Family holds reunion in a school

Kile Brewer
Posted 11/8/17

ORANGE PARK – For one evening, Bryan Benda and Russell Payne got to go back to elementary school.

The S. Bryan Jennings alumni returned to their old stomping grounds Friday evening for the …

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Family holds reunion in a school

Posted

ORANGE PARK – For one evening, Bryan Benda and Russell Payne got to go back to elementary school.

The S. Bryan Jennings alumni returned to their old stomping grounds Friday evening for the school’s 50th anniversary celebration, and were instantly transported back to the mid-1970s when they were students.

“It’s amazing how similar it is,” Payne said.

“To come back and visit really brings back memories of the school,” Benda added.

The men stood shoulder-to-shoulder as they flipped through old yearbooks and photographs that were on display in the school’s library, where some of the books may still have the two men’s names scrawled onto their check-out cards. They discussed minor changes, such as the relocation of the principal’s office, and that their old playground had been turned into a pond. An old oak tree that contained hundreds of football-torn t-shirts had been cut down, too, but overall the campus felt, and smelled the same.

“The smell of the wood in all the classrooms brought back memories for me,” Payne said. Inspired by that notion, Benda led his friend to their old art classroom, “We’re gonna’ go smell the art room!” he said before leaving the room – although the art room is not in the same location.

Aside from the walk down memory lane offered up in the SBJ library, the cafeteria served as the hub of activity during the half-century celebration. The schedule was packed with speakers, including former principals and teachers, and performances by the school’s chorus, and the Orange Park Junior High School band, whose membership contains former SBJ students.

Beverly Oglesby taught at the school from 1971 until her retirement in 2009. When it came time to celebrate the school’s first 50 years, Oglesby was asked to speak about the nearly 40 years she spent on the faculty.

“A lot of things have changed since 1971,” she said after taking the stage. The bulk of the changes she listed consisted of changes to the way students are taught. She appealed to the crowd to talk to kids, and to instill in them manners and discipline, because, according to her, kids today need these lessons more than ever.

For Oglesby, though, many of the things about S. Bryan Jennings elementary that made her stick around all those years are still in place.

“SBJ has always been a family-oriented school,” she said. “To educate one child, you also have to be concerned about their families.”

Oglesby mentioned in her speech that she had seen a couple of families there she had taught for at least two generations, she knew those families almost as well as her own. That sense of a school family seemed to resonate throughout the program – old friends were reunited, and students were able to catch up with their former teachers.

A cork board placed in the cafeteria for the event allowed students and alumni to post notes about their favorite teachers and school events. The boards were packed with notes and among the favorite activities, were family-oriented events like the Thanksgiving turkey feast and Christmas gift giving.

That feeling of being a part of something greater has even been extended to the school’s current principal, who is in her first year with SBJ.

“I felt that before tonight, as early as this summer and into the first two weeks [of the school year],” said Principal Elise Love. “Everyone has been so welcoming and so accepting. The students here are the most loving and accepting you’ll find anywhere.”

Love hopes to stay a part of S. Bryan Jennings Elementary for years to come, seeing this as the best experience she’s had as a part of a school in the Clay County School District.

“I’ve been teaching in Clay County schools since 1995 or 1996,” Love said. “I have never seen or experienced anything like what is present here at this school.”

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