The Centralia School District is about to have two new elementary schools, but its historic Edison Elementary is still standing strong. The building is about to celebrate its 100th birthday.
“This is actually the second school on this property,” said Ed Petersen, public relations and communications coordinator for the district. “The first school was built here in 1890 and was originally called the North School. It housed, at various times, elementary students, high school students. By 1910, they were already calling that school the Edison School. So this is our second Edison School. They tore it down to make way for construction here in 1917.”
Petersen has been assembling information on the school’s history, such as old photographs and school board minutes. He said there was a major remodel in the 1950s and then a modernization in the late 1980s that made the building into what it is today. Since then, there have been various small projects along the way.
The Centralia School District will celebrate Edison Elementary School’s 100th birthday from noon until 3 p.m this Saturday at Edison Elementary School. Petersen said the district will display old school board minutes and photographs from the school’s history.
Out of all the Edison teachers, Kerri Kite-Pocklington and Jim Clinton have taught at Edison Elementary School the longest. They have both been at Edison since the early 1990s.
Clinton began teaching in the district in 1979 — he said that his son learned to walk in the Edison building. Kite-Pocklington said if a family in the district has ever fallen on hard times, former Edison employees have helped with anything from Christmas presents to rent.
“We have a lot of former teachers and aides who have worked here and just loved Edison — so much that they have come back and volunteered in lots of different roles until their health just couldn’t make it,” Kite-Pocklington said. “Once you’re an Edison family, you’re always an Edison family.”
Kite-Pocklington and Clinton said when they began teaching in the district there were fewer students, and that the other teachers were much older than they were.
“I was the youngest teacher here,” Kite-Pocklington said. “Bob Fuller was still on the school board. He signed my contract. … There was a lot less staff. We didn’t have a P.E. teacher, we didn’t have a music teacher, we didn’t have a computer lab.”
Clinton said when he began there were about 11 teachers at Edison.
“We did it all ourselves,” he said.
The district doesn’t know how many students attended Edison the first year it was open, or what life in the school was like, but it still has some of the more important documents.
“We have some old board minutes that we have kept over the century that I am actually really surprised we have,” Petersen said. “They are in great shape. We know things like why the brick is the color that it is and how much the bond was that they passed to finance construction and things like that.”
Construction began winter 1917 and finished fall 1918. The original construction cost for the building was $45,000, Petersen said, which is equivalent to $800-$900,000 today. As far as everyday life, however, the district doesn’t have much information.
“That’s one of the things we really struggle with in a building this old — cameras were not everyday folk equipment back then and film was expensive,” Petersen said. “It was expensive to buy paper and pen to even take notes and preserve that kind of history. We don’t know much about the daily activities back then.”
The earliest attendance records principal Andy Justice has found are in the 1930s, but there are more records in the 1940s.
“All we have are old roll sheets that I’ve seen,” Justice said.
Today, it’s easier for the school to keep records of its students. Kite-Pocklington and Clinton said they’ve taught their former students’ children and, in some cases, their grandchildren. Sometimes, Kite-Pocklington said, she can tell she taught a student’s parent.
“A lot of times — if you squint — you can still see a little (of the parent) in there, if they give you a little hint,” Kite-Pocklington said.
Clinton now teachers second grade, but has taught various levels since he began at Edison. He tells his students that when they graduate high school, he will take them for ice cream at Dairy Queen if they come back to say hi.
“Every year he has one or two takers who say ‘remember you said you’d take me to Dairy Queen?’” Kite-Pocklington said. “And he takes them.”
Clinton keeps his word every year.
“I just wanted to see who would finish, who would complete, who would go the whole way,” Clinton said. “It hasn’t been a whole lot of kids who have done it, but a few.”