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Belair Elementary celebrating 50 years

Belair Elementary celebrating 50 years

October 10th, 2017 by Phillip Sitter in Local News

Fifth-grade teacher Holly Watson, right, occasionally brings her students out into the Belair Elementary courtyard for class. The courtyard is a nearly decade-old addition to the school and is a favorite of many students and faculty.

Photo by Julie Smith /Fulton Sun.

Bulldogs on benches, Bulldogs on bikes. On Saturday, Belair Elementary School will celebrate 50 years as a neighborhood institution, as a school and as a gathering place where relationships are forged and memories made.

With several faculty and even the principal as Belair alumni, the school has a strong tradition to celebrate.

"Everybody who goes through Belair has that Bulldog pride," fifth-grade teacher Holly Watson said, referencing the school's canine mascot. In her 25 years at Belair, she's also taught first, second and fourth grades in addition to kindergarten summer school.

"Lots of siblings have come through. I've taught siblings. I've taught the child of (a student in) my very first class — that was different. I currently work with Blaine Crocker, who is our art teacher, whom I taught second grade to," Watson said. "The teachers that have taught here come back to substitute, come back to check in how are things going. We have previous teachers' kids and grandkids that go to school here."

A lot of people may remember Watson by her maiden name of Schepker.

Principal Elizabeth Milhollin is in her second full year of leading Belair. She was a student there in 1993.

"'Wow, I'm kind of back where I started, almost,'" she recalled. "It's pretty awesome — and my daughter goes here; she's in kindergarten here."

Her other daughter will attend Belair once she's old enough.

The school has already been celebrating leading up to the big day.

"We've had special shirts made for this year that people could order. We did a drone photo shoot a couple weeks ago and made the number 50; we sang while the drone was here, we sang 'Happy Birthday' to Belair," Milhollin said. "A lot of our bulletin boards have to do with '50 years of Belair' or '50 years strong.'"

The school library even features a "50 years of books" bulletin board, noting a popular book from each of the past 50 years.

"In preparation of these bulletin boards, we've talked about 'what does it mean to be 50 years strong?' or sometimes kids from here 50 years ahead, 'What advice would you give them?' 'What does it mean to be a Bulldog?' 'What do you take pride in that you would want to pass on to kids 50 years from?'" Watson said of teachers' discussions with students in class.

Trying to get fifth-graders to understand the concept of 50 years in the future has been one challenge, Milhollin said. It is about five times their lifespans thus far.

They've mentioned some notable alumni, too: Ogugua "OG" Anunoby, a 20-year-old small forward playing for the Toronto Raptors; Jefferson City Mayor Carrie Tergin; and members of the Vogel family. Milhollin said she was in fifth grade with Jake Vogel, who leads the local Coca-Cola plant.

"I've tried to reach out to him on Facebook, but I think he'll be a little busy," Watson said of inviting Anunoby to Saturday's celebration.

The 50th anniversary festivities will be tied to the school's annual fall festival.

"I remember going to the fall festival when I was in school here; and some of the things that happen, like the pumpkin contest is still going on," Milhollin said. "Very strong in traditions, for sure."

Saturday's celebrations will be from 3-6 p.m., with a commemorative ribbon-cutting ceremony with the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce at 4 p.m.

"Some of our students will be here singing our school song, which was written this year by our music teacher, Mr. Ryan McFall, and then we will be doing a dedication of a 'Buddy Bench,'" she said.

The Buddy Bench is dedicated as a memorial to Joyce Kaiser, the first female Jefferson City Public Schools principal, who led Belair from 1991-2004. Kaiser died in February.

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"That's who hired me," Watson remembered.

The school color-painted bench will be a place where lonely students can sit to signal they need a friend.

"It's a way to encourage kindness, social awareness, looking out for someone who's feeling alone and sad. I think it'll be a great tribute to Joyce Kaiser, who was very much about a friendly-looking Bulldog," Milhollin said.

Kaiser approved of the mascot's softer second iteration, and the school is now on its third version of the Bulldog.

The anniversary celebrations will also include school tours, historic photos and scrapbooks on display, and an opportunity to add to the school's time capsule.

The time capsule was discovered when a school addition was built in 2009, Milhollin said.

Additions and renovations over the years have changed the look of the building in northwestern Jefferson City building. The central courtyard didn't exist as a usable space in her time as a student. The school also used to have kindergartners through sixth-graders, before the district's current middle schools were built.

"I think the neighborhood aspect of our school makes it a very tight community," she said of something that hasn't changed.

A large population of students still walks to school every day, she added.

"When I come to work on the weekends, there's always people on the playground," Milhollin said.

"Our playground area, the black top seems to be where so many kids learn to ride their bike," Watson said. That included her and her two sons.

"I think people are excited to realize how many lives Belair has touched, how many families in the neighborhood and community, just the idea of having that still here and to celebrate," she said of the 50th anniversary.

Two English bulldogs are planned to make an appearance Saturday, courtesy a second-grader parent.