By Tara Cavanaugh
If you want to see a tight-knit community, just look at Carpenter Elementary.
At the school’s 175th anniversary celebration on April 26, students, staff and visitors sang together. They danced together. They marched together to the beat of the Huron High School drum line.
It was a community joyously in sync.
“Everyone who came before you has led up to this day,” said AAPS Superintendent Dr. Patricia Green. “Congratulations to all of you, and the wonderful staff, and the heritage of everyone who has been here before. You make this special.”
Pittsfield Township Deputy Supervisor Trish Reilly also attended the celebration. “The reason why the township is so strong and we have a vibrant community is because of you and your parents,” she said to the school. “You are the future. I know that the school would not be around as long as it had been had it not been for your dedication and commitment to the school.”
Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje addressed the students, admitting that history was always his favorite subject. “You have so much history right here,” he said. He also noted that the students were well-behaved but clearly excited: “There’s a certain energy in this room and you can just hear it!”
The energy was loud and clear as students sang and danced in unison to the past and present school songs, and as teacher Sean Slay performed a special rap he wrote about Carpenter to the tune of Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop.” (See the video above to watch the performances.)
Music teacher Laura Machida organized the performances. She wanted to send the message that “we really do need to honor our school and its longevity, and recognize it for its strengths.”
Machida has taught at Carpenter for nine years. “But I know people who have been in this area for generations,” she said. “That’s powerful. People are really invested in this community.”
Machida wrote the school’s current official school song, set to the tune of a Kwanza sang called “Ujima,” which means “working together to better the community.”
Two special guests at the event were Ed and Mary Ellen Wall. Mr. Wall is writing a book about the history of Pittsfield Township, and has three chapters dedicated to Carpenter Elementary. His children and his grandchildren attended the school, including his grandson Anton Ferguson, a fifth grader who is the student council president.
Wall points out that although the 175th anniversary celebrates the name of Carpenter School, the school’s origins can be traced back to a one-room log cabin schoolhouse built near the intersection of Packard and Carpenter roads in 1825. (See video below, created by teacher Bethany Tabaka, for an overview of Carpenter’s history, including photographs of the original buildings).
A larger, second schoolhouse was built in 1854, on the west side of Carpenter on Packard road. It was destroyed by fire in 1911.
The third school was built in 1914 on land donated by the Carpenter family. This was the first school to have electricity, thanks to its proximity to the electric trolley running between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.
Finally, the fourth school was built in 1952 on Dayton, where the school is located today. The original building had just five classrooms, a multipurpose room, and an office. After a few additions and expansions, the school now has 18 classrooms, and space for art, music, gym, a library and more.
“We’ve had a great legacy here with great teachers and great students,” Wall said. Wall added that early in the school’s history, students were called “scholars,” not students. Now the term “scholar” is use for university professors, or for someone who achieves academic greatness. Even so, he said, “I consider the students here no less scholars than they were 175 years ago.”