Penny Brach ducked out of the auditorium of Greenwood Elementary School’s 100th anniversary celebration to get a cell phone charger.
She had to go down the metal steps that were familiar to her, even if it had been more than 40 years since she used them.
“They make the same sound I remember as a child,” Brach said. “Everything felt the same.”
It was a rush of nostalgia for Brach and other Greenwood alumni who were there to celebrate the 100th year of the founding of the school. It was Brach’s first time back to Greenwood since graduating from there in 1975.
“It was a very weird feeling,” Brach said. “As soon as I stepped foot into it, everything came rushing back. It looked the same. Some of the rooms were done a little differently.”
Alumni, former teachers and administrators were welcomed back to Greenwood to join current students and community members in the school’s centennial celebration May 17.
“It’s overwhelming,” said Robyn Ivanisik, the school’s climate and culture specialist who helped oversee the event. “I did not realize how many people have reached out to us, and how many student alumni have reached out too. I thought maybe we’d have 20 people come for the meet and greet. Now we’re over 50, and it’s equal parts students and teachers.”
Greenwood organized the celebration to kick off its 100th anniversary and blended it in with the school’s spring concert. Alumni were invited to come early for a meet and greet reception followed by a historical presentation on Greenwood. The instrumental and vocal concerts from current students were sandwiched around an introduction by Hamilton Township mayor Kelly Yaede—a Greenwood alumna—and a presentation from guest speaker Tom Glover, a historian from the Hamilton Public Library. After, the community was welcomed to a cake reception and what was billed as a “museum walk” through the history of the school that featured old photos, yearbooks and newspaper clippings.
“It gives them a sense of community,” Ivanisik said. “They have fond memories of this place where they want to come back, and we gave them that option to stay for the actual (concert) event. Most of them are going to come upstairs (to the concert). I think it’s important that they have that sense of pride in their school, even now so many years later.
“As a teacher, as the years go on, I realize that our lack of parental involvement and community involvement has a huge impact on the school. Having so many people come to our event, it might encourage others when we have parental events like storytellers, or our concerts or family movie nights. It might put a spark under people to be more involved in their schools.”
Elaine Cooper certainly enjoyed the trip down memory lane as well as the concert performances.
“The teachers, they did so well with teaching the kids to sing,” she said. “And they played instruments so well. I think it was better than when I was there. It was really good.”
‘There’s such a sense of community. They still want to come back here, and they’re very excited about it.’
Cooper, who graduated from Greenwood in 1951, is the mother of Brach. Thirteen members of their family went through Greenwood, but only Brach and Cooper remain local. They found Cooper’s class photo, and took a picture of her holding it. At 80, Cooper was one of the oldest alums there.
“There were a few there that I knew,” Cooper said. “It was really nice. I was surprised.”
Brach was delighted to see several former teachers return as well. Yaede issued a proclamation from Hamilton Township to recognize the centennial anniversary of the school. Greenwood received a similar proclamation from the Mercer County Freeholders led by Pat Colavita, who taught at Greenwood for many years. Yaede, who attended Greenwood for fifth grade, joined in the meet and greet with dozens of alumni.
“There’s such a sense of community,” Ivanisik said. “They still want to come back here, and they’re very excited about it.”
It’s been 100 years since the school was established. Greenwood didn’t actually open its doors to students until Sept. 8, 1919, according to Glover’s presentation.
Hamilton Township School District had nine one-room schoolhouses at the turn of the 20th century to accommodate 517 children formally enrolled in the township school system, but when the population began to grow, schools needed more space. Greenwood was one such answer.
With the area bounded by the Delaware River, the only ways it could expand were eastward and southward. That expansion helped to create the Bromley section of the township.
As for the school itself, Greenwood looks much as it has for almost 100 years.
It grew in part of an area known as Anderson farm that stretched from the Trenton city line all the way out to the area of Greenwood Avenue. Growing eastward took them to Bromley. Bromley Park and Bromley Manor expanded greatly in the early 1900s, and area residents began to petition for a new school in 1916, according to Trenton Times newspaper accounts.
Residents, it reported, complained that the Farmingdale School on East State Street was insufficient, and the third and fourth grade classes along with part of the fifth grade were already being held in the Hamilton fire house to address overcrowding. Glover noted that the population grew exponentially.
On May 1, 1916, a committee formed of Bromley residents reported to the Bromley Civics Association meeting on the overcrowding conditions of the Farmingdale school to set the wheels in motion for the new school.
By September of that year, residents were voting on a site for the school. They narrowed four choices down to two—the Harter tract and the Ryan tract. The Harter tract was a little cheaper, and it had the advantage of the direct line of the trolleys and paved roads in front of it. Tampering with ballots was alleged when the town voted between the two.
The Trenton Evening Times reported on the Oct. 3, 1916 vote that, “When the election was at its height it is said that a large number of the official ballots disappeared, but later turned up, it is claimed, nicely marked in favor of the Ryan tract.” The Harter tract won by only seven votes, or Greenwood School might sit in a different spot, not far away on Ward Avenue.
Surveying of the new site was completed on Sept. 5, 1917, and five days later the cornerstone was laid to start construction on the two-story school. Construction continued through 1918, but the school’s opening was delayed until 1919 for reasons not reported.
Greenwood School was designed with 10 classrooms, school board and supervisor’s rooms, secretary’s office and two academic departments along with an auditorium. When it opened, it had 12 teachers, and 75 students posed for a photo from one of the first years it was open. It taught children in reception grade, as kindergarten was known, to eighth grade when many went on to Kuser Annex or the then-Nottingham Middle School. Some Bromley students still attended the Farmingdale School through third grade after Greenwood was built. In the early 1960s, Greenwood stopped holding classes past fifth grade after the arrival of middle schools in Hamilton. Nowadays, Greenwood School employs 29 teachers and has 240 students enrolled.
The demographics of the student body have changed greatly over the last century, mostly since the 1960s. Whereas students in the first few decades were predominantly white, Greenwood now is predominantly black and Hispanic. As for the school itself, to the delight of alumni who came back to celebrate the centennial anniversary of its founding, Greenwood looks much as it has for almost 100 years.
“It looks about the same,” Cooper said. “It’s in good condition.”
The centennial also opened the eyes of the current Greenwood students. They marveled at the history of their school.
“They grasped it when they were looking at the old photos,” Ivanisik said. “Someone gave the librarian a yearbook from June 1930. When they see the pictures, and they see the students, and see how different it is, the kids are excited about it.
“I hope it gives more of an appreciation and understanding of community,” she added. “These kids are attending the same school they attended.”