East Oxford Central School celebrates 50 years

By John Tapley, Ingersoll Times

Meghan Dobson and Grady Bosnjak display 50th anniversary cookies when East Oxford Central Public School, which opened in 1966, celebrated a half century on Saturday, Nov. 5. JOHN TAPLEY/FOR THE NORWICH GAZETTE

Meghan Dobson and Grady Bosnjak display 50th anniversary cookies when East Oxford Central Public School, which opened in 1966, celebrated a half century on Saturday, Nov. 5. JOHN TAPLEY/FOR THE NORWICH GAZETTE

People of all ages packed East Oxford Central Public School when the community celebrated the school's 50th anniversary on Saturday.


William Hamblen – East Oxford's first principal when it opened in 1966, integrating nine one-room schoolhouses – and some of the first students were among those who turned out to the celebration.


“It's nice o be welcomed back,” said Gail (Watts) Taylor who started Grade 5 at East Oxford when it opened after attending S.S. Number 8 – a one room schoolhouse – and S.S. Number 10 – a two room schoolhouse.


Besides a longer bus ride to get to school, Taylor said life in the new regional school was a bit overwhelming at first.


“There were more rules,” said Taylor who now lives in Toronto. “You had to walk a certain distance from the walls so you didn't mark them up.”


Taylor's sister Gwendolyn (Watts) Vaughan started Grade 1 at East Oxford in 1966 along with three of their other siblings.


“It was nice to go in the gym and see our names written on the wall (as first year students),” said Vaughan.


The sisters said some areas of the school look exactly as they remember them.


Saturday's celebration included lots of memorabilia from the past five decades, opening ceremonies, a ribbon cutting for phase one of the school's new outdoor classroom and a dance at the Oxford Centre Hall.


People were also invited to plant Canada 150 tulip bulbs in the schoolyard and a time capsule was also put in the ground for a future generation to open.


The time capsule was filled with a variety of items, including a newspaper, grocery receipts, a jump drive with digital photos of the school, a flyer advertising the 50th anniversary, sensory sand, and even a broken iPhone.


“It's just little things that are meaningful to the students, staff and parents here at the school,” said Annie Tims, the current principal at East Oxford.


She said the school's sense of community and inter-generational spirit is alive and well.


“The parents feel very attached to the school and they're very motivated to ensure that they've done everything in their power to give the children a good learning experience.”


From plays to sports and other activities the community always steps up to support the school, she said.


“It's a thousand little ways that parents (and the community) support the people in this building.”


Tims said most of the school staff was at Saturday's celebration.


“You can tell it's more than a job to them, they love their students and their school.”


Chair of the East Oxford Central School 50th Anniversary Committee, Shelley Buchanan is also a former student at the school.


Her father, Wayne Buchanan – Ward 4 Councillor for the Township of Norwich – was among the first students in 1966.


Now that Shelley Buchanan has two children enrolled at East Oxford, a third generation of the family is walking the halls at the school.


“It's really neat to be able to say to my kids, 'Your grandad went to this school,” said Shelley Buchanan. “I loved attending school here. It's so great to see my kids have that experience. It's different (from mine) but the same.”


She said the teachers at East Oxford are just as passionate about their work as they were when she was a student at the school.


“My teachers knew who my siblings were and knew what I was involved in outside of school,” Buchanan said.


Tims and Buchanan said one of the most touching moments of the anniversary celebration came when the school public address system wouldn't work and everyone sang O Canada acappella.


“That was really awesome,” Buchanan said.


Grade 7 students at East Oxford, Maddy Monforton and Rachael Couwenberg said hearing some of the stories told by people at the anniversary celebration was interesting as was looking at photographs showing what the school looked like in the past.


Their class worked to gather information for a decade display on the 1980s, including popular entertainment, technology and fashion.


“We know a lot more than we used to (about the 1980s),” Monforton said.


Monforton and Couwenberg said they would like to be at the school for its 100th anniversary celebration to see what the next 50 years brings.