When I began as a student at Fair Street in 1971, students from Enota, Miller Park, Main Street, Candler Street and Fair Street were joined together as sixth-graders (Fair Street was then sixth and seventh grades), and integration was new to our town.
We all had to adjust to new faces, new skin colors, new teachers (who had also been moved around). We were not the first white students to go to Fair Street; the class ahead of mine was the first. We were too young to fully understand what integration meant. We just knew that we were sent to a school on "the other side of town." A side of town I'd rarely visited except to take our beloved babysitter home each day during the summers.
There was some trouble that year, some violence around town related to integration, and many parents kept their kids home for a couple of days until things calmed down. The violence never reached our safe place — Fair Street.
We all became Tigers, with our varied stripes. Soon, the students at Fair Street were wrapped up in the extracurricular activities — football, basketball, cheerleading, school newspaper, Beta Club, social clubs, yearbook, band. We forgot about our differences and built traditions that we would all remember and cherish. Fast friendships were formed, friendships that have lasted over decades.
The building needed repairs even then, but nothing that we kids noticed as being a deterrent to our learning. The sounds emanating from the radiators were a little disturbing if you'd never heard them before, but we got used to them.
I do distinctly remember flying insects coming out of the wooden gym floor and biting us during P.E. They must have been attracted to the figure flattering polyester gym suits we sported.
Rita Collins, Helen Caudle, Mildred Martin, Shirley Whitaker and Laura Fuller were beloved members of the faculty. Gene Beckstein taught seventh-grade science, though I never had the good fortune to be in his class.
L. C. Baylor was our principal. His daughter was in our class, so we saw a softer side of him than most, but we still knew that misbehaving was not an option. We didn't have a real playground, but we had enough grass outside to play Red Rover and Crack the Whip.
The guys played football and basketball, and the lower field was perfect for baseball or kickball. As preteens, though, we sat and talked about boys and our hair — the choices were long and straight, shag or an afro. We wore bell-bottom jeans, layered shirts and chunky platform shoes. We listened to Three Dog Night and the Partridge Family, and we were hopelessly in love with Michael Jackson, Donny Osmond and Bobby Sherman.
Our beginnings as Fair Street Tigers might have been a little rocky, but after two years together, we all headed to Gainesville Junior High as one. We became Elephants. Most of us graduated together from Gainesville High in June 1978.
Since then, I've watched my friends' children — and a few grandchildren — come through Fair Street. I have watched our two sons come through Fair Street. I taught hundreds of kids in my 15 years as a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher. After seven years as math coach and three as assistant principal, I am now seeing the children of those I've taught come to Fair Street. Many of our faculty are former students and two of our teachers were in my class as fourth-graders. What an awesome feeling.
My entire 24-year career has been at Fair Street. I know the building better than I know my own home. Although extensive renovations were done in 1987, I had lived in this building before so I know its frame, its backbone. I know every hump in the tiled floors, I know where the sun comes in each morning turning the second-grade hall peachy pink. I know that when the sun sets, it shines right into my office with a warm golden glow.
I know where the leaks are going to be in the gym if the rain comes from the east or if it comes from the west. I know where they'll be if it rains straight down. I know where all the buckets are that need to be dispatched every rainy day. I know the combination of switches that make the lights above the bleachers come on (and stay on).
I know the plants, the trees, the places where all our class pets are buried. I know where the ants will come in when the courtyard is filled with standing water. I know which stars and planets I see on the way to work in the summer, the winter, the fall, the spring. I know which locks stick and which toilets hang up. I know how beautiful the maples by the gym are in October and how gorgeous the pink dogwood by the orange hall is every April. I know the neighbors; I know the neighbors' dogs. I know which doors are likely to cause the alarm to go off at 3 a.m. and I know all the policemen who work the night shift and meet me there so patiently.
And, despite its faults, I know that I love Fair Street.
But I also know that it's time. It's time for us to gracefully and lovingly say goodbye to her. This great building has done her best to protect us and to keep children learning for 70 years. But she is weary.
I know I will cry when the walls of this symbol of my life's work shudder and fall. I'm crying now just writing this. I will cry when we dig up the trees that have been planted in memory of so many we have loved and lost. I'll cry when our campus is bare.
But even when the ground is bare, it will vibrate with beat the heart of all the Tigers that have walked these halls. There will be tears of joy as we watch the sacred ground take on new life to see many more generations of children run through its front doors excited to learn.
We will rejoice in the ability to focus on the challenges of teaching better, rather than the challenges of holding a building together. Our faculty has always had a special bond, one formed through common goals and a "whatever it takes" mentality. We love each other and we love our work. Our precious children teach us more than we can possibly comprehend about life and learning and why we do what we do.
Visitors to our school often comment on the warmth and joy they feel as they enter. Even though we will build a new school, the heartbeat won't change. We will make sure of it.
The new building will be filled with joy and warmth. The sun will still rise in the east and turn the halls of our new building peachy pink and it will set in the west and cast a golden glow somewhere. We'll plant new maples and new flowers, and we'll make new memories that we will cherish. We'll still teach with all our hearts and our children will learn and grow.
And we'll gladly give our buckets to anyone who still has a leaky roof.
Kim Davis is assistant principal of Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School and a former student at the school.