really liked on the staff was Mr. Sanders, the lead custodian. He was always fixing stuff around the school and he did it with ease. The way he cared about the building is probably one of the reasons why I care so much about my portfolio of facilities. My favorite memory of Mr. Sanders is when he helped the 4th graders practice a song for the Martin Luther King, Jr. assembly in January 1995. His voice was so bold when he sang “Martin Luther King was a peace-loving man/He wanted peace and love all over this land”. I loved recess, too. I was the best player in the 5th grade softball games between Mrs. Hardy’s class and Mr. Colvin’s class. For the most part, those days at Elyton were fun and innocent.
What it means to me now? Reflecting on that time, I can honestly say that the Elyton School days meant a lot to me. Mrs. Stewart taught me the valuable lesson of always checking my work before I turn it in after she gave me a 97 on my “What Does Thanksgiving Mean to You” paper in 1992. It was the first time I ever received a markdown on a grammar assignment and I cried. Miss Williams taught me cursive, took me to my first baseball game, and made Christmas in 1993 one of the most special of all-time. I became an Academic Bowl champion my 5th grade year at Elyton a year after I lost in the championship round to many of my kindergarten classmates from Glen Iris. I was one of the 10 students selected to write for the school newspaper during its debut in the 1994-95 school year. I was the senior writer the following year as a 5th grader. I got suspended for the first-time ever when I was Elyton School…after I poked a hole in a girl’s hot dog because she wouldn’t give me her Jell-O. Mrs. Powell was really nice about letting me know I was suspended for 1 day. I loved being on the recess grounds and walking up to the fence and seeing my youngest sister playing at Josie’s Day Care across the street. I liked being a Boy Scout there and having the honor of raising and lowering the U.S. flag every school day…though those half-staff days sucked. So many great memories at Elyton School. After I graduated in May 1996, I only visited once…to see my younger sister graduate a year later. The school closed in 2003 and to this day, it stands abandoned right there on the corner of Center St and Tuscaloosa Ave. One of these days, I hope that the City of Birmingham restores it to either a school or to senior housing—the latter being the plan I’ve heard for years now. When that happens, I’ll be sure to visit.