Don Whiteley still has all of his elementary school report cards—over 70 years after he was a student.
At Yardville Heights, his favorite subject was drawing, and he was always skilled at diagramming sentences, though he sometimes got poor marks in conduct. He remembers his principal, Mrs. Clymer, and his first teacher, Mrs. Graf. Whiteley has fond memories of his second and third grade teacher, Mrs. Druggin, and remembers children coming from Yardville Heights, Lakeside and from farms in Crosswicks to go to the school about 15 years after it first opened.
Built in 1917, Yardville Heights Elementary School is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
Whiteley, a local historian who focuses primarily on the Yardville Heights area, remembers the school when it was just a four-room building, two rooms on each floor. The school ranged from Kindergarten to seventh grade, and each room housed two classes, usually 10 or 12 students each. He recalls that some of the desks in the Kindergarten and first grade classroom were equipped with small steps to support their legs if their feet didn’t touch the ground. Whiteley writes on his website, yardvilleheights.com, that he enjoyed having an older group of kids in his classroom every other year.
“We were able to listen to what was going on with the other class while we were supposed to be doing our seat work,” he writes. “This made it much easier the next year.”
That history is exactly what Yardville Heights principal Lisa Dellavecchia, faculty and staff and students have been celebrating all school year, culminating in an after-school celebration, set for June 9 at 6 p.m. at the school.
“From a lot of this information that we’ve been able to research, it was built between 1917 and 1918,” Dellavecchia said. “We decided to celebrate this year, going into ‘17. Every month we have had an activity to celebrate the 100 years. We’re really just trying to celebrate what we call the greatness of Yardville Heights: the academics, as well as the extracurricular and PTA activities that go on.”
A story featured in the Oct. 7, 1917 edition of the Trenton Evening Times reported that the “modern school” set to be built on Broad Street would cost about $25,000 to complete. Included was an illustration of what the school would like: four columns at the entrance with windows facing the street, not far removed from what the original portion of the school still looks like today.
Construction began later that year, and the building, made of brick, tile and Indiana limestone, was ready in time for the 1918-19 school year. Local architects W.W. Slack and Son crafted the building’s blueprint. In addition to the four classrooms, Yardville Heights housed a principal’s office, “retiring rooms” (teacher’s lounges), cloakrooms and an indoor play area. Whiteley also remembers an outdoor playground in an open dirt field in the back of the school. There were no lined sports fields, but he says there were a few swing sets and a seesaw. He remembers sticker burrs getting caught in his knickers and stockings.
It turns out the original architects were prescient planners—they built the structure specifically to accommodate additions without interfering with the main structure, still part of the school today due in part to their idea. Yardville Heights has seen two renovations since the original school was built. Dellavecchia says the first addition was made about 50 years ago, and another is 10-15 years old.
“When you think of it, it’s a three-story building, including the basement,” she said. “Really, there’s not a ton of classrooms. You can imagine how much the school population has increased since [the school was originally built].”
Throughout the school year, Dellavecchia and her staff had a different activity or theme each month to kick off the 100 year celebration. One day, students and staff came to school dressed as 100-year-olds. The school also held an anniversary T-shirt design contest, won by student Emily Werts, and a poster contest. Students have played 100-year-old games, like stickball, hopscotch and tic-tac-toe, and signed a commemorative banner that currently hangs outside the school.
The atmosphere inside the school has been fun, said Dellavecchia, who has been at Yardville Heights for three years. The students have really bought into each month’s activity and learning about the building’s history.
“The participation has been high,” she said. “That tells you a lot, that they’re excited about it. When we get closer to the date, we’re going to do lessons around it, kind of look at the history online and do some projects. They’re very excited about it, and the activities themselves remind them that it’s going on.”
Dellavecchia is particularly excited about the uncovering of a 25-year-old time capsule. This year’s students will bury one in its place. So far, the new time capsule includes this year’s yearbook, the fifth grade class picture and a fidget spinner—too popular to leave out, she said. She also hopes to include some kind of technology, like a smartphone. Technology has changed so much over the last 25 years, she said, and chances are it will have changed by the time the capsule is dug up another 25 years from now.
The school invited community members, former YHS students and staff and township officials to the celebration, and they’ve already heard back from more than 300 people who plan to attend. Dellavecchia says it will include games, sand art, temporary tattoos, free good, a dunk tank and more. There will also be old memorabilia, like old class pictures, student projects, newspaper clippings, report cards and trophies, on display inside the school.
“It’s just a time for families and community members to be here to celebrate,” Dellavecchia said. “We have a lot of parents who went here who now have kids who go here. It’s just a celebration of our time in Hamilton.”