Penticton’s Columbia Elementary School celebrated 40 years of operation last Friday, though the anniversary almost passed unnoticed.
It wasn’t until the week before that staff at the school realized the milestone was coming up. That, said principal Jan Ramsay, was when one of the teachers pointed out that the date marked on the school’s dedication plaque — Jan. 21, 1971 — was fast approaching.
Though there wasn’t much notice given about the birthday party, it was still well attended. Of course the current crop of students and staff were packed into the school’s gymnasium, but so were many past teachers and students.
Chief among the faculty alumni were the school’s first principal, Alton Dennis, and the school board chair of the day, Charles Tyndal, who officiated at the school dedication four decades ago and whose name adorns the dedication plaque in the main hallway.
“I came up here looking for a new school site,” said Tyndal, describing for the kids the appearance of the area 40 years ago as nothing but grass and scrub bushes.
There were just four rooms that made up Columbia Elementary when it opened. One each for Grades 1, 2 and 3, with the fourth room serving as a staff room, principal’s office, storage room and anything else that didn’t have a room.
The young kindergarten through Grade 5 audience listened attentively as past and present teachers described what it was like in the old days — even of a time when the students were still allowed to build jumps on the school’s big sledding hill.
But what drew the most gasps of surprise was when they were told about a time when there was only two computers in the school. Worse, there was even a time when there were no computers at all.
Since then, the school has grown a lot, with two rooms added in 1973 and another two in 1975. In 1979, more construction, including a gym, and then in ‘89 and ‘90, Grade 5 and 6 classes were added, staying until 2002, when they were shifted to middle schools.
But though the school has seen a lot of growth since 1971, the one thing that has remained constant is the quality of the staff and students, according to the school’s first principal.
“It’s not the building that makes the school, it’s the people in it,” said Dennis.