Last week brought a gala celebration to Wilson Elementary, an Oklahoma City public school located in a mid-city area that includes the Heritage Hills neighborhood. Funded partially by the MAPS for Kids program approved by voters in 2001, renovations and new construction were recently completed at Wilson, 2215 North Walker Avenue.
The day included an afternoon program for the students, then an evening celebration that attracted neighbors, city leaders and MAPS for Kids veterans attending on a wet, wintry day.
At the afternoon student event, Miles Tolbert, a civic leader and advocate for the private fundraising that supplemented MAPS resources to improve the school, moderated a school assembly in the auditorium.
Wilson teachers incorporate an arts integration concept in curriculum and instruction. Tolbert spoke of heroes in the history of the school, as he did at the ceremony when the school reconstruction began a few years ago.
Tolbert listed artists and high-achieving alumni of the school, including the late Edith K. Gaylord, a pioneering female journalist who, in her later years, provided direct support to Wilson’s acclaimed music education program.
Community leader Leslie Batchelor followed Tolbert by reading a long list of heroes and heroines, alumni, donors and others who helped with the renovation and expansion program.
School principal Beverly Story was praised repeatedly for her key role in leading the school to both an improved physical plant and quality academic performance.
Tolbert described the beauty of sunlight coming through the glass walls adorning some school hallways. He reflected, “the only problem with the school is that there is no one wall large enough to hold the names of all those who contributed to the effort, those who started the school and who attended it, those who made the improvements and upgrade of the facility a reality.”
Following Tolbert’s remarks, Wilson students gave a big “howl” of appreciation, in the manner of wolves (the school mascot). The school chorus performed assorted tunes, including a rewrite of the school song, adapted with words of appreciation for construction supervisor Chris Bronson.
Three young dramatists – Abby Miner, Sam Brown and Nathan Teel – then performed an excerpt from Shel Silverstein’s “Take the Garbage Out.” Brown presented a Silverstein poem that mixed seriousness with humor, “Where the Sidewalk Ends.”
Among guests receiving old-fashioned slate blackboard memorabilia of the event were Bronson, the construction supervisor, and Kendra Boeckman a member of the designer and architect team at the site.
After the school assembly, students moved outside, where each stood with teachers in the school courtyard, clasping white and blue balloons (the school colors). The balloons were released simultaneously to loud howls, cheers and delighted laughter from the students.
One lonesome balloon was for a time trapped under an eave in the new portion of the facility on the school’s west side. It lingered there for a couple of minutes before students noticed it “hanging around.” Some began to point and talk excitedly, eventually gaining the attention of all the students. As a gust of wind blew it around the overhang, the children speculated if the solitary orb would “make it.”
They cheered loudly as the blue balloon lifted away from the building and soared west into the overcast sky.
Wilson’s $4.2 million facelift features a new addition with classrooms, a media center and administrative offices. The school now has 346 students, PK-6. Four classrooms focused on fine arts and Wilson Arts, Inc., a non-profit organization formed in 2005 to support the school and this project, funded some other facility improvements. In all, Wilson Arts, Inc. contributed more than $800,000 to the project. Organizers of the event said this is the largest donation of its kind in the history of Oklahoma City’s public schools.
According to a press release sent to The City Sentinel, “Contributions ranged from students collecting change to a $100,000 gift from the estate of a 1920’s era alumna. Heritage Hills, the neighborhood surrounding the school, matched all funds raised.”
In her statement to the local news media, Story, the Wilson principal, said, “Our students, faculty and parents are thrilled to see our renovation completed and are excited about the future of Wilson Elementary. This is certainly a day we have anticipated ever since MAPS for Kids began. Our most sincere thanks go to the citizens of Oklahoma City and Wilson Arts, Inc. for this special day.”
City Schools Superintendent Karl Springer said, “The completion of renovations at Wilson Elementary is very exciting. MAPS for Kids has progressed across the district at a very fast rate. Upon completion, every Oklahoma City student will be educated in safe, technologically-advanced, neighborhood schools in environments that promote individual student growth and achievement.”
In a statement, Mayor Mick Cornett commented, “It’s gratifying to see another MAPS for Kids project completed. Wilson is just one of many elementary schools completed or under renovation. MAPS for Kids is working and my gratitude goes to the citizens of Oklahoma City for having the vision to recognize the need to transform our schools into a model urban education system.”