Lessons to be learned

Published 10:16 pm Friday, June 13, 2014

The last day of the school year held a special significance at Southwestern Elementary School on Friday.

As students filed out the doors of the school, they became the last ones that would ever do so. But this is not the first last-time-ever milestone for Suffolk’s remotest school. In the spring of 1970, the school graduated its last senior class, changing to a middle school the following year. In 1989 it hosted its last middle-schoolers, changing to an elementary school the next year.

The Holland-area location has been the site of some school or another since 1924, when Nansemond County Training School opened for black students during the era of segregated schools. That old Rosenwald school, built using money from Sears and Roebuck leader Julius Rosenwald, still stands on the site.

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In 1955, that old school saw its last classes, and a new school opened next door the following year. The last class of Nansemond County Training School students graduated in 1963, as the school’s name was changed to Southwestern High School the following year.

There may be no place in Suffolk with such strong ties to education. Students of all ages and all races have attended school there, and they’ve done so for generations.

On Friday, the property’s history as a place of education came to a close. When students return to school in the fall, they will be attending classes in what will then be a brand-new facility, Pioneer Elementary School. The new school will offer amenities and comforts the old one could never have hoped to match.

Still, though, something of the history of the southwestern part of the city will be missing from the new facility, bright and shiny as it might be. The old school’s alumni association has been able to get it listed in the Virginia Landmarks Register and on the National Register of Historic Places. And members hope to work with the city to have the old facilities turned into a museum and community center.

Some bits of history are too dear to too many people to just allow them to deteriorate or fall under the tracks of a bulldozer. Southwestern Elementary might not have any teachers next year, but it still has a few things to teach the people of Suffolk. City officials should work to find a way to make sure those lessons are not lost.