It’s not every day that an elementary school gets to celebrate a centennial, but that was the case at Camp Avenue School in the North Merrick School District last week. Those familiar with the 100-year-old building, along with officials from North Merrick’s schools, reflected on Camp Avenue’s history and expressed confidence that it will continue to embark on a bright future and another 100 years of quality education.
The North Merrick School District, established in 1921, was originally known as the Union Free School District No. 29. In its first official school year, the district had no formal school building. Classes were held in places like a chapel on Richard Avenue and at the old campgrounds, a popular meeting place and living community for the Methodist Church, dating back to the 1860s.
Camp Avenue School was completed in 1923, serving as the district’s first school building, and three additional schools were built over the last century. One of them became North Merrick’s library in 1965.
Today, students in North Merrick attend either Camp Avenue, Old Mill Road or Harold D. Fayette schools, from kindergarten to sixth grade. They then attend middle school and high school in the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District.
Kathy Moran, a school board trustee for the district and a former library secretary in North Merrick schools, has a long family history in the area. Though she grew up in Wantagh, her aunt and uncle lived in Merrick, and she remembers visiting when she was younger and seeing the way the town looked back then.
“After I retired, I joined the Board of Education because, you know, I have deep rooted feelings in the community here,” she said. “When the hundred-year celebration came up, I joined the committee.
“I had some information from some things that I found in our library years ago — and then I went to Facebook and found some more stuff there,” Moran added. “I had people send me pictures and different things, from way back then. We captured some really good, old stuff.”
When Moran settled in North Merrick to raise her family about 40 years ago, she said the chapel-turned-schoolhouse, on the corner of Richard Avenue and Henry Road, was still there, until about a decade ago, when a developer took it down. While searching for history on the district, some old photos taken inside that schoolhouse were uncovered.
“Those pictures are fabulous,” she said. “The people, you know the teachers and all the students, have dresses down to their ankles, and there’s probably maybe 15 kids in the class. It was very interesting.”
Moran helped put together a “History Walk” for the May 12 celebration, so students, families, staff and administrators could view the school’s past through photos.
Hillary Bromberg, Camp Avenue’s principal, said the students and staff had been hard at work preparing for the centennial.
“This whole week we’ve been celebrating, because we were talking about all the different decades that led up to 100 years,” Bromberg told the Herald last Thursday, before the celebration. “Every day was dedicated to two decades, and students and staff chose one of the decades to dress in. We also created slides for each day to educate students about the decades, inventions that were made, music that was played, fashion and current events.”
Musical performances at the celebration were really unique, Bromberg said. The music teacher mixed together songs from different decades, and the compilation was taught to all the students in the building.
“And to make it even better, we didn’t want to hear the original voices of the people singing (the original songs), we only wanted to hear the children,” she said. “So the (music teacher) grabbed a few children and recorded them singing it, so that the group will be singing along with the children’s voices.”
In addition to the performances and history walk, the celebration featured a photo booth and DJ for dancing. The students even got to hear from pop singer Debbie Gibson, a Camp Avenue alum. While Gibson was away and unable to attend the celebration in person, the students listened to a pre-recorded speech.
Bromberg said Camp Avenue really had a great time preparing for the anniversary. “I’m super proud of my building,” she said. “I have the most amazing staff and amazing students, and that’s attributed to the families, of course. It’s just a really great family feel in my building.”
Cynthia Seniuk, superintendent of schools, reflected on the centennial, saying the anniversary was a time to celebrate and look ahead to the future.
"As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Camp Avenue School — and the beginnings of the North Merrick School District — we are re-energized to carry out our mission to nurture, guide and challenge students to reach their full potential and ready them for the secondary level,” she said. “With the support of the community, we will continue to enrich our curriculum and invest in our infrastructure so we are best preparing — and inspiring — students for the future, and looking ahead to the next 100 years of education in the North Merrick School District."