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Meadows recalls past as it celebrates 50th anniversary

September 10, 2001|By KELLY GRANT, Staff Writer

As it recognizes 50 years of existence, Meadows Union Elementary School District celebrates its history and maintains a commitment to its students and their futures.

This small, rural school district between El Centro and Holtville came into existence in the early 1950s when the people of Acacia and Meloland school districts voted to consolidate those districts, according to information provided by Meadows Union.

Consolidation of the county's numerous small districts was common at the time.

When the district was first created, it had two school sites: Acacia and Meloland, according to an Imperial County directory of public schools.

Realizing school facilities needed to be expanded to meet the needs of an increasing population, the school board applied and was granted an allocation for a new school. In April 1953, the new building was complete. By then, Acacia and Meloland no longer were used.

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Jim Johnson, 60, remembers attending Meadows Union School when it first opened. He was in the sixth grade.

Johnson described the new school facility as a big improvement over the older schools.

Most notably for a young boy, the play areas at Meadows were much better. The new school boasted grass, a paved basketball court and a baseball diamond.

By contrast, Meloland had no grass around it, just dirt.

"When it rained, you didn't play," Johnson said, remembering that the kids instead gathered under the covered porch.

The new school also had a big auditorium and food service, Johnson said.

Today Meadows educates about 480 students in kindergarten through eighth grades. Though the school is decades old, its interiors are up-to-date, thanks to recent modernization that remodeled the school's cafeteria, kitchen and classrooms.

One of Meadows' unique characteristics is its stable staff, said Superintendent and Principal Larry Kelly. Many teachers and past administrators, including Kelly, serve long tenures at the school.

"We're a rural district and perhaps it's less hectic," said Kelly, who came to the school as a teacher 26 years ago.

Kelly also credits the school's low turnover to an "excellent" school board and salary schedule comparable to other districts.

"The longer you stay, the harder it is to leave," Kelly noted.

Because Meadows serves grades K-8 all at one site, it allows teachers and staff to watch students' growth and transformation over a longer period of time. It's one of the rewarding aspects of the school, Kelly said.

Having such a wide span of ages all at one school does have some drawbacks, Kelly admits. The older students serve as models for the younger kids and, if they're acting badly, the lower grades see it, Kelly said.

"These are negatives we have to work on all the time," Kelly said.

However, Kelly points out, the students on the whole are not bad.

"We have good kids out here. I really believe that," he said.

Kelly points to the district's small size as one of the benefits Meadows offers both students and staff.

"There's a sense of a stable environment. They (students) know the teachers," Kelly said.

Meadows also places emphasis on extracurricular activities and positive rewards for students such as the trip to Sea World the second-graders go on each year, Kelly said.

Though Meadows Union has come a long way, the past is not very far away. It's actually within sight of the Meadows campus.

The old Meloland school house still stands on its original site on Meloland Road just south of Evan Hewes Highway, it's exterior not much different from when it closed.

When Meadows Union was formed and a new school built, there was no longer a need for Meloland as a school. The school, its land and surrounding buildings were put up for bid. Odie Johnson, father of Meloland's former pupil Jim Johnson, bought the land and its buildings for a bid of $1,800.

Jim Johnson and his family moved in in 1954 when he was 12 or 13 years old. Johnson has spent most of his life since then living in the converted school house.

Though the interior today gives little clue as to the building's former use, Johnson says he tries to keep the exterior faithfully preserved. Despite the addition of handicapped-accessible ramps and a small addition to the south side, the building looks much as it did when it was a school.

"I don't know, I'm sentimental, I guess," said Johnson when asked why he maintains the house's historical integrity.

"I like the look. It's got history behind it," he added.

It's a history that will not soon be forgotten.

Staff Writer Kelly Grant can be reached at 337-3441.

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