By Tara Cavanaugh
A school is never just a school. It’s a second home. It’s a place to grow up. It’s a family all its own.
That familiar feeling was unavoidable at Clague Middle School’s 40th anniversary celebration Sunday, Nov. 18. Teachers, staff and students came back to their old stomping grounds to reconnect with their middle school family.
“I did not leave here not liking anyone,” declared Sue Burton in between hugs with former coworkers. “It was a big family.” Burton was a secretary at the school for 23 years.
“There was a close tie between the teachers and the kids,” recalled Dick Nowland, Clague’s first principal. “That’s why I always enjoyed this middle school group.”
Nowland enjoyed the middle school setting so much, he stayed there for 20 years, retiring in 1992.
What did he like most about middle schoolers? “The students were really unpredictable, but they were very honest,” Nowland said. “They’d tell you what they thought. And they really responded to adults at that time.”
When the school opened in 1972, a “middle school” with grades 6-8 was a relatively new concept. Clague was the first middle school of its kind in the district. The other schools at the time were “junior highs” for grades 7-9.
The school was named for Ashley Clague, who was a retired Board of Education member when the school opened. One of his children, Dr. Allan Clague, shared memories of his father with the audience.
“As his children, we knew the most important thing was to be educated,” Dr. Clague said. He recalled his father, even in his retirement, going to the Clague wood shop and making math games to share with the students. “He took this school to heart and he was an integral part of its operation until his death in 1977.”
“We try to apply Ashley Clague’s model of living in service to our community as members here at Clague,” said Principal Cindy Leaman. “We’ve donated tons, and I literally mean tons, of food to Gleaners. Our music department has done free programs for various community homes. So we are really trying as a school to adopt the model of service.”
AAPS Superintendent Dr. Patricia Green was unable to attend the event but she sent along a statement that Principal Leaman read aloud to attendees: “It is a tribute to the quality of the experience that you have all had that you would want to organize a gathering to commemorate its 40th year,” Dr. Green wrote. “Although much has changed since 1972, excellence at Clague has thrived over these 40 years through its excellent staff and exceptional students and parents. Clague has continued to represent its highest standards in teaching and learning.”
The three-hour celebration on Sunday left plenty of time for former Clague denizens to wander through their old classrooms and halls.
Some things are different, noted Yvette Mitchell, a graduate of Clague’s first class. The school seems smaller than she remembers, and the classrooms feel like they have more stuff in them. “But this is my home,” she said.
Her friend Doug Holloway, another early Clague graduate, agreed. “It is our home, and it always will be.”