In the early 1960s, Hamilton was expanding fast: Neighborhoods were growing, and Hamilton schools were feeling the bulge of the incoming residents and children that had to be schooled.
Before that time, the township’s elementary schools were mainly K–8 facilities. The district added Grice and Reynolds middle schools in 1960 to house seventh, eighth and ninth graders, easing some of the burden on the elementary level. There was still a boom of elementary-aged children in the early 1960s, though, and students were sent to schools across the township, fit in where the district had space.
In 1961, one township family—the Slikers—had four children in four different schools. The eldest, Glenn, went to McGalliard Elementary School. Three younger siblings were spread around: at Yardville Heights, at Kisthardt, at the now-defunct Maple Shade Elementary. Their mother belonged to all four schools’ Parent-Teacher Associations.
Then, in 1962, two new and identical schools—Alexander Elementary and Robinson Elementary—opened and reshuffled the district. Glenn Sliker, currently the Supervisor of Health and Physical Education for the Hamilton Township School District, wound up in one of the five sixth grade classes at Robinson.
A half century of school years later, on April 20, the Robinson community celebrated the school’s 50th anniversary with a carnival and a special ceremony put together by the Robinson PTA. The ceremony featured an unveiling of a time capsule that had been buried within the cornerstone at the school when it opened 50 years ago. Inside the time capsule was a picture of young Glenn Sliker, wearing his safety patrol badge and standing next to the school’s cornerstone.
Times have changed—students no long participate in Cold War-era air raid drills like they did when the school first opened—but Sliker still looks back at his time at Robinson and marvels at how different things are now.
“There weren’t a lot of houses around Robinson at the time,” he said. “Only on one side of the school, by the parking lot, and that’s the back end of Copperfield Estates that’s close to Arena Drive. On the other side, where there is an old farm house, all those houses on that side weren’t there. There was a farm and horses. That school was built just in time to handle the population overflow in the town.”
Third grade teacher Joan Nuhn has been teaching at Robinson Elementary since 1986, and has seen firsthand just how the school has evolved along with the town.
“When I began, there were two halls,” Nuhn said. “The main hall that housed kindergarten through second grade, the main office and the nurse’s office, and the right hall which contained third through fifth grades and the multipurpose room. In the right hall, you would also find our library located in an actual classroom.”
The evolution of the school’s structure has been gradual, but it has followed the steady rise in the township’s population over the years, expanding to accommodate the growing number of children in Hamilton, as well as a switch to K-5 elementary schools.
When Robinson Elementary opened its doors in 1962, there were 12 homerooms in total, and the school was home to between 250-265 students. An enrollment boom in 1987 led to an expansion being built, which added a total of eight homerooms to the school. The expansion also added a list of new amenities to support the school’s growing student population, which is now closer to 400 students.
During the expansion, the school’s main hallway was extended, and now included a full library, with a media closet and small instructional room. The new left wing was for second and third grades. Over the years, the school has also added special education classes.
Robinson Elementary is also a school of traditions, one of which actually became the inspiration for the school’s mascot, the Rockets. The concept for “Rocket Day” began back in 1974, when former fourth grade teacher Jerry Iacona discovered rocket kits underneath the school stage.
After receiving permission from the principal, he instructed his students to build their own model rockets and launch them. Over the years, this small class project evolved into a school-wide program, which eventually received funding from the New Jersey State Department of Education, the New Jersey Governor’s Grant and even support from NASA, to enrich the program and help educate students about aerospace and rocketry.
Although he now no longer teaches at Robinson, Iacona still organizes Rocket Day each year and remains a major part of the rocket program at the school. The event, which began as one class learning about model rocketry, has since become the biggest event of each school year and one of the school’s most enduring traditions. This year’s Rocket Day is planned for June 18.
“Rocket Day is a tradition and has become part of what is unique about attending Robinson School,” Iacona said. “The program promotes camaraderie and cooperation and, most of all, team spirit.”
Some other Robinson traditions include school spirit days, concerts held by the band and orchestra, and multiple shows and dances throughout the year culminating in the fifth grade fling at the end of the year, which is a graduation party for all fifth graders and their parents.
“Robinson Elementary is and always has been a family-oriented neighborhood school,” Nuhn said. “We have a beautiful playground, wonderful facilities and a dedicated staff. You can be sure if a child attended Robinson Elementary they left happy, have a true love of learning and will always keep their memories of their wonderful years spent here in their hearts.”
At least one former student agrees.
“Robinson was a great school,” Sliker said.