Lawrenceville Elementary Principal Lisa Johnson points to original windows of the school from when it opened in 1962. This afternoon, current and former students, teachers and administrators will gather to celebrate the school’s 50th anniversary. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)
LAWRENCEVILLE — The golden anniversary of Lawrenceville Elementary has hearkened back memories of smoking rooms, hair bouffants and crank copy machines. But one thing remains: the school is still the center of the community.
Fifty years after the school opened with 12 classrooms and a first and second grade, about 400 people are expected to attend an anniversary celebration this afternoon with current and former students, staff and administrators. The anniversary celebration will feature appearances by Gwinnett County Public Schools CEO/Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks, Lawrenceville Mayor Judy Jordan Johnson, Gwinnett County Board of Education chairwoman Carole Boyce, and several former principals.
The school has had four expansions, most recently in 1993 with a lunchroom and 23 classrooms, but the original windows remain on the kindergarten wing.
“There are members of this community who recognize, love this school, have come through this school, their grandchildren have come through this school,” said teacher Tracy Brooks, who is in her 25th year at Lawrenceville.
In its infancy, the school was called Lawrenceville Primary until 1974 when the sixth grade was added. Originally, there was no lunchroom, so students were bused back to the “school on the hill” for lunch.
“This school and (the) high school had very little competition,” said Jimmie Mae Sosebee, a former teacher from 1966-90. “We had low enrollment and parents got to know each other, and teachers got to know parents and staff.”
Alumni of the school have become principals of schools across Gwinnett, while others have gone off to college and returned to work in the community. One of those is attorney Tony Powell, who was in one of the first classes at the school, and is scheduled to speak at the celebration.
“So many people went to Lawrenceville,” the school’s current principal Lisa Johnson said. “I’ll see them and they’re 50-years-old and they’ll say, ‘That’s where my kindergarten class was.’ They still remember where their classroom was and they remember where their first grade and second grade classroom was.”
Memories of the school include the Halloween carnival, which was a favorite of Sosebee’s son, and the days when teachers would make copies using jellied hectograph pans.
“Happy was the day we got that hand-crank thing that you couldn’t print but one piece of paper at a time,” Sosebee said.
Over the years, the school has mirrored changes in society, Sosebee said, in that mothers began to work outside the home, so grandmothers picked up students, and the exterior doors were eventually locked for security. Paddling of students was done until the 1980s, and teachers’ job descriptions also became more specialized.
Sosebee said when she started teaching in the 1960s, the school nurse also handled office duties, so at times she held a phone in one hand and a thermometer in the other.
The school’s population has also become more diverse.
“It’s multicultural,” former student Mary Long said. “We didn’t even know that word back then. I think it’s important that we recognize that.”
As the school prepared for the anniversary celebration, teachers had students write assignments of what they thought school was like 50 years ago, and what they think it will be like in the future.
“It’s funny the stories they’re writing,” Johnson said. “They don’t understand what 50 years is, 50 years is a long time.”
The church community, particularly Baptists and Methodists, has consistently supported the school with volunteers, room mothers and a mentor program.
And even as the county has grown from having 15,000 students in 1968, to nearly 170,000 today, the school remains the place where people meet, and the philosophy of the school remains the same, Johnson said.
“The teachers continue to show that they’re great teachers and they love the children, and that has not changed,” Johnson said.