From the one-room wooden structure that served an all-white population to the former Baptist church where black students were educated in the early 1900s, history provided the backdrop of Friday’s classroom lessons at Bethel-Hanberry Elementary.
The Richland 2 school welcomed former students, educators and community supporters to its campus as it celebrated more than a century of learning in the Blythewood community with a “Living History, Celebrating Successes,” video presentation.
“We have a proud heritage that must be maintained,” Bethel-Hanberry principal Jeff Williams told students and guests, who gathered in the gym for the premiere of the three-year project chronicling the school’s history.
The video describes how two nearby schools, Bethel and Blythewood, merged into one campus in 1954 and marks the first time a history has focused on the schools during segregation and integration. The roughly 30-minute presentation includes old photographs and interviews with various generations of adults who discuss decades of the school’s history.
The narrative reflects on times when students in first through 12th grades were housed in a single building while others had to share books and celebrate their graduation on the front steps of the school.
Friday’s audience members included Frances Davis, who graduated from the former Bethel School at the same location in 1953 and later taught first grade there four years.
“It was wonderful to see how they have made all the changes,” Davis said.
Nettie Benson, who graduated from Bethel School in 1952, said the video brought back a mix of memories from her days at the school.
“It was nice being here,” Benson said. “I enjoyed being in school, but I stayed in the principal’s office most of the time because I was a bad kid.”
“Living History, Celebrating Success, was produced by Shelley Kriegshaber in Richland 2’s Department of Communications and Strategic Partnerships. The Bethel-Hanberry Elementary School Improvement Council took on the project following the encouragement of the Blythewood Town Council.
“Our history is such an important part of our future,” said retired Richland 2 guidance counselor and project coordinator Gail Bienstock. “I’m extremely proud to take part in remembering this rich history and also preserving it for other generations to come.”
Williams said while current students are the latest generation in the school’s legacy, he hopes they will embrace their role in the greater story of the school’s development.
“They have an incredible history and we want to connect them to that history.”
Reach Rantin at (803) 771-8306.