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Former teachers return 'home' for school anniversary celebration

Highland Elementary marked National Teacher Appreciation Day with visits from former staffers, who told students how different education was in years past.


ABINGTON - Sometimes the school you attended as a child is like a home. You eventually leave it, but the memories always draw you back. "This school is not just a building with books, teachers and students in it. You don't go to a building here, you go to a family," John Engelhardt said. Engelhardt and his fellow teachers at Highland Elementary School recently gathered in the school gymnasium, along with the entire student body, to celebrate National Teacher Appreciation Day. It was in conjunction with a celebration honoring all of the teachers and staff who have played a pail in the school's 75-year history. Fifth-grade teacher Susan Cormack said it was appropriate the celebration fell on National Teacher Appreciation Day.

"It just seemed appropriate to do it today," she said. "It's nice to see all of our old friends. We sent invitations to teachers, secretaries, school board members and custodians, some who now live as far away as Florida." Former teacher Alma Leadbeater told the amazed students how different it was teaching in her day. "At lunchtime, we used to sit and eat with the children," she said. "Then later we went out into the playground and watched them play." Cormack said she felt it was good for the children to see the many generations of teachers gathered together. "The children need to see the continuity and realize that we are a family here and pass that message on," she said. "Many students who went to school here are now teachers in the Abington School District." Kathryn Martin taught at the school from 1941 to 1948 and said the celebration brought back a lot of memories. "Things haven't changed a lot," she said. "Teaching is still teaching."

Marion Garrison began teaching at the school in the late 1940s until her retirement in 1983. She said the changes since her absence were apparent. "There's the climate of freedom that we didn't have when I was teaching," Garrison said. "There are more creative activities now, and more freedom of expression." Former principal McKinley Lennox retired in 1996 and now works for Habitat for Humanity in North Philadelphia. He enjoys his work but admitted to missing the school atmosphere. He also noticed some changes in his short time away. "The kids are more creative and smart. They've mastered many social nuances that I wouldn't have thought of in my day," Lennox said. "Besides that, there is a real multiculturalism in the student body and the staff, and that is preparing them for the real world." He also felt the celebration was beneficial to the students.

"It's great for them to see something that was here before them. It shows them the friendships and lasting relationships that can be made from attending a school like this." Sixth-grader Julia Badulak knows exactly what she wants to do when she finishes with school. "I want to be a teacher," she said. "Education is priceless! "

The celebration began with a school tour and classroom visits for all invited guests' An assembly and reception followed, where guests were entertained by the school's string ensemble playing a rousing rendition of "When the Saints Go Marching In" and the 120-member chorus singing in the guests' honor. Teacher Priscilla Kinney then played a trivia game, calling out questions to the audience.

"In the 1960s, why did kids enjoy going to school on snowy days?" The answer came back in one thunderous voice: "Because the kids could bring their sleds to school!" The third-grade class then put on a show, having memorized "Sick" by Shel Silverstein. The poem is a litany of illnesses that children seem to develop quickly when they think it's a school day, then miraculously recover when they realize it's Saturday.


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