Get Schooled

Your source to discuss and learn about education in Georgia and the nation and share opinions and news with Maureen Downey

Opinion: New Walton High School inspires old memories of dedicated teachers and involved parents

Julia Levy grew up in Marietta and attended Sope Creek and East Side Elementary Schools, Dodgen Middle School and Walton High School. In this column, she recounts her visit to the new Walton High School.

Levy attended a recent ribbon-cutting ceremony showing off the new $48 million building funded by SPLOST.  A second phase of improvements to the 2,575-student  school will include a performing arts center and athletic building, set to be completed in early 2019.

Levy graduated from Cornell University. After college, she moved to New York City where she lived for 11 years. During her time in New York, she blogged for Gothamist, produced a comedy show at The People’s Improv Theater and taught at the Brooklyn Brainery. Julia recently moved back to Atlanta and works in philanthropy.

By Julia Levy

“There are three things that make a good school.” U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s drawl emphasized the last word. To paraphrase him: “The parents knowin’ the teacher’s home phone number, the parents ability to show up at school at any time, unannounced and the parents commitment to help with the child’s homework, Sunday to Thursday.”

It was true. At Walton High School, they have all three, the senator proclaimed as he addressed the parents, students and teachers at the ribbon cutting ceremony of the newly constructed school.

Long before the term helicopter parents was coined, the parents at my alma mater defined the epitome of over-achieving mothers and fathers. But, their methods made an impact. Consistently ranked one of the top public schools in the state and the country, Walton attracted my parents to the neighborhood. It felt like a private school with its charter status, enrichment programs and college bound students.

At the ceremony, Sen. Isakson recalled when he had been the local real estate agent who scouted the land for the school and negotiated its purchase for the county at a cost of $4,500 in 1970. The crowd gasped. Property values have certainly gone up since then.

During his speech, I glanced at the attendees, observing the students and parents. The cheerleaders’ confident vibes added school spirit. The student government representatives dressed in khakis and polo shirts with invisible clipboards that held the answers to visitor’s questions. Club leaders publicized their causes of choice by sporting T-shirts. It turned out, my favorite club still flourished. Academic Bowl, the Jeopardy-style trivia troupe where I served as unofficial Public Relations liaison had strong representation at the open house. The majority of “adults” in the room dressed in their Sunday best with seersucker styles accompanied by paisley patterned, pastel floral dresses.

In the sea of faces, I recognized familiar smiles -- the teachers who’d been beacons of intellectual inspiration. In particular, my math teacher who never said no when I showed up to her classroom every morning before school started for extra help.

As the building transformed into an open house, we set off as explorers, discovering the modern classrooms, cafeteria, courtyards and auditorium, even posing for photos in the multimedia center, formerly the library -- our old hangout. There, we had a reunion with the retired math department, including my favorite teacher. But, the hallways still included Coca-Cola vending machines. After all, this is the suburbs of Atlanta, the hometown of the company. Gone were the hot chocolate machines, replaced by a coffee shop. The lockers had also disappeared. Now, students purchased iPads with textbooks downloaded onto them.

We never found the decadent treasure promised by previous Facebook photos -- sugar cookies iced with our school’s mascot that had been decorated by a local bakery. Instead, we appreciated the beautiful floral arrangements designed by Marietta’s florist.

I attended the open house with my closest friend from high school. We both recently returned to Atlanta. Neither of us had stepped foot in school since returning for the traditional visit over winter break during our freshmen year in college. When I did the math, I realized that was nearly 16 years ago.

After college, I moved to New York City, enamored by the fast paced, cultural landscape. It took a while -- 11 years -- but, eventually, the glitter rubbed off. I longed for the tree-lined, peaceful, clean sidewalks of my childhood, missing the tweets of thrashers and crickets much more than the sounds of the city.

Here, in my high school atrium, I was back in the beauty of East Cobb. The past collided with the present as the afternoon felt like an odd combination of a walk down memory lane and the opening of a time capsule mixed with reality -- these new students had replaced us.

As we wrapped up our tour, instead of walking to my house, we drove the five-and-a-half blocks to my childhood home. I knew the route well, past manicured lawns and pruned rose bushes, characteristic of suburban elegance. This time, the only homework assignment we left with was processing what we had just experienced.



Reader Comments ...

About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.