By Sarah (Sally) Geer
Glenwood Elementary School is the oldest school in the Chapel Hill school system, but it was almost new when we arrived. The building is hard to see now, but it was highly visible when it was built in 1953. A new road had been cut to the crest of a small hill at the intersection of the bypass and the Raleigh Road, across from the new Glen Lennox apartment complex. The hillside was an open meadow, which we used for kite flying. That meadow is now the site of the Harris-Teeter shopping area.
Glenwood Elementary School students including Charly Mann (white t-shirt next to left most pole) at front entrance in 1956
Until Glenwood was built, all white children went to the old brick elementary school downtown. Black children attended Northside Elementary School. The post-war baby boom made new schools essential.
Sally Geer (the author of this piece) in back playground of Glenwood Elementary School Chapel Hill in 1960
Buses and carpools served Glenwood, but neighborhood children walked or biked to school from Glen Lennox, Oakwood/Rogerson Drive and Greenwood. Highland Woods kids walked on a path through the woods and across a creek. Mrs. Webb was the crossing guard who shepherded us across the highway. Walkers would sometimes stop at the filling station at the corner or at the Dairy Bar in Glen Lennox for ice cream or potato chips, and to browse the comics at George Harris’ pharmacy. Walking home usually felt very safe, although I clearly recall tension while walking home in October, 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. We feared annihilation at any moment, and I felt especially vulnerable when outdoors, between the safe havens of school and home.
Mr Kiddoo, the principal of Glenwood Elementary School in the 1956-1957 school year
The school was originally just one long corridor, with the principal’s office and library in the middle and a cafeteria on one end. Younger students were in classrooms at the back of the school, with individual bathrooms and doors that opened directly on the playground. Older classes got the front classrooms. It wasn’t fancy. The floors were green and beige linoleum squares. The custodian would clean them by sprinkling green pellets on the floor, then sweeping the pellets down the halls.
The playground was a large, raw space at the back of the school, with two broad terraces. Although a new primary wing cut into the playground area by 1959, we still had plenty of room for several simultaneous games of kickball. Kickball ruled the playground at recess, and the boys sometimes intimated any girls who tried to join the pickup games. Before school and during recess, we swarmed over the playground relatively unsupervised. We played jump rope, Chinese jump rope, hopscotch and dodge ball. There were usually several circles of kids playing marbles or jacks. We played marbles for “keepsies,” so you had to choose your opponents carefully or your marbles pouch would be empty quickly. During the hula hoop craze, a few of the girls were lucky to own one, which they brought to school to share at recess. Small groups gathered around each hula hoop bearer, all of us eagerly waiting for a shot at gyrating our hips and keeping the hoop going as long as possible. The best spinners could move the hoop from waist to knees, or waist to chest, then back again.
In February of 1952 the site is selected for new elementary school in Chapel Hill which would become Glenwood.
We wore “school clothes” and changed into play clothes when we got home. Girls wore skirts or dresses, often with a sash tied in the back. The skirts hung down over our heads when we hung from the jungle gym or did cartwheels. In cold weather, we were allowed to wear pants under our skirts, but girls were never allowed to wear pants alone. Boys usually wore shirts with collars and buttons rather than t-shirts. There were few t-shirts with any designs or lettering in those days, other than Carolina sweatshirts. Our shoes were usually leather lace-up saddle shoes, mary-janes or Weejun loafers (sometimes with a penny in the little cut-out on the strap). We carried our books in our arms or in satchels. Since we didn’t have backpacks, teachers would pin notes about PTA meetings or field trips to the coats or shirts of the younger children.
Glenwood Elementary School 2nd grade pictures,1957. Charles (Charly) Mann at 7 years old is on the top, and Joe Phillips is on the bottom.
Glenwood had six grades, 1-6. There was no kindergarten. The sixth grade was moved to Lincoln (the former black high school) in 1966 when the school system became fully integrated. Primary students were treated a little differently from the rest of the school. First graders got out of school earlier, and younger students took a brief afternoon nap, heads down on desks, room darkened – although I doubt if anyone ever slept. We would also bring in “milk money” for a morning snack of milk and crackers.
The cafeteria line at Glenwood Elementary School in 1956. Milk was the last thing everyone put on their plate. After lunch you could go back into the cafeteria and get a piece cake.
No one went home for lunch. The cafeteria on the south side of the building served good hot lunches cooked in the kitchen. The cafeteria served some mystery meats, but there were also staples of old-style southern cooking, such as cornbread with honey and butter, collard greens, hot rolls, and white navy beans, into which we swirled excessive amounts of ketchup from squeeze bottles arranged up and down the long tables.
