Nestled in the residential 100 block of East Sexton Avenue, three-story John Ridgeway Elementary is an imposing structure. Here the roar of traffic on Providence Road is faint despite its close proximity. More dominant is the laughter of children playing during recess. It’s clear the brick building has been around for some time, long enough to have been designed to serve as a fallout shelter in times of war.
Built in two sections — one in 1923, the other in 1934 — the school will celebrate its 80th anniversary and dedicate its newest addition, a media center, tonight.
Named after the first Boone County soldier killed in World War I, John Cleveland Ridgeway, the school serves 241 students, from kindergarten through fifth grade. Ridgeway became a magnet school in 1972 and specializes in a program called Individually Guided Education where teachers often combine two grades of students in one classroom.
Principal Susan Fales, who will speak at the dedication, came to Ridgeway as a first- and second-grade teacher 27 years ago. She has been principal for 13 years. Fales is just the fourth principal in Ridgeway’s history and says the school has had many accomplishments during the past 80 years.
“We had the first hot lunch program in Columbia, and it may have been the first in the region,” she said. “They had a victory garden during World War II and canned the vegetables.”
A legacy of Accomplishment
Drivers near Ridgeway can see the school’s most prominent achievement listed on the marquee in front of the building, “One of the Nation’s Outstanding Elementary Schools. National School Recognition Award Winner.” Fales said the federal award, presented in 1986, is something the school can be extremely proud of. It was the second prestigious award the school had received in two years.
“Our former principal, Dr. Wheeler, was also the Missouri Distinguished Principal Of the Year the year before,” she said.
Dorian Pickering has taught at Ridgeway since 1973 and thinks one of the best things the school has done is to maintain the Individually Guided Education philosophy. She said the method helps teachers create a more effective atmosphere, compared with single-grade classrooms.
“It’s stayed with us throughout all the changes in curriculum and redistricting,” Pickering said. “We’re the only ones left in Columbia that have the program.”
Pickering said her time at Ridgeway has been enjoyable. “I wouldn’t have wanted to go anywhere else,” she said. “It’s a good family to be with.”
Fales said she would like Ridgeway to continue on its current path. “My hope is to help each student to reach their potential with the help of the parents and teachers in a partnership,” she said.
Along with remembering 80 years of classes, Ridgeway is celebrating “80 Years of Reading” and will formally open a media center with a ribbon-cutting ceremony set to begin at 6 p.m.
New additions promise a bright future
The 2,520-square-foot center includes a computer lab, work tables and a reading corner. The new building and furnishings were funded by 2002 bond revenues, while the computer lab was paid for by the school district’s technology fund.
“Our old library — I never did call it a media center — was a kindergarten classroom, and we’ve never had a computer lab,” Fales said. “I think what’s most special is the center itself. We have room for more books, and we now have a very enjoyable space.”
Pickering likes the fact that there is enough room to teach class while other children check out books.
“We’re glad we finally have a media center — we’ve been waiting a long time,” she said. “I think it’s wonderful.”
Columbia schools Superintendent Phyllis Chase will speak at the ceremony. The Ridgeway Parent-Teacher-Student Association will hold a book and bake sale after the ceremony, with proceeds going to buy books for the center. Visitors will have the opportunity to purchase new books and donate them to the center in their names. School officials encourage alumni and former teachers to attend.