OK, I’m finally ready to ‘fess up.
After my old school closed for good one time many years ago I went back for one more, unauthorized visit.
They were finishing up work on a new school toward town that would open for us in the fall. And we were all looking forward to it.
But during a long, hot summer this little boy’s curiosity got the better of him. So a buddy and I went up the road and back to the neighborhood schoolhouse.
We found a back window that we could crack open enough to crawl through and into the classroom where I had spent two school years.
I found not a pretty sight. I stood shocked.
My old classroom had been razed. Trash littered an otherwise bare, wooden floor devoid of our school desks.
Textbooks, left behind and apparently not needed at the new school, lay scattered on the floor and elsewhere, some open and with face down. I did no harm during my intrusion. I stood silent and marveled at the extent of the desolation.
How different from just a couple of months before when bustling kids studying our lessons made the place so vibrant.
In this room the late Sally Woodruff told a stirring tale of Daniel Boone (her favorite) during a history lesson. A new geography textbook whisked me to the South Pacific where I read the story of a thirsty little boy just my age who told of climbing up a coconut tree to get a nut for the refreshing milk inside.
But now I surveyed a darkened, dead room with dust floating in a shaft of light.
Each step on the old, oily wooden floor in the long hallway that runs up and down the center of the schoolhouse produced piercing creaks in the still, thick air. The place even smelled old, musty and outmoded.
I got out of there quickly, not so much because I was trespassing, but because it all was too spooky, and too sad, for me to stand it.
For many generations there had been a school sitting along this curve in the road in our little corner of State Road. But now for the first time since longer than anyone could remember there was no school here, just the sad, abandoned shell of a schoolhouse.
The fate of my beloved old school, where I had known so much adventure and joy, hung in the balance. The neighborhood stood in danger of losing something precious. Our schoolhouse might get torn down as did the old North Elkin School building after it had stood abandoned and dilapidated for years. I noticed someone planted corn there this summer.
But our community banded together in a way it never had done before nor since. Folks staged a fund-raising campaign to buy the old schoolhouse. They raised a community tobacco crop one summer to earn money, and they held other fund-raisers. Somehow they finally got up the dough to buy the old schoolhouse and save it.
The idea was to create some type of community center. But the idea never crystallized, and the building went underfunded and underused except for pickup basketball games in the gym.
The dream was dying.
Then to the rescue came the county which rented and renovated the place for a day-care center. The old, dying schoolhouse came alive again, though this time with a much younger crop of children.
But over the years the county grew tired of the day-care business and finally pulled out. Again the old schoolhouse stood empty, its future in doubt.
Then along came a charter school, which is a private school that operates principally with government money. Charter schools began popping up as the alternative-school movement began picking up steam in North Carolina in the mid-1990s.
Bridges Charter School had started operations in the old Chatham hospital building in Elkin when that newly vacated but still fine old building was in transition also.
Then Bridges took advantage of our better, more natural quarters and moved in. Bridges officials eventually bought the old schoolhouse.
I had a chance to drop by Bridges one time, and it did my heart good to see children in my old classrooms doing lessons as I once did.
I caught sight of a couple of children in the long hallway. Now in the old days children in the hallway signaled bad news, that they were in some kind of trouble.
But this time I saw children, one on each end of the hall, getting personal tutoring, an example of the school’s stated mission of providing alternate learning methods.
But independent, charter schools like Bridges always have been held at arms’ length by the public-school establishment. Then, new state rules led the state school board to cancel Bridges’ charter a few weeks ago. Another school, in Gastonia, that also lost its charter disbanded.
But Bridges officials appealed, and in the meantime they’re vowing to open the school next Monday for a new academic year.
There’s no word on when we might hear a final decision on Bridges. If the case gets tossed into the courts, that could take a while.
The specter of empty classrooms and a spooky hallway as I found many years ago looms again.
I casually asked a neighbor about the community buying back the old schoolhouse if it came to that, and he just laughed. Don’t count on it.
I have no idea what will come of Bridges’ appeal. But the dear old schoolhouse has cheated death before, and we await to see if it can do it again.
Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.