100th anniversary of Dacula schools

Photo courtesy of Gwinnett Historical Society. Original Dacula School (including all grades)  from 1923.

Photo courtesy of Gwinnett Historical Society. Original Dacula School (including all grades) from 1923.

DACULA -- Schools in Dacula have undergone a lot of change since the first one was established in 1892.

But throughout the decades, one thing has remained the same: The school is a part of a family-oriented city with a small-town feel.

"When (my family) came 40 years ago, it was just a class of hard-working people that cared about each other, and it had that small-town atmosphere," Dacula High School principal Donnie Nutt said. "Of course, it was small-town then. But for whatever reason ... we've been able to keep that small-town feel, somehow, some way."

Next week, Dacula High School will host a celebration of the 100th anniversary of Dacula schools. Since the centennial was not celebrated in 1992, Nutt said school officials planned this celebration to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first brick school.

Perhaps the biggest change of the past century is the explosive growth that started in the late 1990s. A few years ago, Dacula High School had 3,000 students. (The opening of Archer and Mountain View helped relieved overcrowding.)

When Dacula resident William Dalton attended the Dacula School, there were about 20 people in his class. Dalton, 91, graduated from the school in 1936.

Dalton attended the Oak Grove School during his eighth- and ninth-grade years before attending the Dacula School for 10th and 11th grade.

"Back then, we just went through the 11th grade," he said. "School got out in spring, because we had to farm and we had to plant crops. In the fall, they didn't start like they do now. They started in October to let folks pick cotton."

Dalton remembers some differences between the two schools. The Oak Grove School had four rooms and eight grades. The desks were wide, and two students sat at them.

The Dacula School, which was located on the site of the present-day Dacula Middle School, housed all the grades in the same building. The one-person desks were smaller.

"We didn't have a lunchroom," he said. "You had to bring your lunch and put it in the hall where you put your books and coats."

Dalton said students had to purchase their own books, too. He said students would ask their parents for 35 cents to buy a book.

The Dacula School had track, baseball and basketball teams. Dalton said he wasn't good enough to play, so he kept score.

"Back in those days, you had to pay to get in and keep score," he said.

Eight years after he graduated, Dalton said, the Dacula School burned in a fire. He remembers that the schools in Lawrenceville and Winder also burned about that time, a fact he finds suspicious.

After the fire, the Dacula School was rebuilt. (That structure was incorporated into Dacula Middle's current building.) Dalton noted the new building had central heat.

"Before that, janitors just cut up a bunch of slabs for a pot-bellied stove," he said.

Dalton also remembers the legal battle the community launched in the 1950s to prevent the Dacula School from consolidating with Central Gwinnett High School. Dacula won its case, but Grayson and Duluth lost theirs, he said.

Dalton's daughter, Judy Spears, graduated from the Dacula School in 1966. There were 42 people in her graduating class.

"I went pretty much with the same kids," said Spears, who attended the school from first through 12th grade. "It was like a roomful of first cousins."

In the mid-'60s, Spears joined the cheerleading squad, and they cheered on the football team. She said the experience was "mysterious," because no one knew much about football, and the squad didn't know which cheers to do.

After she graduated, Spears returned to the school to teach from 1983 to 2008.

"Part of the fun of going back to teach there was I had colleagues that had taught me," she said. "It was hard to call them by their first name."

Spears noted that her children -- Sam Spears, who graduated in 1990, and Susan Bond, who graduated in 1992 -- had some of the same teachers she did when she was a student.

In 1974 -- after Spears graduated but before she returned to teach -- the high school and the elementary school split, and Dacula High moved to its current location. The middle school was established in 1979.

Spears, who was the chorus teacher, said the middle and high schools were so small at one point that the middle school students were bused to the high school campus to take electives like music, art and shop. For the first two periods of the day, she taught middle schoolers, and for the rest of the day, she taught the high school students.

"It was great, because as a chorus teacher, I was my own feeder," she said. "I knew which kids could sing."

As the chorus teacher, Spears said she also taught her students the school's alma mater.

"When I was growing up, the whole community sang the alma mater at halftime of the boys basketball game. Everyone stood up, even the visitors, and everyone sang the alma mater," she said. "When I came back in 1983, that had stopped. I made sure all the chorus kids knew the alma mater, and I made them alma mater missionaries.

"It never revived to the point when I was in school, but we revived it, to an extent."

Alumni and former faculty and staff members are invited to visit Dacula High School next Sunday the Centennial Celebration.

The event will take place from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday at Dacula High School, 123 Broad St., in Dacula. T-shirts and videos will be sold at the event. Those wishing to make a purchase should bring cash or a check, as the school is unable to accept debit or credit cards.

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