Ringing the bell… West Side Elementary celebrates return of original school bell on Constitution Day
BY IVAN SANDERS
Thursday was a special, special day for the students and staff at West Side Elementary School as not only did the school celebrate Constitution Day but also re-christened the ringing of the original bell from the first West Side Elementary School as a way to kick off a new school day going forward.
The day brought to finality a plan to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the school which was originally scheduled to take place during the 2019-2020 school year. That plan included the ringing of the newly restored school bell but when schools were closed in March of 2020, the celebration was put on hold.
On a day that steady rain fell, it couldn’t dampen the spirits of those who had worked long and hard to bring the bell back home and allow for the students to celebrate Constitution Day as well.
“It’s Constitution Day and so as a Title 1 school, we do a Constitution program every day,” Principal John Wright stated. “We are so happy to have the Watauga Fife and Drum Corp and they are going to do a little program for us with the Constitution.”
The bell has made an interesting journey in reaching its final destination as on August 8, 1929, West Side School was formed on the west end of town to provide a school for the rapidly growing community.
In 2006, former West Side teacher Ms. Donna Netherland reported, “School began daily with the ringing of the large school bell and eager children came running out of their homes to go to school.”
When the school moved 19 years later from Orchard Road to Burgie Street, the giant bell didn’t make the journey to the new school.
The bell had many stops and changes of hands as Mr. Guy Burleson assumed ownership and after he and his wife passed, the bell fell into the hands of Florence Tucker.
Ms. Tucker moved to Texas last year and as a result of a conversation between her and retired West Side Kindergarten teacher Vera Peters, Tucker agreed to donate the bell back to West Side Elementary for students and staff to enjoy once again.
Once the bell was back in house, Principal Wright reached out to Dustin Hensley at Elizabethton High School who gathered the assistance of students Caleb Metros and Keyu Patel with the mission to restore the bell.
According to Wright, Hensley and the two students made contact with the original company that manufactured the bell and who still had the original cast. That company manufactured parts needed to make a stand for the bell.
TCAT and Carter’s Powder Coating became involved in the restoration until the bell was finally able to be installed back at West Side School.
“The bell has been a long time in coming,” Wright added. “Ms. Peters told me about the bell when I first came here to West Side and how she would like to get it back for our school.
“West Side has a lot of traditions. One of them is May Day and the tradition of academics but we are so thankful that we have this bell back because we start a new tradition of ringing this bell at the beginning of school every day and that is how back in 1929 when the school first started that they began with the bell ringing and the kids from the neighborhood came running to the school.
“A lot of people have been involved in getting this bell back and we are so excited.”
Many former alumni heard of the ceremony scheduled for Thursday and tuned in via Facebook live to witness the bell ring once again. Reports were that some as far away as Arizona was tuning in as they still vividly remember the bell ringing at the old school.
Peters was elated for Thursday to come not so much for herself but for the children and the West Side community.
“As an educator, this is a big moment for the West Side community,” Peters stated. “This school has always established a strong root system for the community. The children support the community strongly so it really makes me happy to see it happen for them.
“I came here in 1996 as a Kindergarten teacher and Guy and Anna Lou Burleson lived across the street and we just adopted them as grandparents and he told me from day one that he had the original bell.”
Members of the Fort Watauga Society Children of the American Revolution were also present as they shared with the students about the Constitution and the Preamble’s Parts and what it meant for students today.
Ivan Daniels, the Tennessee State Recording Secretary, shared about the original signing of the Constitution while Cohen Daniels, Tennessee State Librarian, presented information about the Preamble.
Despite an aggravating, steady rain, students were able to gather under West Side tents and social distance to be able to participate in the day’s festivities.
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