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Several years have passed since I started school in Pea Ridge in 1946. Since that time, big changes have taken place in the Pea Ridge community, in the town itself, and in the Pea Ridge public schools.

When I entered first grade, all 12 grades in school were still in the original 1930 red brick building on the downtown school campus. The west rooms housed the early grades, and the east side was considered the high school side. Having multiple grades in a single room was a common practice at that time. Quite often a teacher would teach first and second grades, or third and fourth grades.

My own first-grade class was by itself in the south room on the west, because we were a rather large class of about 30 children. Our teacher was Louise Easley, soon to become Mrs. Harold Beard. In the second grade, space was tight, so half of our second grade shared a room with Fay Price's first-grade class, and the other half of our second grade shared a room with Mabel Hardy's third-grade class.

In that year, the school began adding new wings to the corners of the building. The new northwest wing held Mrs. Price's class and, as I recall, the fifth graders were in the new northeast wing. The new north wings included our school's first indoor bathrooms. But even with the new wings and new classroom additions, the school house was crowded, and in 1948 the school obtained salvaged building materials from old Camp Crowder, a Worls War 1 Army Air Corp Training Base located at Neosho, Mo., and built the little white classroom building behind the northeast wing, providing new space for third and fourth grades. The little white building, as we called it, was the first classroom structure to be established outside the main school building.

Then, in 1949-1950, new wings were added to the front of the schoolhouse. While that construction was under way, my fifth-grade class met in the basement of the Presbyterian church, and the sixth graders went to school in the basement of the Baptist church. Many of us thought that with these new additions, our Pea Ridge School house took on its grandest aspect, with great front porches with impressive pillars on each side of a central courtyard and great steps leading up to the porches. Later, after creation of the new Elementary School campus to the east, this building became known to the younger generations as the Pea Ridge High School, although some of us old-timers continued to point out that it once housed the whole school.

I'm recalling these things to lift up the point that for many years our Pea Ridge Public Schools have been growing, changing, adapting to new populations and new circumstances, developing new structures to accommodate expanded programs, and responding to the educational needs of new generations of young people whose futures present new scenes, new technologies, new occupations, and new patterns of work and human interaction.

Pea Ridge has a long tradition of educational excellence, a fact which often is forgotten or simply unknown to many people. Looking back toward the time of Pea Ridge beginnings, the Pea Ridge Academy was a pioneering leader in education in northwest Arkansas, with a reputation as the finest school in Benton County. Similar academies would later be developed in Rogers and in Bentonville. Pea Ridge Academy offered basically the same courses as the new University of Arkansas which opened in Fayetteville at about the same time, 1874-1875.

Now, in 2018, the Pea Ridge School population has grown to the point that each of our graduating classes is larger than was our whole school population back in 1946. Today, with more than 2,000 students in school, how fortunate that we were not consolidated with the Rogers School District, as almost happened back in 1949.

Many times in years past, the Pea Ridge community has responded to needs to expand and improve our school facilities. Since 1998, the School District has built a new High School, a new Junior High (now Middle School), a new Primary School, expanded and improved the Intermediate School downtown, vastly improved the district's academic rating, and initiated numerous innovative new programs to help students prepare for their futures.

Often the community has responded in visionary ways, as in the 1960s when the new elementary campus was opened, or when measures were taken to raise the school's earlier "B" rating. Or we could point to the late 1940s to the expansion and updating of facilities, or to 1930 when the new school building was built on the downtown campus.

Our school district has probably the most conservative and efficient spending record of any school district in Benton County. Our school officials have a long record of significant achievements while spending conservatively. The need to expand and improve our school facilities challenges us again today, as in years past. I believe we can see that as an opportunity to continue a proud tradition of quality education for the sake of our young people in years to come, and for the sake of the quality of our community life as our town continues to thrive.

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Editor's note: Jerry Nichols, a native of Pea Ridge and can be contacted by email at joe369@centurytel.net, or call 621-1621. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

Editorial on 01/10/2018

Print Headline: School challenges in times gone by

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