After 75 years, Sandy Grade School stands the test of time
by: contributed and staff photos, Top: Sandy Grade School circa 1960s. Bottom: Sandy Grade School today.

By the time you've been around three-quarters of a century, the world has changed around you.

When Sandy Grade School celebrates its 75th birthday this week, there won't be any diamonds - just smiles, hugs and memories.

Former and current students, teachers and staff members will observe the educational milestone with a party this Thursday, Nov. 2 - telling stories, sharing photos and reflecting on what the Oregon Trail School District's oldest institution has meant to the community.

In 1931, construction of the Empire State Building was completed, California started building the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and Sandy Grade School opened its doors.

'If you go back and look at the history of this school, they talk about it being a state-of-the-art building,' said Principal Rayburn Mitchell. 'It's amazing when you look back that it's still holding up. Modern education has changed dramatically.'

Sandy Grade School was built in 1931 for approximately $30,000 - $362,000 in today's dollars - and is the oldest school in the Oregon Trail School District.

Included in that design were six classrooms, a gym, a library and a cafeteria with a hard dirt floor that doubled as a playroom. Outside were swings, teeter-totters, gymnastic bars and sports fields.

'I think having a school in the district that goes back 75 years is a neat thing,' said Russ Hasegawa, assistant superintendent of the school district. 'For the students who have gone through the building, there's a connection with former teachers and classmates.'

Virginia Hames, who started in the first grade in September 1932 at the age of 5, remembers what it was like to go to Sandy Grade School in its early days. She will share her memories during a 75th anniversary musical presentation and reception on Thursday, Nov. 2, at the school.

'I think they did a beautiful job in the design,' Hames said of the school. 'It's classic and I hope if they can't hold school here some day this building be used for something. It's so attractive.'

'It was just a different time'

Hames said that the school has changed quite a bit since she attended. It was smaller and lacked today's technology, but she said there was never a lack of things to learn and do.

'We had a lot of fun. I don't ever remember being bored,' Hames said. 'I think a lot of that was just that it was a different time. I feel kind of sorry for kids now that they don't have to make up things (with their imagination). They sit and they're mesmerized by the television.'

In one of Hames' Sandy Grade memories, she said the active imaginations of her classmates probably helped keep discipline in the classrooms.

'A rumor circulated around the school that there was a spanking machine in the principal's office,' Hames noted. 'Younger students believed that and behaved quite nicely.'

Discipline at that time was much different than today. Hames remembers that student behavior was an important part of report cards, including a list of items such as 'does not pay attention in class,' 'talks out of turn' and 'whispers too much.'

Of course, the paddle was mightier than the pen. Students who were way out of line went to the principal's office for a spanking.

Today, the school district strictly prohibits any form of corporal punishment, including spanking. But the threat of spanking didn't stop Hames from pushing the envelope of acceptability by wearing 'beach pajamas' to school one day. Normally, girls wore dresses, but she donned a one-piece outfit with pant legs.

'I asked my mom if it was okay if I wore beach pajamas to school and she said, 'Well, I don't see why not,' ' Hames said. 'So I did and the kids were horrified. They just all knew I was going up to that spanking machine in the principal's office.'

Lucky for Hames, her father, Edward F. Bruns, was the chairman of the school board. Nobody said anything, and she avoided a trip to see Sandy Grade School's first principal, Robert Slawson.

Slawson spent three years at Sandy Grade School, where he served as principal, teacher and coach for sports teams before moving on to Troutdale to be a teacher. He taught for a total of 42 years and retired in 1972 in Bend, where he still lives.

'I enjoyed my three years there,' said Slawson, who is unlikely to attend the reception on Thursday because he's celebrating his 99th birthday on Friday, Nov. 3. 'It's hard to pick out the fondest memory. It was probably the good teaching staff, which means a lot (to a principal).'

Then and now

In Hames' first year, 1932, there were five teachers, including Slawson, who taught approximately 200 students. Today the school boasts 17 classroom teachers, 13 classrooms (in part due to the addition of the north wing in 1956) and approximately 385 students.

A school day in 1932 began at 8 a.m. and the first and second graders got out at 2:30 p.m. while the other students stayed until 4 p.m. Unfortunately, all children who took a bus home had to wait around until four o'clock because there was only one trip. Today, the school day lasts from 7:40 a.m. to 2:20 p.m., for all students.

The yearly school schedule was different in 1932 as well. While the school year started at about the same time - early-September - the year ended earlier then because all the children worked picking strawberries when they ripened in May.

'What I recall is getting out May 15, and at that time all the kids picked berries,' Hames said. 'Once you pick berries, you'll do anything else.'

Although Hames graduated from Sandy Grade School as an eighth-grader in 1940 - the school only goes through fifth-grade now - she couldn't stay away forever.

In 1966, while all her children were in school, she worked as the school clerk, a job she kept until 1988.

Hames passed that love of Sandy Grade down to her daughter, Charlotte Painter, who is a first-grade teacher at the school.

But even as the school, the surrounding area and the first students - and their children and their children's children - have grown up over the past 75 years, Sandy Grade School continues the traditions and standards of education set it's always had.

'I think that we're holding true to the mission of what it was designed for 75 years ago,' Principal Mitchell said. 'I'm proud of the education that does take place here. I think the forefathers would be equally proud.'

Sandy Grade celebration

Sandy Grade School will hold a celebration this Thursday, Nov. 2, to celebrate its 75 years of service. A small musical presentation will be held at 9 a.m. in the school gym, featuring Sandy Grade School children singing songs from the 1930s. A reception will be held from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. in the cafeteria with light refreshments, a picture display, a guest book, and of course, a birthday cake. Both events are open to the public and many alumni and former teachers are expected to attend.

Oregon Trail School District school 'birth' years

Sandy Grade: 1931

Sandy High School: 1934

Boring Middle School: 1940

Cottrell Elementary: 1940s

Cedar Ridge Middle School: 1960

Firwood Elementary: 1966

Welches Middle School: 1968

Naas Elementary: 1972

Kelso Elementary: 1979

Welches Elementary: 1980

Bull Run School, which is no longer in operation but it still owned by the District, was built in 1923

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