Ypsilanti's East and West middle schools turn 50
Verna (Rollins) Hayes remembers the days at East Junior High School when female teachers couldn’t wear pants, shuffleboard was played in the courtyard and a millage loss closed the school cafeteria, forcing teachers and students to eat together in the classroom.
The histories of East and West middle schools - built as junior high schools but reconfigured into middle schools years later - will be remembered and celebrated this month as the Ypsilanti school district’s two middle schools turn 50.
Hayes has had a front row seat as the history of each of school unfolded: She taught for 10 years at East beginning in 1966 and then for 28 years at West before she retired in 2005. She saw good times. And bad.
“When I came, I was green. And scared. But there were people at the school who helped me. I felt very supported,” she said.
When the school piloted the middle school concept in 1972, Hayes said she thought she’d gone to heaven. Teachers were given more autonomy, and the rigid structure was gone.
But lean times returned when a school millage failed, eliminating the middle school concept and even closing the cafeteria. Those times saw a shortened school day where the cafeteria was closed and students were given a 19-minute “nutritional break” in their classroom with their teachers, Hayes said.
But Hayes, who taught English and history, weathered it.
Were students at each school the same? “I found that children were children wherever they were,” she said.
Pat Horne McGee, director of Washtenaw County Head Start, spent a year at Ypsilanti’s high school on Cross Street, which included seventh through 12 grades, before East and West were built. She moved as an eighth-grader to West.
“At the high school, the kids were so big and grown up. It was a big deal to finally get our own school,” McGee said.
Carolyn Lucado Griffin, who retired this year after 42 years teaching in the district, was a student in the first class to attend East when she was in ninth grade.
“We were given a lot of freedoms as the first class,” she said. “It was brand new, a new chance for everybody.”
Each of the schools has benefited from a recent facelift: Technology was updated and floors, classrooms, common areas and the courtyards were renovated.
Romantic history also was made at West.
Hayes said her students played matchmaker between her and the school’s orchestra teacher, Bill Hayes, even carving her telephone number into the orchestra room piano. (She gave her students her home number so could call about their homework).
“He was just another co-worker as far as I was concerned,” Hayes said.
But one thing lead to another: They were married the month after she retired.
West celebrates its anniversary from 2-4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 18. There will be speeches and tours along with yo-yo art and face painting, said principal Monica Merritt.
East celebrates its anniversary from 3-5 p.m. Oct. 25. There will be speeches, storytelling, a book fair, pony rides, face painting and games, said principal Candice Churchwell.