Last night I found out there was a death in the family. The school I attended from 1984 until 1994 has been closed because of some undisclosed tax problems. The rumors of the schools close have swirled since during my time there and they recently spiked. Given how poor the school was, without some amazing philanthropic gesture, it’s probably gone for good now.
The parents of the students of Union Academy were working class people. The range was from dirt poor to somewhere in the lower middle class. They were attracted to the school because of the smaller class sizes and the Christian-based curriculum. The school existed mostly because the public schools in the two counties most of the students came from were pretty terrible. For $300 a month, your child could go from a class of hundreds to a class of 20. There was another private school in the county that catered to the other end of the wealth spectrum. The year I graduated, the top three students were the son of a logger and a pair who’s father’s worked for the telephone company.
If you were to go to the school, you wouldn’t have been impressed. It was shaped roughly like a 40s era motel. There were two wings with open sidewalks that housed elementary and jr. high/high school. A walkway led from the middle of those wings where the office was to the gymnasium/cafeteria. To the east of the elementary wing was what I still think is a very nice playground with a great jungle gym, swings and an awesome slide. To the west of the cafeteria/gym was a trailer used primarily as living quarters for the headmaster. Behind the gym were baseball and football fields. The layout was something of a modified arrow shape.
The classrooms, starting at the far west end when I was there, descending time-wise into grammer school were Barbara Cowart’s English room, Robert Walley’s history, Randy Holloway’s science, Mary Lawrence’s math, Marshall Nesmith’s various, Melita Breeden’s science and Kim Miller (Blount)’s various on the elder end and Mrs. Nixon’s 6th, Mr. Freels’s 5th, Ms. Do’s 4th, Mrs. Ashley’s 3rd, Mrs. Jones’s 2nd, Mrs. Meyer’s (I think, because I didn’t have her) 1st and Mrs. Taylor’s kindergarten.
Given how poor the school was, I am still impressed by how good some the educators were. I talked with my dad just yesterday about how important it was to Mr. Nesmith that we learned to factor polynomials properly. Just last month I revisted the story-based history teachings of Mr. Russell when I was in Greece. Some of the teachers came because they were burned out from public schools. Some of them came because they were fresh out of college and needed somewhere easy to start their careers. Most of them did a good job, a few did an amazing job.
I always was partial to our gym. We had perhaps the nicest hardwood floor I have ever bounced a basketball. Yearly it was refinished. The year they repainted it, it might well have been the nicest floor in basketball. It’s gone now. It burned at some point after I graduated and was rebuilt. I never went in the new one.
I guess different kids would have left with different levels of education. It was sort of a “do it yourself” kind of education process where if you wanted to learn, you did. The classes I excelled in, I’d put the instructor up against the best in the state — people like Mr. Russell, Mr. Hinton and Mr. Freels give students educations of a lifetime. Conversely, some courses were just too expensive to have been taught well at such an impoverished and disadvantaged school…a school with no science lab and hardly a library.
A lot of people would decry the school for what it lacked. I would rather think back on the things it offered. The class sizes ranged and could lend themselves to amazing benefit. After a failed merger attempt between my fifth grade class of nine and the hellion group of fourth grades behind us, our instructor, Mr. Freels, was brought back and among other things, we built a life-sized baby dinosaur. As far as I am aware, Mr. Freels paid for 100 percent of the materials behind that, the models, the hardware, the plywood, himself off his bargain basement salary. You respect people more who do that and you respect your school for providing an opportunity like that.
The work ethic I learned at Union Academy has helped me get where I am today. I went to college free on academic scholarships. I’ve been to five countries on two continents. I could have gone to a larger school and just been one of hundreds, but because of a choice my parents made for me, I had a chance to excel.
A lot of great people walked the sidewalks of Union Academy. I hope the current situation with her gates closed and padlocked; her parking lot empty, is only temporary, but I fear it is the end.