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A Look Back

School Growth from the Roaring Twenties to Midcentury

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Between the two world wars, when East Meadow was still a sleepy rural hamlet, the school population stabilized and 400 to 500 students were enrolled each year in District No. 3. Schools were modernized and upgraded to include conveniences such as electricity and telephone service. and students attended either Front Street School (Public School No. 1), which was rebuilt in 1911 and greatly expanded in 1922, or Newbridge Road School (Public School No. 2). The area of the most significant development following World War I was off Newbridge Road. When that neighborhood's school opened to children east of Newbridge Avenue (now East Meadow Avenue) in 1928, classes took places on the first floor while the second floor was still under construction. Initially, students used the basement to play and ate lunch at their desks.

Through the Depression and war years, each building educated students from grades one through eight, with one teacher per grade in each school. Both buildings were overseen by one principal, Mr. Frank E. Church. Students had many more opportunities than in the past, with extracurricular clubs, instrumental music classes (by 1933), and organized physical education classes (beginning 1939). Under teacher and coach Charles Noble, boys learned sports such as boxing and wrestling and girls learned to dance.

Explosive population growth following World War II resulted in double sessions in 1948. The district purchased several lots for future schools but taxpayers were hesitant to spent so much money on new buildings. The first of the modern structures, all of which were designed by architect Frederick Wiedersum, was Prospect Avenue School (1950). Less than three months later, a spectacular fire destroyed the Front Street School, displacing 635 students. Kindergarten classes, just recently instituted, were canceled for several years, and students were taught in triple sessions (three hours per day) in creative spaces such as school gymnasia, Calvary Lutheran Church, firehouse, and the Republican political club.

An addition to Prospect Avenue doubled its size one year after opening; the same with Meadow Lawn School (1951). Meadow Lawn, now George H. McVey School, was used as a combined elementary-junior high school for several years. Bowling Green School opened in 1952 and was doubled one year later by taking the plans and creating a mirror image school extension known as Bowling Green II. Barnum Woods School opened in 1954 (financed in part by the U.S. government because of Mitchel Manor Army housing) and was the first school in five years to have single-session classes, but only because grades four through six were temporarily housed at the new Woodland Junior High School when it opened the following year. Newbridge Road School was expanded in both 1952 and 1954, adding classrooms, a gymnasium, and a cafeteria.

The year 1955 was the climax of school construction in East Meadow with a total of six buildings opening: East Meadow High School in January; Salisbury, Parkway, and Meadowbrook Elementary Schools in April; and Woodland and Meadowbrook (later McCleary) Junior High Schools in September. W. Tresper Clarke Jr.-Sr. High School opened in 1957, the first in the county to offer a full program in technical trades. Peak enrollment in East Meadow schools was approximately 19,000 students in 1963. At the time, we were the largest district on Long Island and the third largest in the state. The Baby Boom generation brought modern programs in guidance, special education, the arts, vocational and adult education.

A study of the challenges, successes, and controversies surrounding opening and closing these schools will be discussed in future articles.

© Scott Eckers

Dr. Scott Eckers is the author of East Meadow in Arcadia Publishing's Images of America series. He is Vice President of the East Meadow Board of Education as well as Social Studies Chair for the East Williston School District. Scott is also an entertainer and recording artist.