Mrs. West’s third grade class, December, 1959. Class members include: sitting: Prue Arndt, Robert Varley, Julia McCutcheon, Peter Kirkpatrick, Pad Wales, Bob Cherry, Dick Geary, Steve Piantadosi. Standing: Lane Crawford, Sally Geer, Louise Pettis, Stephanie Sugioka, Liv Taylor. Leslie Decker, Kathy Shinahan. Sarah Craige, Ditty Thibaut, Chris Hill, Brenda Marks, Jewel Hayman, Sarah Kreps, Biff Bream. Mollie Clark, Jack Spitznagel, Mrs. Sarah West, Ricky Barnett, Frieda Ellis.
We had excellent teachers at Glenwood and were held to high standards. Our strongest memories are of Mrs. Fitzgerald and Mrs. Glasser (first grade), Mrs. Mary Frances Green and Mrs. Coleman (2nd grade), Mrs. Sarah West and Mrs. Brown (3rd grade), Mrs. Pepper (4th grade), Mrs. Blaine (whose snowy white hair was often compared to George Washington’s wig) and Mrs. Dixie Weir (5th grade). Mr. Jerome Stern caused some excitement when he arrived to teach sixth grade, the only male teacher at Glenwood. Mrs. Barbara McCallister took some students for advanced math and reading in a make-shift classroom in the basement under the cafeteria. Many teachers stayed only a year or two while their husbands were in school, and any teacher who got pregnant resigned well before the pregnancy was visible.
1957 second grade classmates Glenwood Elementary School Chapel Hill, NC
Mr. Battle was the principal when I started school, and I remember him wandering around the building whittling on a piece of wood. It’s hard to imagine a principal carrying a knife around a school today! He was succeeded by Mrs. West.
There was no gym, music room or art room. Our classroom teachers taught PE, art and music. PE took the form of organized games, often played on the paved parking lot in front of the school. I remember a lot of dodge ball, red rover, and relay races. The teachers would name team captains, who would then call out their first choice, second choice, etc. while we all waited impatiently and probably heckled or cheered those who were chosen. We did have a special music teacher, the legendary Mrs. Adeline McCall, who would push her piano from room to room, always accompanied by a sock monkey puppet. Mrs. Weir started a popular chorus for boys and girls in the 5th grade.
The classrooms were plain, but teachers put up new decorative bulletin boards every month. The light fixtures were large light bulbs, surrounded by concentric metal rings. Teachers wrote on chalkboards, and it was a great privilege to be chosen to clean the erasers by clapping them together outside at the end of the day, creating a cloud of chalk dust. Teachers drew parallel lines for neat handwriting by sticking three pieces of chalk in a wooden holder. When that chalk squeaked, our teeth were set on edge. There was no air conditioning, of course, and the louvered windows were inadequate for ventilation, so the classrooms had large rotating fans. The windows also had long, long shades, and teachers used a pole with a nail in the end to pull them down.
This is from the Dick and Jane book every girl and boy in Chapel Hill learned to read from. In those days many thought little sister Sally was based on Sally Geer.
Wooden classroom desks were arranged in rows (not the clusters of desks kids use today). The desks had lids that raised to reveal a storage area, with a hole cut in the top for an inkwell. I don’t think anyone brought in bottles of ink! We used “fountain pens” with plastic ink cartridges, which were small cylinders that fit into the pen and were pierced when the nib was screwed back on. There was no public address system, and the only audio-visual tools were movie projectors and film strip projectors. Threading the film through the projectors and onto large metal spools was the height of technology. However, on the afternoon of November 22, 1963, Mrs. West set a small black and white TV set on a chair at one end of the lunchroom. 6th graders and their teachers sat together and watched the unfolding coverage of the assassination of President Kennedy.
Mrs. Peacock and students in Glenwood School Library 1957
I loved our library time in the Peter Garvin Library. Girls would race for the Nancy Drew mysteries when the class filed in the door, hoping to find one they hadn’t read yet. Other favorite series for girls were the Cherry Ames nursing books, the Bobbsey Twins, the Happy Hollisters, and for me, anything about dogs by Albert Payson Terhune. Many of us loved the set of orange biographies with silhouettes on the covers called Childhoods of Famous Americans (Amelia Earhart: Young Aviator; Davy Crockett: Young Rifleman). We also read Beverly Cleary (especially the Henry Huggins and Beezus and Ramona stories), and the stories about the inventions of Homer Price. Chapel Hill had no public library until 1958. My recollection is that the elementary school libraries were opened one day a week in the summer, so we could check out children’s books.
