Reminder Assistant Editor
AGAWAM This was a jovial birthday celebration like every other. Students at the James Clark Elementary School wore birthday hats and sang songs to celebrate their school's 50th anniversary last Friday.
Mayor Cohen greeted the students by asking, "Don't you love a great birthday party?"
The students grinned with excitement and answered yes in unison.
"We are very fortunate in this community, that education is the number one priority," Cohen said.
The celebration also unveiled the renovations made to the school's entrance.
In honor of the school's 50th birthday, Carla Chase, chair of the Clark Beautification Committee and Library Media Assistant, spearheaded a project to landscape and renovate the front entrance of the school.
This project was something that Cohen said illustrated the "Agawam pride," in which many members of the community "work together for the sole purpose of educating the children."
Chase said this beautification project was something that she has been dreaming about for over nine years. She added that the 50th birthday celebration provided the ideal opportunity to gather community support and funds.
"This sets a fantastic tone," she said of the entrance, which has new signage, a fresh coat of paint and many new plantings and flowers. "The front [of the school] was woefully neglected. I wanted to reflect on the outside what we feel on the inside."
She added that prior to the beautification project, many people did not know that this doorway was the official front entrance. Chase smiled with happiness when she said that staff members have told her that walking through the entrance makes them feel like they are coming home.
Many local businesses donated time, effort and money to the project.
The celebration continued with speeches from numerous public officials and former teachers and students who opened the school 50 years ago.
Richard Theroux, Agawam City Clerk and student during the school's first years, jokingly made a disclaimer before his first grade teacher came to the podium that some experiences are better left unsaid.
"This is still the best school in Agawam and always will be as far as I'm concerned," Dot Coon, former first grade teacher at the James Clark Elementary School, who was a part of the first staff. "We opened this school 50 years ago and today it is still our school."
Coon joked that she open gave some students extra work to "keep them out of mischief," such as Agawam Police Chief Robert Campbell, who she hopes is "still keeping out of mischief to this day."
In 1957, the South Street Elementary School, now the James Clark Elementary School on Oxford Street opened its doors for the first time to the children of Agawam. The school had 1,000 students, 125 personnel.
Today this landmark in public education teaches over 4,500 students kindergarten through fourth grade and employs 400 personnel.
"I've never seen anything so lovely," Principal Sandi Howard said overlooking the school's crowded gymnasium, filled with parents, students, faculty, public officials and members of the community. "I wouldn't trade the [new] entrance for anything, but the inside is even better."
Larry Litton, park president of Six Flags New England was present at the ceremony and said Six Flags was more than happy to make a donation to the beautification project.
"This is the part we enjoy," he said. "This is what our relationship should be with the town. We're part of the history and culture here and when I was approached it seemed appropriate that we celebrate [the 50th anniversary] together."
George Bitzas, Agawam City Councilor and master of ceremonies for the event, closed the celebration by offering the students adivce.
"Read many books, study and learn a lot, watch less TV and be the best that you can be," he said. "We have a great opportunity to educate these children because these children are our future," he said to the staff.