My four children all attended Barnard Elementary School, starting with my oldest entering 2nd grade in 1975 and ending when my youngest graduated from 5th grade in 1988.  It was a major place in our lives, leaving us with lifelong lessons, memories, and friendships.  The school was opened in 1929, the wall was a WPA project.  By the time my family got there, it was a thriving neighborhood school, populated with children from diverse incomes.  From the moment I stepped through that entry, I felt my children were in a safe place.  There was something about those older schools that envelops you with a sense of strength and history and security.


As a parent, I was involved as much as I could be.  I was a Junior Great Books leader for 12 years, leading groups of children through interpretive readings of classic stories during their lunch hour or before school.  It may be the best use of my English degree I have ever had.  I was a homeroom mother, bringing homemade cookies for parties, helping the teacher with details.  Today, homemade cookies aren’t allowed, but the mothers of my day would have been teased if we brought store bought packages or bakery goods.  It was homemade all the way.  When the weather got too hot and the kids were sweating in the un-airconditioned classrooms, we bought popcicles and sold them to the kids for a quarter.

I helped with anything they needed me for.  I remember enrolling kindergarteners the years the churches were sponsoring Vietnamese families and watched as the new students, who couldn’t speak English, lined up in wonderment in our place that was so comfortable to us and so foreign to them.  Now there were kids with Asian sounding names in the classes, kids who learned quickly and adapted to a new life more easily thanks to the kindness of Americans and the nurturing atmosphere in our school.

I worked on the fundraising events.  We did the first J0g-a-Thons, sold t-shirts, sweatshirts and visors.  We had school carnivals and bingo.  The best one was the year Gailard Sartain, the great actor who works in Hollywood and lives in Tulsa, called bingo.  His daughter was a student and he gladly volunteered when we asked.  He was so funny that parents were lined up around the room, filling the doorway to watch him in action in the cafeteria.

We decided to invest in a popcorn machine and sell bags of popcorn to the kids after school for a quarter.  I think the machine cost $200 and we had it paid for in a couple of weeks.  Popcorn day was one of the kid favorites and I spent many an afternoon with my friends pouring that nasty popcorn oil and measuring out bags for the kids before the final bell and the rush of little grubby kids, quarters in hand, smiles on their faces.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We used our money to give the teachers extras funds for supplies for their rooms, we purchased the Big Toy for the playground and the fathers gathered on a weekend to assemble it.  We purchased the first computers for the school.  I remember volunteering to work in the computer lab, at a time when nobody had a personal computer but knew they were coming, and thinking that I could surely learn this new technology if the kindergarteners could.  And I learned along with them.

The auditorium/gym was the place for assemblies, meetings and performances.  We were charmed with the poetry contests that Sharon Atcheson created.  Watching the children recite poems of their choice was an incredible learning and performing experience for all of them.  There were coveted prizes and the students worked hard on their pieces.  I bet many of them still remember the poems they recited.  We watched talent shows and plays…I’m remembering Kerry and her friends performing Uptown Girl and Clayton and his friend in A Christmas Carol.  There were so many performances.  The Spring Sing focused on the incredible musical knowledge and abilities that flourished in all the children under John Townsend.  The awards assemblies awarded the students with a portfolio of certificates for good behavior, perfect attendance, best in math and on and on.  My mother won the grandparent award for several years as she had seven grandchildren at Barnard.  It tickled her …she always said it was the only award given for her children being prolific.


The gym/auditorium was where we had scout meetings, PTA meetings.  I remember standing before the group of parents, giving various reports.  I remember my husband as Pack Leader for the Cub Scouts and pinning my son’s Bobcat pin on him as he was held upside down (Men must have thought up that one).  All in that auditorium…


The year I was PTA President, I spent more time than usual at the school, often in Pat Randall’s office.  She was the Principal, an African American woman who was my age and became a dear friend.  I’d held various positions on the PTA Board, but this one was special.  I already knew the teachers and had spent time in the school, but what I learned as President was a life lesson in what advocacy means.  The most special schools are usually that way because of parent involvement – no secret in that.  What I watched and dealt with along with Pat, were the various ways that involvement manifests itself.  There are parents who think their child is always right, no matter what.  It doesn’t matter that the child is…shall we say a brat?  The parents will stand up for him/her.  There are parents who don’t want to hear anything, good or bad, about their child.  And, I learned, it is the rare parent who understands the difference between what may be right for his or her child and what may be best for the entire student body or the school system, seeing the big picture.  In the end, it is usually those who can see the Big Picture who understand all the complexities and know that what is best for the most students may be the best for their child, too.  Of course, there are various circumstances and every child needs an advocate.  God Bless our teachers!  I bet my kids could name them all…Marilyn Tomlin, Laurice Nesser, Anne Erker…the list of great teachers who taught and influenced my children and so many others.

Barnard 5th grade - 1987-1988 - Clayton Fraser in back row - 8th from right

The many hours I spent carpooling, sitting in front and back of the school while I let out children or waited for them are fastened in my mind.  Those were the quiet moments of motherhood, when you watched your children leave you to be influenced by others in the world and then waited for them to return to you, full of stories of accomplishments and disappointments.  Those quiet moments while I sat parked were times when I visited with my dear friends who were also waiting, or contemplated what I would fix for dinner or which carpools needed to be driven after school.  The friendships I developed with the other parents and the teachers are some of the most precious.  Those were good years, happy years.

Barnard closed at the end of the school year in May 2011 and I walked the halls for the last time.  The school looked just as strong as it had the day I first entered it.  There were a few improvements, but the old school was looking good.  I was so proud of my family’s time there and so warmed by the memories.  They left that school with good educations, prepared for the next step.  I have always said that I felt like I was throwing my children to the wolves when they left the security of Barnard and had to go to the wildness that is junior high/middle school (the change from junior high to middle schools was made between my 2nd & 3rd child’s graduation from Barnard).


We had waited with a mixture of curiosity and protectiveness to see what the schools would do with Barnard.  They treated the school with reverence for its former patrons and its history and moved the Tulsa School of Arts and Sciences there this past fall, a relief and a source of pride for all.  Then the unimaginable happened.  On September 5, a fire broke out in the early hours, a flash from a newly installed vent, and the school went up in flames, entirely destroyed.  I watched the news reports showing the explosions as the classrooms exploded with a sinking heart.   A friend, another former PTA President, texted me from the site that day, saying she was standing across the street, bawling.  I drove by recently several times as they were tearing the ruins down until there is nothing but a flat lot left.  The entry pieces were given to the Tulsa Historical Society.  Yesterday, I purchased 10 of the final 800 bricks they placed on sale.  As I approached, an elderly lady was leaving with one brick in the basket of her walker.  There was a parade of mourners, picking up the scorched, scarred, chipped bricks that are all that is physically left for us to hold and touch from that incredible house of education, memories, friendships and love.


Thank you to all who taught or studied and played or volunteered in that building…Barnard is a special place for us all.

P. S.  For more memories and history of Barnard, read Jeremy Bailey’s article in the December 1, 2012 issue of This Land.