This is a 1956 Dick and Jane book which was read at Glenwood Elementary School in Chapel Hill
We learned to read with the Dick and Jane readers (Dick and Jack, Baby Sally, Spot and Puff). We also had a formal phonics program of mimeographed work sheets. Book reports and other “reports” started in the 3rd or 4th grade on topics such as Great Inventors. We used the World Book and other children’s encyclopedias for these reports, and we had to copy any illustrations and maps by hand since there were no copier machines. “My Weekly Reader” covered current events, such as the space race and news about the addition of two new states, Alaska and Hawaii (which required the country to adopt new flags in one year, first with 49 stars, then with 50). We also did a lot of memorization. We had to learn the Gettysburg Address for Mrs. Weir, and some of us memorized a poem a week in the sixth grade. We would recite a poem orally on one week. On alternate weeks, the poem had to be written out, including correct punctuation and spelling. We picked especially short poems on those weeks!
1958 Weekly Reader featuring article on exploring the moon before the United States had even sent a rocket into space.
Because of the school connection with the UNC Education Department, we also got some interesting student teachers and some unusual and progressive programs. For example, my class went to the library in 5th or 6th grade for “speed reading” lessons, probably based on the work of Evelyn Wood. A machine projected text on the wall in chunks of words, which would gradually be speeded up until it looked like a blur.
Although we had traditional arithmetic, we also got “New Math.” No New Math textbooks were published yet, so we used draft books that had been typed and printed on cheap paper. As part of New Math, we learned to handle numbers in systems other than Base 10, which was a puzzle to our parents.
Mrs. Green’s second grade class, 1958 , Glenwood Elementary School. Class members shown include Julia McCutcheon, Prue Arndt, Bobby Andrews, Sally Geer, Ditty Thibaut, Bob Cherry. Second row Mollie Clark, Sarah Craige, Stephanie Sugioka, Chris Hill, Sally Morgan, , Ricky Barnett. Billy Palladino, Carol Mann, Claudia Harris, Robert Varley, Beth Crawford, Christy Prange, Peter Kirkpatrick.
We had some excellent hands-on experiential education as well. When Mrs. West’s third grade studied the pioneers, we made soap outside the classroom by dripping lye through ashes. Mrs. Pepper organized mock debates and voting for the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon election. A 6th grade science experiment about water pressure ed in some flooding in Mr. Stern’s classroom.
We took field trips to the new Planetarium and to Raleigh. I seem to recall that we would take buses to the train station in Durham, then a short ride on a train to Pullen Park in Raleigh, where we would have a picnic. There was probably a visit to the Capitol or the NC Art Museum in there, too, but all I recall is the train and the park!
We also took an annual trip to hear the North Carolina Symphony Orchestra (led by Benjamin Swalin), either at Memorial Hall on the UNC campus, or the auditorium of the high school downtown. The program was called “Symphony Stories.” Mrs. Swalin would introduce the instruments and their sounds. A highlight of the concert was a song we would sing with the orchestra. I remember singing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” at least a thousand times with Mrs. McCall, in preparation for the concert. Sometimes we learned pieces on plastic “tonettes” in preparation for playing along with the symphony.
Mrs. Dann, Glenwood School second grade Elementary School teacher 1956-1957
The Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, one year after Glenwood opened, but Chapel Hill schools remained segregated until a progressive group was elected to the school board in 1961. Glenwood was integrated in the early 1960’s, belatedly but peacefully, beginning with first graders and a few older students whose parents requested assignment to Glenwood.
Mrs Dann's Second Grade Class 1956-1957, Students include Elaine Blyth, Mike Fields, David Kohn, Charles (Charly) Mann, Kate Taylor, Nancy Nottinghan, Mike Earey, and Elizabeth Alden.
Every spring the school had a potluck picnic on the grass under the pine trees at the front of the school. All the families would gather and sit on blankets, and the younger siblings would get a look at the great school they would be attending. It was a terrific place to begin school, and a wonderful group of kids. We were proud of being at Glenwood, and felt like a real community.
Several people helped me in collecting these memories of Glenwood School: my sister Anne Geer, her husband David Scott, Frieda Ellis Harden, Laura Gaskin, and Nora Gaskin Esthimer. We all entered Glenwood between 1957 and 1960.
Pictures for this article supplied by Charly Mann and Sarah GeerComment
What is it that binds us to this place as to no other? It is not the well or the bell or the stone walls. or the crisp October nights. No, our love for this place is based upon the fact that it is as it was meant to be, The University of the People.