Sam E. Hill Primary celebrates a century

Josh FloryOur Town Youth

A pillar of the Lonsdale community is celebrating its centennial.

Sam E. Hill Primary School was founded in 1919 and moved into its current building in 1951.

The school had served pre-K students in recent years, but last fall it welcomed a new class of kindergartners, and next year it will add a class of first-graders, completing the transition to a primary school.

During the segregation era, Sam E. Hill was an elementary school for African-American students, many of whom went on to Beardsley Junior High and Austin High School.

Beardsley closed in 1991, while the former Austin High is now Vine Middle School. In light of that history, principal Wendy Laman said that Sam E. Hill “holds a near and dear place in the hearts of many.”

To mark the anniversary, the school will hold a luncheon on Thursday, Feb. 7, for alumni and community members, including a slideshow of historic pictures and a student musical performance. Current students will also receive commemorative T-shirts, courtesy of the Lonsdale Union of Churches and the Great Schools Partnership.

Lynn Clemons, executive director of the Lonsdale Union of Churches, was a student at Sam E. Hill when the current building opened and said that as children, it was “more than we ever expected.” Clemons said he was glad to see the recent transition to a primary school, adding, “Everybody still has pride in Sam E. Hill.”

The anniversary celebration comes as the school and community are in a period of transition. Laman, the principal, said Sam E. Hill has welcomed many students from West Africa, Mexico and Central America in recent years, and 13 different languages are spoken by students at the school.

Meanwhile, the neighborhood is also the site of a major new development. The Emerald Youth Foundation is currently building a community center adjacent to Sam E. Hill, a project that will include a 30,000-square-foot multipurpose building with sports facilities, a learning center and an assembly space, along with two synthetic-turf fields for outdoor sports.

Sam E. Hill’s centennial lunch for alumni, community members and other stakeholders will take place from noon to 12:30 p.m. Parents and families are encouraged to attend during their child’s scheduled lunch at 10:30, 11 or 11:30 a.m. Tickets for the event cost $3.75 for adults and $2.25 for non-students.

Betty Smith, an educational assistant at Sam E. Hill, attended the school in the 1960s and said one of her favorite memories was the annual May Day celebration, when students would wrap the May Pole.

As the school continues to grow and change, Smith pointed out the importance of family ties in building community at Sam E. Hill. She said some students are the second or third generation of their families to attend the school, while others are following in the footsteps of an aunt or uncle: “So they feel like they have a stake in this school.”


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