Until third grade, I attended Alliance Christian School in Morgantown, West Virginia. It was a private school, and I had the same 20+ kids in my class every single year I went there. The behavioral code was strict, including generous helpings of the Golden Rule.
When I moved to Raleigh, North Carolina for third grade and began attending public school, the culture shock was palpable. I knew nobody. The kids were tougher, coarser, and more diverse. The transition was difficult, but in the end, I look back on my years at Jeffreys Grove Elementary School in Wake County as some of the happiest in my life.
I learned how to get along with people from all sorts of backgrounds. I lost some of my sensitivity — perhaps more accurately defined as touchiness. And I developed the ability to adapt to new situations. And while the kids may have been tougher and coarser, they were just as good-natured deep down as anybody I had ever known.
I recently made the trek back to Jeffreys Grove to see what kinds of changes fate had in store for it in the intervening years.
First, my old mascot, Jeffrey the Giraffe, was gone. The mascot is now an eagle.
Second, the building I grew up with was demolished. It was torn down and replaced with a new facility in 1996. The principal, Lisa Cruz, tells me it’s likely that the rebuild was to make room for more children. Given the fact that much of my elementary school memories took place in modular trailers, that would make sense.
Third, Jeffreys Grove is now a magnet school. It just received that designation this year, but it began laying the groundwork for it five years ago. Cruz said the school applied for a grant in 2010 to join the Global Schools Network.
“Throughout the year, the teachers are bringing in global perspectives on things, talking about current events around the world and things like that,” she said.
One year later, the school added a Spanish immersion program — the only full Spanish immersion program in the county.
“You come down to a kindergarten class, first of all they completely understand what their teachers are saying already, and they’ve only been in school since August,” Cruz said.
As a result of these changes, the school applied for magnet status, which, as I mentioned, it received this year.
According to Cruz, Jeffreys Grove has 562 students and is 55 percent white, 22 percent black, 15 percent Hispanic, 3 percent Asian, and 4 percent multi-racial. Despite its relative size, Cruz says the school feels more diminutive.
“This school, I love, is very community oriented. Although we draw from a wider area now…we have a very strong base population of families that are very committed to this school,” she said. “And it has a very strong small-school feel to it.”
Jeffreys Grove has come a long way from its humble beginnings. According to the written history, it dates back to 1925, when two communities — Piney Grove and Jeffreys — wanted to merge and began raising money to build a school.
A man named Dockery Peebles and his wife, Mary Hinton Peebles, gave four acres of land to the communities so they could grow cotton and make money to build the new facility. Children from both communities would pick the cotton after school. Ultimately, Peebles also donated three acres upon which the school was built, and it opened in 1926 with a whopping four rooms and three teachers.
The school got a facelift in 1949 when seven schools joined with Jeffreys Grove and a new building was erected on the property.
In 1971, a new wing was added. By 1994, 16 trailers dotted the campus.
The school’s population moved to another location in 1995 while the new — current — building was constructed. And in 1996, Jeffreys Grove became what it is today. Dockery Peebles’ portrait hangs in the lobby of the school.
I miss my childhood school. I used to drive down Creedmoor Road and reminisce as I passed the old building. But I’m proud of what it has accomplished, and if it meant marring my memories a little, then I’m OK with that.